Exactly 12 months ago, the Lagos state government announced a ban on two-wheeled vehicles above 200cc in engine displacement better known as okada in the city. It was the most controversial of decisions even for the time and the decision by Sanwa-Olu was widely panned by everyone.
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The position of the government at the time was that the okada was the vehicle through which much crime was been perpetrated in the city and statewide. Now those lines were oddly familiar. The circumstances were also very familiar too from what happened in at least two administrations before but the one departure this time was this: there were at least three thriving start-ups whose models depended on okada as it were.
As legitimate and registered businesses, the new policy was effectively killing their businesses. At the time, the major critique against the policy was the transportation constraints it would foist on a population that already found moving around difficult but the aforementioned was also an issue even if secondary.
Now, patterns are important as they tell us more about the future than we are sometimes willing to admit. Time and again, the government rolls out a policy and a few months, it almost seems like it never did. It is a pattern that keeps repeating itself such that one is forced to conclude that it is in fact by design.
The purpose: major extortion, usually. Many expressed fears that the lasts ban was a play at running those start-ups out of town so they could have their own ride-hailing businesses in the lieu of OPay, MaxNG, and Gokada. Almost as soon as the ban was effected, Eko Cab was announced. The timing roused suspicion. Needless to say, the venture never quite took off.
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Now, the trouble here is this: 12 months since that ban, okada riders are back and they are all working without being accosted by the police or any other authorities. What that would tell any discerning observer is that:
i) Government is either unwilling or incapable of enforcing laws
ii) Government is willing to kill businesses to advance their own vested interests
iii) Lagos as we see it is not so business-friendly.
At a time when tech is proving its resilience and internet-based businesses are pulling hundreds of thousands out of poverty into the middle, the government seems to be none the wiser. With harebrained policies like the one we saw last year.
Lagos sends a bad message and all talk of encouraging young businesses and tackling unemployment seems like lip service. When one considers the amount of capital that has been committed by foreign investors in all those start-ups, you will start to understand why foreign reserves and remittance has shrunk since.
The avarice that seems to guide decision-making in government is already doing us in. The attitude of government officials to businesses they cannot control for the most part like tech companies is usually to blackmail and strong-arm them counting on the fact that they need the Lagos market to be taken seriously.
If tech is the future then this behaviour will eventually destroy what little is left of the middle class. Lagos state government officials like to quote figures that say the city is Africa’s fifth-largest individual economy but it would not be for long if they keep up the high-handedness. I daresay much of the success story that Lagos lays claim to is really not down to government but individual ingenuity of its dwellers.
If the government can get to the actual task of regulating and ease the burden of taxation as well as make actual policies that have connections to the problems, maybe revenue constraints would not put the government in such a difficult situation.
Featured Image Source: Premium Times NG
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