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.
This article was originally posted on YNAIJA http://www.ynaija.com/opinion-fashola-and-okadas-lagos-cant-become-new-york-overnight/
* okada is the colloquial name for 2 wheeled motorcycles usually with mopeds below 49 cc