The Problem With Sanwo-Olu’s Okada Ban, By Niran Adedokun
POLITICS DIGEST – Arguments justifying the recent ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles and tricycles (okada and Keke Marwa) by the Lagos State Government and its supporters beg the issue.
For sure, casual operators of these modes of transport are a menace to Lagos and literarily every community in Nigeria. And please, take this as a first-hand testimony of the dangers that motor bikes constitute in the hands of these largely untrained and sometimes inebriated riders. One must agree that there is a typical recklessness inherent in the average commercial motor bike operator anywhere in Nigeria. I joke that they must all be possessed by the same demon.
There is also a bit of validity in the argument that some operators facilitate the commission of crime. However, aren’t operators of the ubiquitous commercial yellow buses known as danfo the most identifiable instruments for “one chance,” the devilish combination of armed robbery and kidnapping, which existed long before abductions for ransom became a national curse?
So, why does the Lagos State Government still condone the danfo driver in spite of the nuisance he is to sanity on the roads and the safety of citizens? Apart from the criminal tendencies, the average driver of these buses is untrained and unlicensed. He graduates from hanging on the door as a conductorwith little or no understanding of basic road sign or traffic regulations. To make matters worse, he is under the influence of almost everything possible while on duty. That is not to speak of the unkempt and poor mechanical state of his vehicle, which endangers the lives of his passengers as he rushes to make “delivery money,” and then some to retain for himself.
Also, take a deeper look at the issue of security. The ease with which people commit crimes through okada is enhanced by the unregulated nature of the business. So, anyone of no fixed address just picks a motor bike and starts business. His vehicle is unregistered, so if anything happens, he flows into the sea of heads in Lagos and remains untraceable. However, is this a reason to outlaw what has become a way of life for a substantial number of 20 million Lagosians? This is more so when the situation is itself imposed by the glaring failure of government in two areas: provision of employment and adequate planning for public transport.
The question as to why it is impossible to register and get the operators to conform then arises. For instance, until a couple of years back, it was possible for one to drive unlicensed private vehicles in Lagos until the introduction of Autoreg by the Babatunde Fashola administration. It ensured that every vehicle plying Lagos roads is registered with the particulars of its owner such that they can be traced at the touch of the button. What government does is to solve problems not create problems to which they have not thought out workable solutions.
Even then, recent trends show that the menace of okada riders can be tackled without breaking much sweat. Private sector investors who have shown interest in this business have made it apparent that riders can neither remain unidentifiable nor continue to risk the lives of people with their recklessness as one can put a name and face to each motorbike in their operation. Would partnership with the private sector and licensing different companies to function in different parts of the state with an understanding of their vicarious liability for atrocities committed by their riders not be a creative way out of the current challenge?
But government officials in Nigeria forget that governance is first and foremost about the people and their welfare. As a result, they pander to elitist interests that tell negatively on the people. While the performance of those elected into office should ordinarily determine their political future, politicians in Nigeria treat the people like rejects and then throw money at them for votes at the turn of another elections. This is why compassion for the people is hardly a prerequisite for determining the fate of politicians.
And this is a complete anomaly. Democracy is built on the ability of leaders to empathise. This is why it is described as government of the people for the people. So, even if government has reasons to totally outlaw anything, it should have deliberately sought the understanding of the people, be ready to immediately deploy palliatives and ensure permanent alternatives within the shortest possible time. Nigerian leaders need to understand that enduring change can only occur when the people buy into a vision and purse it with similar, if not equal vigour as their leader.
One of the most phenomenal stories of the rebirth of nations is that of Singapore under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. Although Yew sometimes tended towards benevolent dictatorship, he spoke about deliberate efforts at raising social consciousness and gaining the understanding and support of his people through mass mobilisation in every major reform attempt. For Yew, his government’s “greatest asset was the trust and confidence of the people.”
In his book, From Third World to First World, Yew speaks about a period he wanted to take steps to reduce traffic congestion around the capital. Before implementing a proposal sold to him, he explains: “By trial and error, I learned that if I wanted to get an important proposal accepted at all levels; I should first float the ideas with my ministers, who will then discuss them with the permanent secretaries and officials. After I got their reactions, I would have the proposal discussed among those who had to make it work. If, like the transport system, it concerned large numbers of people, I would then get the issue into the media for public discussion. Hence, before we decided on an underground mass rapid transit, we had a public debate for a year…”
Given that the Lagos State Government’s decision to restrict the movement of motorcycles and tricycles was definite to inflict different levels of inconvenience on the people, it would have, while speedily overhauling the transport architecture in the state, making roads more motorable and dealing with the atrocious vehicular traffic in the city, (which further makes the okada ban attractive alternative) engaged the people of Lagos in consensus-building initiatives.
Starting with the inconvenience that millions of commuters who have become dependant on okada and Marwa would be exposed to, there would have been months of awareness campaign accompanied with a discussion with leaders of different categories of citizens on the reasons for the proposed ban, immediate alternatives being provided and government’s ultimate plan for effective public transport. There would have been discussions about available opportunities for gainful employment for the loads of people who would be rendered jobless by this decision, so they do not take to even more heinous crimes when their hands become idle.
One understands government’s hurry to match the aesthetics of Lagos with that of other megacities in the world, but then, a regular feature of places with this status is also the qualitative standard of living of citizens and the infrastructure to sustain the same. The prime responsibility of government is to take care of its people and not lord any decision over them, no matter how much benefits it promises; consensus is the word in a democracy!