Okada ban: Averting one danger, while creating another…

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By Chris Paul Otaigbe

The plans I had outlined for this past week was brutally aborted with the sudden ban on commercial motorcycle/tricycle popularly known as Okada/Keke by the Lagos State government on February 1, 2020.

Just before the ban, I had come across a viral clip of the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s statement at the last edition of the now popular annual October 1 televised Townhall event called The Platform, hosted by one of the frontline Churches in Lagos.

In the clip, he said where he is taking the Okada issue is a place where every commercial rider would be identified and profiled by the State. By all standard, that is one great idea that would avail relevant agencies of the State, especially the security parastatal to be able to be on top of their activities from the angle of security checks and threats.

It came as a rude shock to wake up to the proscription of this important mode of transportation that served as a most convenient means of meandering through the traditional gridlock commuters encounter daily in the State.

Of course, the immediate reason is security threat of this unregulated informal transport system dominated, largely, by unschooled and uncouth young men with no knowledge or respect for traffic rules.

When one considers the fact that most of these cyclists migrate from other States especially from the northern part of the country, then that excuse makes sense. This is in no way inferring that people, or Okada riders, from northern Nigeria are bad. It is that the infestation of that part of the country by a resurgence of terrorism and the general insecurity it has spread, like a virus, across the country, make the southern states, particularly a highly sensitive and strategic State such as Lagos, to be extra cautious.

According to rumors that surfaced days before the ban, some Okada riders, of northern Nigeria extraction have been alleged to be building some form of block within the Lekki axis of the State. Lekki is one of the high net worth areas of the State and any attack on such places could spell doom for the State and the country to a great extent.

The viral video showing these riders from the North being ‘loaded’, in their mass, onto waiting Trailers and Tankers immediately after the ban, was enough to convince those of us who expressed outrage against the policy. The perception that most of these able-bodied young men from this part of the country were in the State for an activity other than regular commercial motorcycle transport business became very strong. Whether, that impression was true or not, it was better to err on the side of caution.

However, the downside of the policy was captured in another viral video of a well-spoken young lady who has found solace in the Okada business to support herself through her OND. She spoke the minds of millions of Lagosian jobless youth seeking some means of decent survival against the harsh conditions of living in the State and the country at large. More importantly, she represented thousands of young and middle-aged women who pay their bills through the business.

She also became the poster girl for the growing online motorcycle hailing companies springing up across the State, as a valuable window that gave the hitherto unregulated and unrefined transport operations an appreciable level of organization, control and decorum. This latest face to the Okada business was gaining some traction among Lagos commuters and was getting better plus generating confidence with passengers.

In an online advert, one of the corporate ‘Okada’ firms puts out there, the level of sophistication their kinds of business have attained with the level of technology that had been applied to ensure the rider adheres to traffic laws, while assuring the passenger of safety. Each of those motorcycles are fitted with cameras and trackers such that the rider could not have dared to misbehave on the road or be rude to their patrons.

I am not sure the nation’s security agencies, who really need these gadgets that run corporate Okada operations, have any of these yet.

To this extent, one would agree with the position established through the advert that effective regulation and not ban is what was needed to achieve the objective for which the policy was promulgated.

To this demographics of the affected, the decision to ban this mode of transport becomes a policy that would immediately be dubbed anti-people because the patrons of Okada are largely the poor and to some degree, the lower middle class who patronize this form of transportation to get to their offices on time or meet appointments.

It is over one week since the BRT solution the State government had promised to bridge the huge gap that was left with the Okadas off the road, was rolled out, but it has not brought the expected succor to Lagos commuters as many of the buses have not been able to perform up to expectation.

Towards the end of the week, BRT Operators along the Ikorodu axis of the State were alleged to have gone on strike protesting the lack of payment of their salaries.

This obviously does not look good for the residents, as they are the ones on the receiving end of this ban and the State’s incapacity to provide a more efficient alternative to relieve the people of the needless stress of long treks to their homes and offices.

I had a nasty experience trekking for over forty-five minutes under the sun from the State’s secretariat to the only place one could get a public bus along that route. I discovered that over 99% of the buses that drove past the many commuters who were standing at that bus stop, were already filled, including the yellow buses and the BRT buses. This is because after loading and filling the bus at major and sub-major Bus terminals, there is hardly any space left for those waiting at bus stops located along that route.

For instance, if you were headed to Ogba and you found yourself at say one of the bus stops along the Alausa end of that journey, buses passing that route would have been fully loaded at the Ojota Park or Alausa bus stop. So, you would have to pray a passenger disembarks from one of the loaded buses at your bus stop.

This is one of the vacuums the ban has exposed. The ramifications of this ban is further complicated with the fact that Investors had actually started investing in the commercial motorcycle and tricycle business in the State.

Investors that have tapped into the mobility sector in the State have begun counting their losses as the execution of the ban. It is worthy of note that in the last one year, corporate commercial motorcycle/tricycle companies such as ORide through OPay, its parent company, Max Ng, Gokada, and others have raised more than $100 million to scale operations in Lagos and across Nigeria. MAX (Metro Africa Xpress), is reported to have invested close to $10 million (about N3.6bn).

Similarly, other investors have pumped more than $5 million funding in Gokada and $40 million investment funding Opera’s ORide.

These investments brought with them jobs for the unemployed youths in the State, sophistication, safety and security to the Okada business in the State.

Previous statements by the State government had given the impression of the possibility of regulating ride-hailing platforms than an outright ban.

Had the  proposed regulation by the state scaled through In July 2019, it would have seen each startup pay an annual licensing fee of  ₦25 million ($69,000) for 1,000 bikes, and then an additional ₦30,000 ($83) per bike after the first 1,000.

This steep entry fees which would have screened out the lesser mortals in the commercial motor bike informal sector, was obviously not favorable to the operators. This among other requirements thrown in the way of potential operators made interested investors to conclude that the State was trying to unnecessarily make the business difficult, a turf, to play on.

Although the government denies giving conditions that make it difficult for interested investors from getting licenses, the administration still makes the case for the need to conduct due diligence on drivers, ability to use technology to understand and lift the profile of the passengers, minimum fleet size, geographical spread, engine capacity, and life assurance for drivers and passengers.

Besides security concerns, the reason for the ban was adduced to the number of Okada accidents in the State.

From 2016 to 2019, over 10,000 accidents were recorded at the General Hospitals alone, exclusive of unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. Of this number over 600 deaths have been reported till date. Also, the increasing rate of crimes aided by Okada riders was top on the list of the excuse to warrant the complete ban of the commercial cyclists’ operations in the State.

The Lagos State Transport Sector reform laws of 2018 exempted bikes with 200cc capacity and above from the okada highway ban.

This was a provision that first appeared in the Lagos State Road Traffic Law of 2012, during the tenure of the then governor, Babatunde Fashola, who first announced the ban on Okada in the city.

However, according to the bike hailing startups, the bikes are above the 200cc engine size required by the law as an exemption to the ban.

But the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration has disputed some of the arguments, saying the law was not made for commercial riders. The exemption was made to accommodate dispatch riders, courier companies, newspaper dispatching motorcycle, and motorbike riders.

The operators are not pleased with the recent blanket ban as they believe it was done without due clarity for both the informal and formal operators in the two-wheel mobility sector.

They are calling for a regulatory framework rather than an outright ban on their operations.

Since enforcement started on Saturday, February 1, 2020, the Lagos State Police Command said it has arrested more than 40 violators and sized so many Motorcycles and Tricycles, mostly from the informal side. The ban has led to many public outcry and chaos in some parts of the state.

As Lagos has shut its economy against Okada and Tricycle operators including the bike hailing startups, it suffices at this juncture to remind or enlighten the State government that the Okada economy provided not only for the rider, however reckless and lawless. It provided for the woman selling food to him, the Vulcanizer, the Mechanic among others in the value chain of the Okada impact on the State’s economy.

There is the temptation by the State government to dismiss the consequence, real or imagined, of a possible backlash from this ban. The security threat of retaining the rough riders on the road and the taking them off the road is real.

Yes. They were a security threat leaving them to operate but is it not worse for the State banning them? As potential criminals, you had one person to deal with and that is the Okada rider. Now, that you have taken him off the road, you have more than one person to handle in the camp of criminals and that would be worse.

The bike hailing firms have made the job easier for the State in this respect. Get all Okada riders to come under the same template so you can easily identify them to the last rider and then have a firm to hold responsible.

From here, regulations become easier ditto the tricycle operators. The best advice to give the State government at this point is for the administration to reverse itself and return the Okada/ Keke to the road but using the Bike hailing format.

In other words, if they are coming back, they should go get a firm to recruit them, get their motorbikes fitted with trackers and cameras. That solves the problem and the State would be secure and the resident would feel safer on the bikes.

The question then would be the obvious; could there possibly be a reversal?

The resulting traffic in some parts of the State coupled with the fact that the riders’ means of livelihood is now under threat, the hope for a reversal may not be out of place as the young Governor of the State has shown severally, so far, that he is a compassionate and listening leader who may not want to shy away from reversing himself.

Though the State say the ban was put in place to stem the surge of road accidents and insecurity in Lagos, as one of the commissioners puts it “Nothing is absolute.”  In other words, that decision may not be cast in stone.

While one does not, however, discountenance the State government’s concerns, robust engagement with the government to ensure issues raised by the government such as safety and security are addressed to a level that the government is comfortable with.

One should also not lose sight or ignore the point which exonerates the bike hailing platforms from the large-scale safety and security concerns as their riders have consistently recorded far lower rates of accidents, which runs within 0.03% of the total number of recorded trips and perhaps zero incidents of security infractions.

The arguments of the State government that the ban is to honor the desires of the majority of the families of victims who are currently in the hospital or those who may have lost their lives or limbs to Okada accident may not really hold much grounds when one considers the extent to which the bike hailing services have gone to ensure passenger safety, security and good road manners for their riders.

The ugly consequence of this is that the latest ban may cost the economy investors’ confidence and worse still, it may also force a few of them to shut down businesses.

Such a situation is one the State or the country at large should not find herself because it could be disastrous as it may stir up a possible strife that may arise from the youths who would feel deprived and disenfranchised from the scheme of the State’s economy.

In brief…

 Time to have Intra-African Trade- Sanwo-olu, others affirm

The imperative for a stronger African economy, what the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu asked African leaders to embrace through the intra-African trade and industrialization designed to grow its economy.

Speaking at the 17th Annual Lecture and International Leadership Symposium by the Centre for Value in Leadership, with the theme: “Intra-African Trade: Growth and Economic Development”, at the Muson Centre, Onikan, the Governor, who was represented by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, stated that if greater attention is focused on improving the current level of intra-Africa trade, Africa as a continent and individual countries stand to gain a lot in terms of enhanced economic growth and development.

He affirmed that the African Continental Trade Agreement (AFCTA) is a product of this realization, adding that “AFCTA is a bold step and if well implemented, it has the potential to increase intra-Africa trade by 52 per cent by the Year 2020 and create more job opportunities for the army of unemployed young people”.

He emphasized that trade between nations thrives on the commitment of parties to the principles of fairness, integrity and equity, noting that if these principles are breached with its attendant negative effects on the economy of one party, then, the sustenance of trade relations and the mutual benefits that should accrue would be threatened.

In his goodwill message, the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr. Philip Shaibu stated that Pan African trade must be taken seriously in order to unlock the untapped potentials, saying that the adoption of AFCTA has created the largest trading block in the world with over a trillion consumers and a GDP of over three trillion dollars as well as resurrected the goldmines neglected for so long.

He opined that for Africa to enjoy the benefit of expanded market, it must first work towards reducing or even eliminating those barriers that hinder the African trade such as Cross Border conflicts, Piracy, Tariff and Transport Infrastructure deficit.

Similarly, the Deputy Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Umar Namadi, also appreciated the timeliness of the topic as it will be useful for the development of the African economy.

He announced that Jigawa State is partnering with various institutions including the Central Bank of Nigeria to pull people out of poverty and to sustain its economy.

Speaking earlier, the Keynote Speaker, Professor Benedict Okey Oramah urged the African leaders to move from poverty to prosperity on a platform of rapid industrialization using the South East Asian economy as examples, adding that the African economy has potentials given its population of 1.3 billion people, an average of 16 per cent of the world population.

Laying emphasis on the importance of AFCFTA, Oramah noted that it will help improve Africa’s share of global manufacturing output; could increase trade between African countries for as much as 35 billion US dollars; push regional trade levels up from 15 per cent to 25 per cent within a decade and exponentially increase the continent’s annual economic growth, create wealth more inclusively and reduce poverty.

He, therefore, advised African governments to focus on minimizing the fiscal revenue losses that the AFCTA may cause and ensure that the private sector is well prepared to take advantage of the market opportunity that AFCTA will throw open.

The Chairman of the event and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Chief Joseph Sanusi stated that African countries need to be more competitive, stressing that its infrastructure must enable products and industries to compete by ensuring optimum cost and competitiveness with the rest of the world.

 

Another fire tragedy averted by Lagos fire serviceA fire outbreak that could have claimed lives and property worth millions of Naira on Badagry Expressway, was prevented the Lagos State Fire Service.

This was disclosed by the Ag. Head of the Agency, Mrs. Margaret Adeyeye at a media briefing in Alausa, within the week. She said the timely response by the firefighters to a distress call from Abule Osun Bus Stop along Lagos-Badagry Expressway, on Thursday, prevented what could have being a major incident.

According to her, in response to the distress call, she swiftly mobilized officers of the Ojo Fire Station to the scene. On arrival, it was discovered that a 17,000 peddler DAF Truck conveying Diesel (AGO) inward Barracks reportedly caught fire while in motion.

Adeyeye explained that the prompt intervention of the officers from the Ojo Fire Station ensured that the fire was extinguished while the situation was brought under control and normalcy returned to the road.

She, however, reiterated that preventive efforts and sensitization campaign on safety as well as curbing incessant fire outbreaks and related emergencies organized by the State government in January 2020 is yielding positive results as only four emergencies have so far been recorded in the State in recent times

 

 

Remains of burnt Truck on Third mainland bridge cleared

The ruins of the burnt truck, laden with several bundles/packs of cardboard papers and other combustible materials on Third Mainland Bridge, was cleared by the Response Team of the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA), to ensure the free movement of traffic.

According to a statement issued by the Agency, there was no life lost as the truck, with registration number XN 561 AKD, caught fire on the bridge.

It stated further that preliminary investigations revealed that electrical sparks emanating from the engine likely caused the fire, stressing that the combined efforts of the Federal Fire Service and the Lagos State Fire Service ensured the inferno was extinguished promptly.

While noting that officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were on the ground at the scene of the incident to direct traffic, the press release maintained that the heavy-duty equipment, the Super Metro heavy-duty equipment was deployed by LASEMA to evacuate the wreckage for free vehicular movement

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