For many years, the operations of commercial motorcycle riders – popularly called “okada” in Nigerian parlance – were limited to rural areas. Then they served as the major means of transportation from motor parks to the hinterlands of rural communities, or as shuttle between the rural communities and the distant farms. But with the increase in the number of vehicles in our cities, coupled with the unending derelict state of most of our roads, which lead to heavy traffic congestion and its attending effects every day, motorcycles have found their ways into the scheme of things of our urban transportation system. And they seem to have come to stay, judging by the predilection of commuters for them.

Following the several road casualties that have resulted from commercial motorcycling, and the robbery incidents that have been facilitated by them, the authorities in some of the states have, at one time or the other, placed a time restriction on the operators of commercial motorcycles. In some other states, it was an outright ban. However, the governments have had to reconsider their stand in the wake of the general outcries that usually trail such official announcements from the commuting populace.

Not that the commuters themselves are in love with the “okada” riders – as most of them are reckless in their driving and are mostly unlearned in traffic rules – but they have become a necessary evil to the urban Nigerian commuters. The passengers have to either choose to stay in the traffic congestion and be late to work, or opt for okada and put their lives in their mouths all through the risky, but timesaving, ride to their offices.

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The number of casualties that have resulted from commercial motorcycles are rather alarming. In fact, the management of the National Orthopaedic Hospital at Igbobi had to create a special ward for victims of “okada” accidents. Other major hospitals in the cities are already following suit. As if this is not bad enough, a number of successful armed robbery attacks were pulled off with the aid of okada. These are some of the reasons some state governments clammed down on commercial motorcycling by restricting their time of operation to certain hours of the day, or asking them to close shop altogether. But this measure has not proved effective so far for some reasons.

One of the reasons the government’s ban on okada has not been effective is because most of the roads are in very poor shape. Thus, commuting from one point to the other on some of the roads can either be done by walking or by the motorcycle. This made the commuters decry the insensitivity of the government to their plight if they had to be subjected to the rigour of commuting by foot. And when the public outcry becomes too much, the government will be forced to reconsider their stand.

Another reason why the government has not been able to get the okada riders to close shop is due to the high rate of unemployment in the nation, especially the cities where the activities of okada riders are concentrated. The fear of an escalation in crime rate if more people are rendered jobless by banning okada is always nagging, and even harangued for all to hear.

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Yet another reason was insincerity on the part of government officials who curried the favour of these commercial motorcyclers during election time. Therefore, they were given free hand to operate in order for them to vote in favour of the indulgent politicians or their political party.

All these point to the fact that, apart from enforcing the wearing of crash helmet rule, much still has to be done in order to preserve the lives of the populace who have taken to motorcycle as their major means of transportation. Government should not just react to the increasing physical impairment, loss of lives and property that are emanating from okada. They should rather be proactive by first putting structures in place that will cushion the effect of phasing out okada from our cities. One of such steps in the right direction is to put our roads in good shape so that both humans and vehicles can ply them easily without hiccups.

The government should also address the cause of the perennial traffic congestion on our roads. By the time there is a free flow of traffic, there won’t be much need for people to hike motorcycles to their various destinations. Moreover, while we cannot expect the government to generate jobs for the teeming numbers of unemployed youths in the country, that would be unrealistic, but then the government should stop paying lips service to policies that are meant to encourage the setting up of cottage industries as well as small and medium scale enterprises.

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By empowering the youths to set up their own businesses and giving them all the support they need to run a successful business, government would have taken a giant step in reducing unemployment as well as curbing the wave of crime in the society.

The wearing of crash helmet is a mere superficial attempt to ensure the safety of both the passenger and the okada rider. More needs to be done in the way of order to ensure the safety of lives of the citizenry who commute with okada to their various destinations.


Photo credit: Nigel Pavitt/JAI/Corbis