The Okada Economy

Starting from Saturday, February 1, okada and keke napep [motorcycles and tricycles] were banned from plying major roads in Lagos State, according to the state government. Bayo Adeyinka, a banker, comments on the policy

Most policies in Nigeria are reactionary — they are not usually well thought-out even if they have the noblest of intentions. That is the way I see the okada and keke ban. 

With the ban, the okada economy — the value chain activities surrounding okada and keke — have all been legislated into nothingness. If we had available statistics, we would have realized that the okada economy is what is sustaining possibly millions of families in Lagos and elsewhere. 

So, what is the okada economy? Someone buys a bike. A mechanic/technician must repair it or service it. There are okada workshops on almost every street with technicians whose major expertise is repairs of okada and keke. They don’t repair cars. An average workshop has about three people — the oga and a minimum of two apprentices who are learning the trade. Right beside the workshop is a vulcanizer. If you ask most vulcanizers around, they will tell you they attend to more bikes than cars daily. Around the okada mechanic workshop or okada park is that mama put (usually a lady with food inside a wheelbarrow or a contraption, because she can’t afford a shop) who sells food to the okada riders. They are her mainstay. Then you have those who sell lubricants and oil to them. There are people who sell the reflector jackets. Graphic designers who write on them. People who sell helmets. And also the person who could afford to buy an okada or keke just to create an additional stream of income. He gets someone to ride and make daily returns. He has an honest and legitimate business. Most of the time, these people are the poorest of the poor — barely stringing out a source of livelihood for themselves. 

This ban didn’t consider the businessman who borrowed money to import okada and keke into the country. He did that because there is a market for such. There are companies in Nigeria who import CKD (completely knocked down parts) and assemble them in Nigeria. I know at least two assembly plants of okada and keke in Nigeria, each employing more than 50 employees. You need to visit the assembly lines to consider the huge investments made and which will now be affected by the ban, because Lagos is the largest market. The employees may lose their jobs. The businessman may default on his obligations because some of those okada and keke were purchased using credit lines. And then there are distributors all over Nigeria. That cycle is affected now.

What about investments made by Gokada, Max and Opay? The millions of dollars? How do we encourage investments when your investment can be wiped away in one swoop by government legislation? How does this help the campaign for ease of doing business? 

I agree there are security concerns but this ban may likely aggravate it. You can’t legislate human behaviour especially when the source of livelihood is concerned and not get reactions, without you providing palliatives. For those who support the ban based on security concerns, shall we then ban the use of gatemen because some of them have killed their bosses? Shall we then ban drivers because some of them have been involved in cases of kidnap of their ogas? A knee-jerk reaction is not what is needed.  Apart from the great inconvenience to people who patronise them, how will families who depend on these value chain survive? I know someone who graduated from the University of Ibadan and rode okada just to get money to fund his education. It’s not all okada riders that are criminals or illegal aliens. We have just thrown away the baby with the dirty bathwater with this ban. 

The government is even missing a major revenue plank. I think the government should have consulted widely: call town-hall sessions and speak to the stakeholders on its plan. They should have given a deadline for proper registration and limited those designated areas to the likes of Max, Gokada and Opay. Each rider should have a rider’s card with details in a database. Each bike must have a plate number and the riders must not violate traffic rules. They should be trained at least once quarterly. 

There is no way a city like Lagos can be served conveniently with bus transportation. More buses on those roads will make traffic worse and not better. 

I suggest the ban should be reconsidered and reviewed. Otherwise, the elite who support this ban will no longer be able to sleep deeply. Government is not creating jobs and they should not take away the jobs people have created for themselves.

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