Since the Lagos State Government banned Okada from some major roads in Lagos, so much heat has been generated that it can aptly be described as Okada War. Oh yes, the Okada army won’t go down without a fight and so far, they have acquitted themselves famously—and some say, notoriously.
Consider the mayhem unleashed on BRT buses owned by the state government. It would have been strange if Okada riders didn’t fight back and merely put up with the ban as if everything was normal. Indeed, things are not normal, both for Okada riders and their millions of patrons.
I guess people don’t use Okada because they love it so much, they do because it is the most expedient. But at times, expediency turns too costly when lives are lost, limbs are battered or bones are broken.
You only need a visit to Igbobi Orthopedic Hospital which hosts a busy Okada wards—a special ward dedicated to victims of Okada accidents—to confirm that at times, expediency can be so costly. But still, man must move and Okada has become an integral part of how we live, move and die. Under normal circumstances, only few, if any would have opted for riding Okada as a means of livelihood. But with youth unemployment approaching 40 percent, riding commercial Okada becomes a way out for thousands of the unemployed.
A case of aberration as the norm. Everyone, I guess, has their own Okada experience. Whether you are rich or poor, you couldn’t have escaped the invasion of Okada army jostling for space on Lagos roads. You were either an Okada passenger or co-road user, even if you are driving the most expensive state of the art luxury automobile.
You are in trouble if an Okada runs into your car. “Is it because you are a big man?” his colleagues who by a group collective survival instinct had been trained to come to the rescue of any one of their own, would hector you, wondering how a big man like you is expecting a poor Okada man to repair your car.
They turn the table against you, making you the wicked one! But woe betides the motorist who hits an Okada in a traffic accident. Then hell is let loose by an army of Okada operators. In a moment come the wheezing bees of Okada riders swarming around you and demanding compensation, with some helping themselves to the content of your car if you are not careful.
You are under siege, the siege of Okada men which could end up with a fight, injuries and loss of your immediate possessions. “You wan kill am?” is the usual question that flies at you menacingly from angry Okada riders everywhere, holding you hostage until they extract more than sufficient compensation for damages or their injured colleagues. For most motorists, the fear of Okada riders is the beginning of wisdom. If you hit them, trouble. If they hit you, trouble.
In battles of the road, Okada riders win the war. Suicidal is the motorist that dares an Okada man—except of course, you are a Danfo or Keke driver, the crazy sibling of Okada man. To such motorists, therefore, the ban on Okada is a welcome relief, at least on those roads where Okadas are no longer allowed to ply. It may not have come to this if Okada business was regulated in such a way that the drivers are mostly sane.
But unfortunately, Okada trade has been invaded by an army of suicidal hoodlums, bag-snatchers, kidnappers, mercenaries from neighbouring countries who at a moment’s notice may turn into foot soldiers of the Boko Harams, among other menace. How do you sift those normal people who are merely plying Okada to eke out a living and those who are in it for nefarious purposes? How do you sift the genuine Okada rider from the underground squad of mercenaries waiting to explode some day? We are dealing with a ticking time bomb! Last month, a young man about to wed went to bank to collect his last savings for the ceremony. On leaving the bank, he took an Okada on his way home, clutching the bag with his money.
Another Okada zoomed up close and his partner grabbed the bag of money while the two Okadas are on motion. The young man’s grip on his money was so strong that he fell out of the bike, hitting his head on the concrete and passing out, with his money flying out everywhere from the torn bag. Crowd gathered and scrambled for his money first, then melted into the thin air, leaving another Okada victim for dead, but for a good Samaritan woman who salvaged N50,000 from the melee and returned to help the victim to a hospital where he regained consciousness days later. That incident can be replicated dozens of times in Lagos every other day.
Of course, without an Okada, the Daily Sun’s editor, Steve Nwosu would not have been shot in the head, nearly taking his life by those after the money he withdrew from the bank. This goes to suggest that controlling Okada is indirectly controlling crime. The partial ban on Okada, however, is not without its pains, especially on angry passengers in many areas who are now left without easy means of transportation. But this is a pain that will lead us to health profit in future.
Have you noticed that unlike our folks in rural areas where the Okada virus has not polluted, nobody treks to anywhere nowadays including school kids? In other words, physical exertion from trekking which was normal part of life in the past with tremendous health benefits has been replaced with Okada rides, even to short distances. In return, we reap obesity and allied diseases associated with sedentary lifestyle. The current anti-Okada legislation will help millions of Lagosians rediscover the joy of using their legs—the original reason God gave us those legs!
For those pro-Okada activists planning to crucify the Lagos State Government for anti-people law banning Okadas, their argument is severely blunted by cruel statistics. Out of about 9,500 state roads in Lagos State, Okada has only, unfortunately, been banned in about 450 major roads! The other leg of their argument is that the law throws thousands of people out of job. They are right, but only to a point. In my view, Okada business in real terms, only provides pseudo employment for now and therefore, a kind of quick-fix for unemployment that may boomerang later.
In the labour market, many well-trained artisans are mostly from neighbouring countries—Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic. Their Nigerian counterparts are making quick money in Okada business, a very strenuous business that cannot take them to old age. In later years, those that seem to be employed today with Okada will become the army of the unemployed tomorrow because by the time they discover they can no longer ride Okada, it would have been too late to learn new skills that could have sustained them from middle age into old age.
There is no modern city in the world whose transport system is sustained by motorbikes. We may suffer today without Okada, but such pain should compel us to do things right—to invest in modern mass transit system rather than build our future on a broomstick!