Governor Fashola and his futile anti-’okada’ laws by Demola Rewaju
Many actions of His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State have made me conclude before now that he is an elitist with very strong bias against the poor. His famed exploits in road construction in elite areas versus ‘poor’ areas is hugely slanted, his acquisition of markets and subsequent upgrade to highbrow shopping malls for the rich, his public-private partnership, his school fees hike in tertiary institutions and lack of any major pro-masses policy or agenda reinforce this notion in my mind.
It is however in the area of motorcycle transportation that Fashola strongly shows not only his elitist mentality but also a peculiar lack of understanding of how Lagos was built on the foundations of free enterprise.
I know fully well that Gov. Fashola has an abundance of admirers and I think that is where the problem starts from. There is rarely any opposition to his ideas and as every democrat knows, when one man feels that his and his advisers’ opinion is the smartest and brightest, it is difficult to entrench democratic values which thrive on robust debate.
The Okada business in Lagos provides employment in some way or the other to over a million people. Since there are no statistics, this figure is purely conjectural but when you break down the numbers by the 20 LGs and 37 LCDAs in Lagos, that’s about 17,543 motorcycles per locality and I know the figures are much higher if you consider high density areas like Iyana-Ipaja, Alimosho, Shomolu, Surulere and so on. By the time you think of the many house mai-guards, corporate security staff, teachers and civil servants who run their okada business after official hours, a million may even sound too small but let’s work with that number for the sake of argument.
Motorcycle manufacturing companies from Asia have several Okada assembly plants in Lagos in response to this upsurge about a decade ago. Haojue, Bajaj, Boxer, Xinghoang and Jincheng are the more popular ones with plants from Apapa to Ilupeju. They even have an association called Motorcycle Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN). Those who sell okada parts or repair the okada also have their own businesses. Then you have the allied companies like Chongping that produce special motorcycle oil. I’m sure these companies contribute handsomely to the over NGN20bn the state government makes per month as IGR.
As for the okada riders themselves, many of them suffer harassment from policemen under the guise of enforcing the Fashola laws, LG/ LCDA enforcers, ACOMORAN and MOALS union levy enforcers and even traditional rulers in some areas like Ikotun, Isolo, Ijegun, Badagry and so on. Policemen collect NGN50-100 anytime they catch any Okada in some areas, LG/LCDA collect their dues daily which is between NGN100-200 per Okada, traditional rulers tax the Okada men through their enforcers on Tuesday and Friday in most areas, Chairmen collect theirs on Friday or Sunday while the union dues are monthly but some choose to pay weekly.
Okada transportation is lucrative for most middle-class and low-class families because there is huge demand for it in a city like Lagos where everyone is in a rush to get to one place from the other. Admittedly, those who have had terrible accidents in Okada accidents or visited Igbobi Hospital may never ride on one again and I know many motorists do not like struggling for right of way with them.
In such situation, the wise approach to the Okada conundrum will be to lay down regulations that are pragmatic for the saving of lives of Lagos residents yet encouraging to aspiring business entrepreneurs. Many barbers, vulcanisers, generator repairers, supermarket owners and other small business people use earnings from Okada riding to augment whatever they make from their business.
From the day the foreigners set foot in Badagry and bought the first slave, Lagos has thrived on free enterprise and that is what makes Lagos work, not the ideas of any man. Lagos works because the people work. Every governor in Lagos state from Mobolaji Johnson to Jakande to Marwa and even Sir Michael Otedola has enjoyed relative success because Lagos has the highest number of literate and semi-literate people in the country which translates to valuable human resources.
In spite of the popularity of Okada transportation, there is no proper institute to train Okada riders or even provide them with periodic certification which is another means of revenue for the government, yet, to procure rider’s card and other permits to ride Okada in Lagos costs between NGN7,000 to 13,000 compared to NGN4,000 in Ogun state where many Okada riders prefer to register their bikes before bringing it to Lagos.
With the draconian laws imposed on Okada riders under Gov Fashola, many of these riders are turning or returning to a life of crime because they just must survive which they were barely doing even without the repressive laws. The cost of a brand new Okada is about NGN100,000 to NGN180,000. What these boys do is to get anyone who can afford it to buy one for them while they repay him or her with weekly or daily depending on agreement.
The Taskforce Chairman, Bayo Sulaiman, an Assistant Superintent of Police, earlier this week on behalf of the government gleefully commenced the destruction of this thriving business and had this to say:
- “These are Okadas impounded since the new traffic law was signed into law. There are 3, 000 of them. Okada riders must obey our traffic law…We are dismantling the Okadas now to separate the parts that are crushable from the ones that are not crushable. After this, we will take the crushable parts to Oshodi crushing plant, where they will be crushed…”
In Akwa-Ibom, a state that cannot compare with Lagos in terms of population and number of Okada riders when a similar law was passed, the government gave each Okada rider NGN50,000 before collecting their bikes. In Lagos, the source of livelihood of some entire families was impounded without compensation and will be crushed even though I can swear that some of these enforcers will divert dozens of the seized motorcycles to personal use.
History is surely quite clear: No law made against the majority stands the test of time. The Okada means of transportation has come to stay with all its dangers. A pro-masses government will look for ways to regulate, enhance and harness it; not stifle it to death as His Excellency Governor Raji Fashola is trying to do.
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