Okada, kabukabu, going, express and so on are all different names for commercial motorcyclists in Nigeria. Commercial motorcyclists started operating in Nigeria in the 80’s and have since then thrived and prospered till now. As a means of transportation, okada plays a very significant role in Nigeria’s transport system due to its abundance and the ability of the okada rider to access areas where Taxis and Buses cannot. Okada is also cheap, hence its popularity among the low-income earners and students in Nigeria.
As a trade okada riding has provided a significant number of Nigerian youth with a means of livelihood. One might assume that okada riding as a trade that requires skill rather than educational qualification is strictly for the un-educated, but almost 50 per cent of the okada riders are graduates and diploma holders, who could not gain employment with their certificates.
The crackdown on okada trade by the federal and some state governments, including the recent move by the Kano State government is threatening to wipe the trade out of existence. Already the once thriving okada business of Abuja is history, a situation that has left so many Nigerian youths that were relying on okada riding without their daily bread.
The present insecurity and terrorist activities in the country are being used to justify the various bans on okada riders across the country, without looking at the implications of the ban and the thousands of youths that will be left with no other alternative means of livelihood. Accidents and traffic decongestion are also part of the excuses given for the ban on okada riders.
In my opinion ban on okada riders will further compound the problems being faced by Nigerian masses. Apart from terminating the means of livelihood of thousands of Nigerian youths, which will make them go into crime and other illegal activities in order to survive, the ban will affect the Nigerian masses who depend on okada as a means of transportation due to its cheap fares compared to most taxis.
The argument that okada are a threat to security is also not a sound one because if one looks at the recent terrorist attacks, one will notice that the attacks carried out on motorbikes are not comparable in numbers with attacks carried out using cars. Even if one looks at the argument logically, he or she will notice that the damage inflicted by an attacker in a car cannot be compared to that by an attacker on a motorbike.
There is no doubt that some okada riders disregard traffic rules and regulations. But so also are some taxi and private drivers. Nobody will protest any form of regulation to check the excesses of okada riders and compel them to obey traffic regulations. As a matter of fact, they should be encouraged to form and register associations for easy control and possible help from government.
I will like to use this medium to call on the federal and state governments that have or are about to impose okada ban to take another look at the situation and do away or reverse the okada ban policy in the interest of justice and fair play.
They should consider the increased burden we the Nigerian masses are already carrying due to increase in fuel price which resulted in an automatic increase in the cost of living. They should also bear in mind that Nigerian youth are really struggling to make ends meet and any further move to close down avenues of generating income to sustain themselves will not be taken lightly.
Enforcing traffic regulations and ensuring safety on Nigerian roads is a good policy provided it doesn’t rob anyone of his or her means of livelihood.
Amiru Adamu is an activist writer and publisher of Northern Wind Magazine