The recent annual conference of the National Council on Transport in Enugu considered a proposal to ban the use of motorcycles for commercial transportation in the country. The proposal was reported to have received the endorsement of the Minister of Transport, Alhaji Idris Umar. A statement from the Ministry of Transport in Abuja, shortly after the conference, was initially reported to have affirmed the plan, describing it as one of the measures proposed to improve safe transportation in the country.
The Federal Government has, however, denied the plan to ban okadas as proposed at the conference attended by State commissioners of transport, permanent secretaries, as well as directors and other officials in the Federal and State Ministries of Transport across the country. The council was said to have merely advised all state governments as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to henceforth discourage the use of commercial motorcycles as a means of public transportation. They were also advised to ensure strict regulation of passenger transportation through a well articulated public transport management system for enhanced safety, security, efficiency and effective service delivery.
We welcome the deliberation on the continued use of okada for public transportation by the National Council on Transport. There is no doubt that commercial motorcycle operations frequently pose a danger to Nigerians.
However, if okadas must be banned, it must be handled with extreme caution and properly managed to ensure a seamless execution. It should, in fact, be a long term measure to give all the states sufficient period to put everything that is necessary in place before the okadas are outlawed. Not doing this will be tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.
Although the use of motorcycles for commercial transportation has been stopped in some states, adequate alternative means of transportation was not put in place in all instances. In other words, the ban on okadas in some of the states became counter-productive. It was akin to the administration of a drug without a proper diagnosis of the problem.
In this regard, it is important for the nation’s transportation authorities not to forget that Nigerians began using motorcycles for transportation out of exigency. Inadequacy of public transportation vehicles, bad and oftentimes immotorable roads and high rate of unemployment in the country forced many Nigerians, especially the males, to resort to Okada operations to earn a living.
If all levels of government in the country develop and implement master plans for efficient, effective, cheap and quick transport systems in line with emerging trends and global best practices, Nigerians will not raise eyebrows if okadas are banned. In spite of the obvious advantages of this means of transportation in the urban and rural areas of the country, its operators have caused so much misery
on account of accidents caused by reckless riding, and the use of the motorcycles for robbery and other untoward activities. It is for these reasons that okada operations were banned in many states, their services to the people notwithstanding. Lagos, Imo, Rivers, FCT, Enugu, Abia, Akwa Ibom and many states in the North already have laws restricting okada operations.
For instance, the Lagos State government in 2012, with its Lagos Traffic Law, banned the operation of commercial motorcycles on 475 roads in the state, including expressways, bridges and dual carriageways. The Traffic Bill was passed by the State House of Assembly and signed into Law by the
State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, on August 12, 2012. Contravention of the law attracts penalties such as heavy fines, seizure of the motorcycles, and possible prosecution and imprisonment of offenders upon conviction. This was for the public good, even though the enforcement of the law seems currently
relaxed as many of the ‘okadas’ have suddenly re-emerged in some of the places they were restricted from. In many other states, they are still flourishing despite the obvious risks they pose to their patrons.
There is need to regulate the activities of commercial motorcyclists and bring some measure of sanity to their operations. For now, it may be hard for passengers to stop patronizing them in the absence of a better alternative.
All levels of government in the country should address the problems of road transportation and provide safe and effective transportation. They should fix the roads and make them accessible to vehicles. If states can provide efficient and effective mass transportation systems, and create jobs for unemployed
Nigerians, commercial motorcycle operators will find other ways of earning a living and end the nation’s okada transport woes.