Opinion: Fashola and ‘okadas’ – Lagos can’t become New York overnight

by Babatunde Rosanwo

Fashola: Adamant.

Productivity in Lagos is highly dependent on efficiency; whether for the transport of goods, labor, or services between point A and B.

The merit of banning okadas from the streets of Lagos is an easy one; this particular means of transport is prone to accidents, the okada riders are unruly, they flout every single traffic law and they may be worse or better off, above all safety concerns for the lives of passengers is a priority.   It is understandable that there is a desire to transform Lagos into a mega city at all cost but definitely not government’s failure into hardship for the residents of Lagos.  Are there alternatives to cushion the effects of Okada restriction on certain roads of Lagos? Couldn’t Fashola have embarked on a structured phase out plan which will ban Okadas on certain streets with the provision of alternative means of transportation and why the sudden rush to implement it?

A lot of state capitals across the country have banned Okadas. As the commercial hub of the country; Lagos is different in terms of her demography and population, making transportation means and road networks important factors especially for business. Productivity in Lagos is highly dependent on efficiency; whether for the transport of goods, labor, or services between point A and B. Creativity and thinking out of the box is required in a mega city such as Lagos where the challenges range from traffic congestion, parking difficulties, the inadequacies of public transport, difficult access to pedestrians and availability of land/space for expansion and development.

Governments are large institutions which make informed/uniformed choices that affect everyone.  The premise upon which political legitimacy and authority to govern is crested is based on the idea of a binding social contract, in which we agreed to surrender our freedom in exchange for the protection of our rights.  According to Thomas Hobbes, in the state of nature, human beings would be selfish, nasty and unimaginable, without law and order the chaos that will be visited upon one another would be a bellum omnium contra omnes.

We can take this argument further by examining the type of government we have to contend with, a hybrid democratic regime such as the one we have in Nigeria cannot be void of institutional failures. When the Lagos state government embarked on making new traffic laws, it was very clear that the state wanted a departure from the past; from the sensible provisions banning pregnant women and kids from riding on okadas to the unreasonable provisions criminalising traffic offences.  A state governed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria should know better than to criminalise traffic offences. Hopefully one of his learned colleagues will challenge this in court; one won’t be surprised to find the next candidate of the opposition party arrested for a silly offence such as eating while stuck in the world renowned Lagos traffic and hence be convicted and barred from contesting.

Note that this traffic law was passed into law by the Lagos State House of Assembly, a clear case of elite wannabe politicians making laws that affect citizens without consideration of the potential and actual effects of such stiff laws. Afterall, not a single political office holder in Alausa needs to make use of public transport; their salaries and allowance has washed them clean of the hardship they once endured in the past, okada is no longer for their class.

The Lagos traffic law, which can be downloaded from here, contains on page 2 the provisions for Okadas with schedule II listing the roads they cannot ply.  Curiosity may further drive you down the list from page 29 to 42 where one may expect a full ban of okadas on all highways. The list includes not only less highways but also unpaved and unmotorable pedestrian roads and then you wonder- of what benefit is the ban. Alimosho LGA which is the most densely populated area of the state boasts of bad road networks, congestions, no new access roads in the last decades. It is also a mess to ply some areas during the rainy season and yet okadas have been banned in such areas. Ikeja area alone has 42 roads listed, how many link roads are in Ikeja?  Surprised, Shylon Street, Palmgrove also makes the list.  You have to be a hustler on the streets of Lagos to understand the connectivity challenges; banning Okadas from Bourdillion and environs is no problem; one needs more than okada to visit the fortress of Ikoyi.

Is Lagos state confirming its inept ability to regulate Okada via restriction/ban?  There is no doubt, majority of the roads where this ban has been enforced are not highways but cash cows for the government, is the same government providing a safety net for the loss incurred by Okada riders? If Okadas are not good enough for the “elites” who live on the Island, (of which the streets of Victoria Island is not an highway) it should not be good enough for the non-elites who leave in Ayobo, perhaps a total ban should suffice. The translation of this traffic law will surely not be in tandem with implementation, already an okada man was reported dead in a scuffle somewhere around Agege Pen Cinema, trust the flock of Lagos state officials with the police implementing this law to be over excited at the opportunity of harassing every okada rider.

What sort of government wakes up one morning to put thousands out of jobs? Surely nothing short of an elitist government, in which political power is held by a small wealthy group of individuals with privileged access to the state treasury.  There are Okada men who have to feed families and send their kids to the poor schools around the corner, what will be the resulting factor if their income is cut off by such a policy. What happens to an average private owner of an okada, he can no longer ride his okada from Maryland to Allen Avenue after complying with the law of crash helmets.

This is not about commercial okada riders only, what about the supply chain associated with the efficiency of okadas, the okada mechanic, the okada spare part dealer, the crash helmet dealer. The resulting effect of shifting the demand for okada onto Lagos taxis in a city where meters don’t exist is a hike in cost of taxi, small businesses will have no choice but to transfer the increase in cost of transaction onto customers. Governor Fashola seems to be in a hurry to forget that his party bought crash helmets for okada riders during the last general elections. Is this not still Nigeria where government gave out okadas as part of poverty alleviation programmes. It is a different Lagos state for okadas when votes are needed, Lagos for the rich when there are no elections.

There is a general assumption that people will always survive and adjust but this is an error of logic and excuse to treat residents unfairly and unjustly. The statistics available on income is always misleading when not properly analysed or understood, anyone can tweak data to different outcomes. Assuming the average per capita income of Lagos state residents is N200, 000 this does not directly mean the average resident earns about that amount. It would be a case of 2 types of income earners – one who earns N350, 000 and the other who earns N50, 000. The average will still be N200, 000 without those who’s income does not match up.

Change is good, however it is a desired process in time, the banning of Okadas on 475 roads of Lagos state will not make the lives of the average residents easier or more comfortable both in short and long term unless provisions are made to cushion the effects.  It is not surprising that the World Bank ranks Nigeria as a lower middle income country, this is rightly where the few privileged fall. We must be very careful in supporting elitist policies that cut off the daily income of people who are no where near lower middle income class or put people out of jobs without an alternative or safety, it will hurt everyone.

The Lagos State government must have a rethink on how this matter has been approached, okadas may become extinct in Lagos one day but Lagos can’t become New York overnight.


Babatunde Rosanwo is of the Graduate School for Social Research Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, Poland. He blogs from rosanwo.wordpress.com


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (13)

  1. Don't cars, trucks, tricycles and government convoy especially police vans flaunt traffic rules? Don't we allow aeroplanes that are not flight worthy to fly? Aren't cars responsible for the loss of so many lives and destinies through recklessness? Hasn't plane crashed claimed the lives of many families in this country? I've always said it, law, order and discipline is made only for the poor masses. Providence will judge us all. Always remember Karma.

  2. we are just looking at the okada riders alone.lets complete d cycle.i hear up to 5 manufacturers of these okadas run assembling plants in lagos.some people deal only in okada spare parts(importation & sales).There are also the mechanics that specialise in okada repairs.you can never have the complete figures but then,we know how much it could be.all these persons are about to become redundant.lets be prepared for what is coming.mind you,these okadas are some people's family ride.

    why did we protest in January?it wasn't because GEJ took away subsidy but it was the surprise effect.two months to christmas and such an action is taken without notice to the governed.no matter where we stand on this,lets be prepared for a more aggressive lagos state.

  3. Reality check:

    Government's past and current failures are responsible for where we find ourselves. Okada's have become a means of livelihood and transportation for so many in the country because our leaders have failed to create alternatives.

    Public transportation is inadequate and poorly managed, and people resort to Okada because they have to move around, simple. It's animal instinct, getting around is an important part of ensuring they get their daily bread, bread they're entitled to as human beings. In the past couple of days I've seen able bodied people standing at bus stops and rushing for the few available buses at 6pm even though they can afford to pay for decent public transportation.

    As regards Lagos being a 'metropolis' and only for a privileged few, Every human being has an inalienable and equal right to seek their fortune anywhere in their country provided they play their own part- work when they're able to, pay their taxes, and obey the law- These are the basic principles on which democratic societies are built. The truth is that Lagos's population will continue to grow for as long as the economic imbalance between urban and rural Nigeria continue to increase.

    Mr Fashola should put a concrete plan B in place before making stringent laws that hurt the vast majority, making new laws doesn't solve the problem, just shifts it elsewhere. Lagos is grossly underpoliced with 600 cars stolen in seven months by August this year, open hour long- daylight robberies, and the Government cannot guarantee security.

    Community associations in Lagos contribute money to buy gates and lock their streets by 8pm, restricting all access in a bid to mange their own security, endangering their own safety in the process! When the policemen are present, you pass by them quickly with caution, holding your breath and hoping one of them doesn't make a mistake with his 2 feet long 1983 rifle and shoot you in the gut.

    Until more buses are procured, an effective metro system is put in place, solid roads are built, and street lights are made to work, The people should be left to continue the grinding hustle of day to day Lagos. It's our reality. The government should wake up and realise that Lagos will not become London by creating laws but by creating jobs and and building sustainable insfrastructure.

    Back to the poor security issue, I worry that the okada riders, most of them young uneducated daredevils, will quickly become idle and move into more 'daring' activities to make a living.

    Not all able bodied young men will resort to selling chewing gum and handkerchiefs in the Lagos traffic.


    To those of us who drive in our cars in these same streets, oblivious to the reality facing over 90% of Nigerians, Here's my favourite Nigerian poem by Niyi Osundare:

    NOT MY BUSINESS by Niyi Osundare

    They picked Akanni up one morning

    Beat him soft like clay

    And stuffed him down the belly

    Of a waiting jeep.

    What business of mine is it

    So long they don’t take the yam

    From my savouring mouth?

    They came one night

    Booted the whole house awake

    And dragged Danladi out,

    Then off to a lengthy absence.

    What business of mine is it

    So long they don’t take the yam

    From my savouring mouth?

    Chinwe went to work one day

    Only to find her job was gone:

    No query, no warning, no probe –

    Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

    What business of mine is it

    So long they don’t take the yam

    From my savouring mouth?

    And then one evening

    As I sat down to eat my yam

    A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

    The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn

    Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

    © Niyi Osundare

  4. Articles like this are not supposed to cause fight, matured men raining abuses and casting aspersions. It is a topic to be intellectually dissected and debated. I am surprised that most elites in our land cannot address issues without attacking personalities. No one can generate anything sensible in a debate where participants only want to win the argument. Help this nation, state and people by being candid, shed light on ideas with love, address fellows like brothers. It is then that your civility can be considered real, and your point of view salient, not by bamboozling each other with all the negative words in the dico!

  5. One funny thing I've noticed in recent past is for some people to find fault in every government's policy,though not a bad idea but when d name of the poor is always giving.it doesn't only betray our sincerity but shows this country thrives on sentiment rather than reason.Nobody talks about d security implication or all d okada victims;both dead and disabled. Meanwhile,okada encourages d influx all manner of people to Lagos which leads to proportional increase in crime.Anyone who plies Lagos roads without hypocritical mind would tell u d government was behind time in banning Okada on some major roads.Not that I have a car myself,I've being trekking around time since d law came to effect.But it's a worthy sacrifice I'm willing to pay. No PA

    ain,No gain!

  6. Poor jboy. Am not rich but am practical. If u plan to become a leader someday, note that u will make some difficult decisions. 'Unpopular' decisions for ur company or for the ppl that u lead. U are clearly not a leader dats why u'll say someone "wakes up and decides for lagosians". Dats his freaking job!!! He makes decisions for d state based on advise and facts. And d facts are that Lagos cannot continue with the okada thing. Period. Mark my words, there won't be okadas in lag by xmas nxt year. It has to be done. U also failed to listen to me. An okada rider can go do anoda handwork/ artisan job. ur saying "Without okadas now crime might increase". Only a lazy man justifies crime with poverty. Don't be lazy!

  7. Well, the write up really focuses more on the effects on the poor and just brushed on the amounts of deaths these okada riders have caused. Deaths vs Poverty…I would have preferred if the safety part was a little more emphasized. I don't ride bikes anymore. Fell on one once, I wasn't injured but….not anymore. However, it always breaks my heart whenever sincerity is missing. The same governor who distributed crash helmets to Okada riders before elections…now decides to ban it. We need sincere government who truly work for ALL citizens, not just the elites. A kind government who cares about ALL its citizens. You can't take your citizens' legitimate source of living from them without alternatives, this ultimately affects the security of the state. More than enough people are already out of work. What are they supposed to do now? Rob a bank? Join Boko haram? Kidnap politicians?? Our government need to develop a human face…This is democracy, a government OF the people. Fashola, Not cool!

  8. @Ruby on d contrary I see nothing nice about this article. The writer fails to address the core issues that pushed the government to make the decision. All he rambled about was how the elite don't ride okadas. You're proposing the government tries to reform okada riders and okada operations. How successful dyou think this will be? Has the lagos state govt not attempted severally to regulate okada operations? This has not stopped okada operators from claiming countless lives and flouting govt rules. You also fail to see d bigger picture of the govt. The govt has a masterplan of turning lagos into a mega city in a specified number of years. Apparently, okadas are not in that picture and they have to be gotten rid of somehow. The writer talks about poverty! Lagos is a metropolis for God's sake. Check any metropolis in the world, they are all expensive and not for everyone. If you can't afford to live in Lagos, go away. Go to ur hometown and cultivate a farm or business. You'll do better than staying put in Lagos struggling with Okada.

    1. You are totally insane and don't know how to talk.. I bet u feel u r rich right and that's why u typed the rubbish u did.. The whole article is an opinion and u rather be for or against it and not that u will attack the writer. It is good to address the Fashola issue because maybe he or someone in his parliament just wakes up and decides what they want for lagosians. Without okadas now, crime might increase. Poverty vs safety..I choose poverty because safety can't be controlled by men.. If u have to die or get maimed,u will, because that's just nature and no man has the power to control that,okada or no okada. Most road accidents occur with buses,trailers and cars not okadas,check ur statistics. Don't worry,Fashola will set up a toll booth at third mainland bridge separating u 'the rich' from the masses

  9. As much as we would love to maintain the efficiency that Lagos is known for, we must not forget safety – it must come first.

    A vast majority of Okada riders in Lagos are incapable of obeying any traffic laws or regulations of their operations. Do they wear the prescribed safety helmets? Do they limit themselves to the number of passengers allowed? Do they not drive against the flow of traffic? Do they stick to the specified lane on the roads? Is there any reason for riders not to behave like normal vehicle operators and be subject to the normal traffic laws?

    The current state, size and number of vehicles on Lagos roads make it very unsuitable for Okada. Too many cars on narrow roads.

    A measure of restriction had been on since their introduction, one cannot count the number of streets on which okada cannot ride.

    I would clamour for a complete ban, especially if the riders refuse to stay on the safe and less busy routes they have been restricted to.

    And yes, ALL the streets of Victoria Island are not major roads, same goes for Ikeja – such is the nature of central business districts.

  10. A thought: Instead of just banning Okadas why not make them legal. Enforce strict safety requirements, A) all Okada must be licensed and in order to gain a license they must pass a safety course on how to transport a passenger from A to B, and have insurance for both themselves and their passengers. To limit the amount of passengers to one and not an entire family, that both passenger and driver wear approved helmets. That all licenses be clearly visible, say worn around their necks, with the driver’s identification information and their license number so that passengers can quickly see that they are legit. Will it be hard to enforce, if we say so, then yes. However, we must start somewhere, progress and a change doesn’t happen overnight, but I know Nigerians want change so we have to start somewhere.

    P.S. Why not build a ring road from the ports around Lagos so those massive trucks that keep breaking down and backing up traffic, avoid going through the heart of Lagos all together?

    Nice article.

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