By Afolabi Aribigbola
The proposed ban by the Federal government on commercial motorcycle operations generally known as Okada in the country is still generating debates. The term, Okada, in local parlance, describes motorcycle operations for commercial purposes. The incursion of motorcycles into the transportation system of the country which began in the early 1990s was as a result of the failure of government to develop the transport system. The transport system was then dominated by rickety vehicles that could not cope with the transport needs of the people of the country especially in the rural areas where road conditions were terribly bad and, in some cases, lacked motorable roads.
This was exacerbated by the deplorable conditions of roads in the cities as well as the inability of governments to provide good roads in emerging areas of the cities. Therefore, the inability of government to fix Nigerian roads and improve mobility in both rural and urban areas of the country provided the needed impetus for motorcycles operators to take over public transport service in the country.
In actual fact, in many small cities, motorcycles have completely replaced cars, taxis, minibuses and buses as the dominant means of transportation. To fill the hiatus created by inadequate public transport services to ensure ease of goods and persons movement, Okadas were introduced in all parts of the country for commercial purpose. Since the introduction of commercial motorcycle operations in the country, it has grown in leaps becoming the main means of moving around in most parts the country.
Of course, since the emergence of commercial motorcycles operation in the country, it has come with a number of problems that included incessant accidents with its damaging consequences. It has become a veritable means of escape by criminal elements in the country. Many heinous crimes have been alleged to have been carried out by criminals in the country including bandits and other high profile irredentists’ groups terrorising Nigerians. In an effort to address the spate of insecurity in Nigeria, the Federal Government came up with a proposal to outlaw the use of motorcycles for commercial purposes in the country.
The proposal discussed during a National Security Council meeting in Abuja was to prevent bandits and other criminal groups to use it to carry out their dangerous trade in all parts of the country. This is because according to the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, motorcycles provide the means of transportation for terrorists. “Placing a ban on the use of motorcycles and mining activities will cut the supply of logistics to the terrorists. Indeed, some state governments have not only keyed into the proposal they have actually banned okada operations in their areas of jurisdictions. The Federal Capital Territory Authority banned Okada operations in 2006 within the Federal Capital Territory.
Lagos state government recently banned the use of okada in six local government areas and has recently extended the ban to another four local governments in the state. Enugu state government has equally imposed a ban on the operation of motorcycles, tricycles and tipper-truck in some communities and local government areas of the state. These developments and actions indicate that there is a need for actions to correct some anomalies and unacceptable outcomes. In the first place, are motorcycles designed for commercial purpose and what are the likely consequences as well as the benefits of the ban on commercial motorcycle operations.
Whilst some welcome the idea as a necessary action to curb criminality in the country, others supported the idea because it will go a long way in addressing a number of other problems such as increasing frequency of accidents and its severity in terms of loss of precious lives, environmental pollution. However, a number of arguments have been offered against the proposed ban of okada operation in the country. Some contended that it has offered a great employment opportunity to many Nigerians that cannot get paid employment in the public and organized sectors of the country’s economy and by banning its operation, many people will be thrown out of their jobs into the unemployment market that is escalating daily.
Besides, that commercial motorcycle operations provide the needed public transport to majority of Nigerians in both the towns and the villages especially the larger rural areas of the country that are without motorable roads. Suffice it to add that many areas in the country are not accessible by motorable roads. They submitted that all that the society need to do is to organize and manage their activities better. They have forgotten that in Ondo State for instance, the directive to okada operators not to ply certain routes in Akure were not obeyed and that many of them are very lawless indulging in activities inimical to the growth and progress of the community where they operate. They constitute nuisance and attack innocent people at least provocation and have been found to rob people of their valuables using motorcycles.
I have pondered over this issue over some weeks and came to the conclusion that the proposed ban on okada is a good one, desirable and should be pursued by all the three tiers of Federal, state and local governments in the country. I came to this conclusion with hindsight to other prosperous society that actually designed and introduced motorcycles. In such societies, motorcycles are not used for commercial purpose and the light motorcycles are not permitted to operate on expressway or major highways.
In those societies, only power bikes are permitted on expressway. Of more fundamental is the fact that the activities are taking abled bodied young people from viable vocations and trade. Since Okada business does not need training and avail quick financial benefits to people, many jumped into the trade causing havoc in terms of accidents and other unacceptable public conduct. If Nigeria must develop and move forward, the proposed ban should be allowed to take place so that we can get manpower to work in the critical sectors of the country. At the moment, there are gross shortages of artisans and workmen such as auto mechanic, bricklayers, electricians among several others. Whereas, many young people are hanging around as okada operators.
Also, the small and medium scale businesses that grow an economy of societies suffers to recruit capable hands to work in them. A ban on commercial motorcycle operations will release needed workers to this critical and important sector that are finding it hard to secure workers. The okada trade and base all over the place provide opportunities for the introduction and inculcation of bad habits and conducts to the youths population of the country. Many of them in their base openly take hard drugs including Indian Hemp. The ban on okada will significantly reduce road accidents and disorder that usually accompany it and will eliminate environmental pollution resulting from widespread and indiscriminate use of Okada.
In conclusion, the society must take the future of their youths serious by exposing them to trades that can create a future for them and not one that will provide only for their immediate needs. Need to equip them with the right training and suitable vocations that will not just provide substandard jobs that have no future. Okada business has no future and that is why no sane person will arrange it for his children. However, in banning okada, military approach should and cannot be used. There should be a well thought out plan to mitigate its immediate consequences of unemployment as well as in meeting mobility need of the people that are used to okada as their means of transportation.