Since the beginning of this month, the Lagos State government has sustained the clamp down on commercial motorcyclists on restricted routes. FIDELIS UGBOMEH examines the consequences of this development.
Towards the end of February, the Lagos State government announced a restriction on movement of commercial motorcycles and tricycles.
Out of 20 local government areas in the state, the ban affects six-Surulere, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, Ikeja, Eti Osa and Apapa.
With a combined population of 6.8 million, these six areas account for 28 percent of the population of Lagos. These six areas are also the commercial centres of Lagos, with thousands of big businesses offering high-quality jobs in Ikoyi, Marina, Ikeja and Victoria Island.
Citing records over the last decade, the permanent secretary in the ministry of transportation, Dr Taiwo Salaam, said motorcycles killed over 11,000 people between 2011 and 2019 in the state.
Similarly, the commissioner for transport, Dr Frederic Oladeinde, said at least 600 deaths were attributable to motorcycles between 2018 and 2019.
Security is another issue. Within the last 10 years, Lagos has witnessed an influx of informal okada riders from other Nigerian states and even neighbouring countries.
This is even as some states in northern Nigeria have also imposed motorbike bans to fight banditry and other crimes. These states include Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara. Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, has also banned motorcycles and tricycles from operating in the city centre, restricting them to satellite towns and some large estates.
Security is a hot political issue for Lagos and other states in the South West of Nigeria. In the last few months, the region has sought political backing for Amotekun, a regional security outfit, and believes trouble makers from northern Nigeria are behind many of the crimes committed in the region in recent times.
So from the Lagos government’s perspective, the ban is apt. It also fits into the status of Lagos State.
“Lagos is a megacity, you don’t build a megacity on two-wheelers and tricycles, it has never been part of our planned strategic master plan for Lagos,” Oladeinde said.
But there’s a problem: Lagos has a number of obvious issues that make its “megacity status” a joke. The roads are bad in most parts of the state even in highbrow neighbourhoods. Rainfall usually shuts down the city for the rest of the day. Every other day, traffic is the true symbol of Lagos, with people losing productive hours on the road.
Okada and tricycles had helped to offset the worst of the Lagos traffic. So, when the government ban went into effect in February, it disrupted the entire transportation system of the state. From having multiple transportation options, commuters now have only four-drive their own cars, wait for the bus, take the boat or order an Uber/Bolt bike hailing services are a major victim of the traffic ban. MAX, Gokada and OPay have each raised significant funding of over $100 million from international investors who believe that Lagos is a promising market.
But the Lagos ban on motorcycles could destroy millions of dollars of investors’ capital. It would also put a negative impression in the minds of investors about doing business in Lagos.
The most significant impact is the sudden and huge unemployment it has caused. There are easily over 6,500 okada riders working with MAX, Gokada and OPay. There are also over 50,000 tricycles and informal motorcycle riders who operated in the now restricted locations.
Popular elitist and government sentiments are that many of these bikers are involved in crimes. However, the number of criminals among them may be smaller than what the government believes. This is true especially for bikers affiliated to bike hailing services since they collect identity information of riders. Regardless, every one of these bikers has suddenly become unemployed as a result of the ban.
Also, bike hailing companies may be forced to cut jobs to stay afloat, Gokada took the lead.
Although the ban on okada does allow bikes with 200cc to operate in some parts of the state, the route is too restricted to be valuable.
On-demand bikes are valuable, among other things, because they can transport passengers to relatively long distances within Lagos. But with only a few routes to operate in, customers may not bother to use them anymore.
The relationship between unemployment and crime is no joke. Lagos already has an unemployment rate of 14% according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, but it will go higher with the recent ban.
Apart from crimes and unemployment, experts say, it is not rife to believe that buses alone will solve the traffic problem in the state. Buses are struggling, they are few, overcrowded and there are now too many cars congesting the road, amplifying the traffic problem. Buses also have fixed routes and do not operate on inner routes.
Since the ban went into effect on Saturday, February 1, 2020, residents have struggled to move around.
After years of reliance on bikes, the ban suddenly left people stranded and confused about how to get to work.
Now, people are losing more productive hours looking for public buses. And when they do find a bus, the struggle to enter leads to intense tussles among commuters.
Despite this challenge, the state government claimed that the new ban was borne out of security and safety concerns. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the ban would not be revoked.
To address the criticism and uproar, Sanwo-Olu announced the launch of 14 commercial boats and deployed a fleet of 65 buses across new routes to expand transportation options, residents are not impressed with this band-aid solution.
Arguably, the ban might be a necessary evil to catapult Lagos into the next phase of its development. But, some believe it blatantly ignores the harsh realities of the majority, especially when it comes to mobility.
According to a regular user of motorcycle, Mr. Kunle Jacobs, it has not been easy meeting office appointments since the ban.
“In my work routine, I don’t stay in the office, I am a marketer that moves out to meet people based on appointment. So, okada has been helpful to make me meet those appointments. But now, it’s very difficult for me. I have failed to meet a number of appointments, especially on the restricted routes in the last few days because of traffic,” he said.
Similarly, Chris Emeka, a private sector worker, said: “Since the ban, transportation in the state is now more expensive. Bus fares have increased and prices on car-hiring services like Uber and Bolt have surged as demand increased.”
One of the motorcyclists who wants to remain anonymous said he is a National Diploma (ND) holder, but went into the business to feed his family when all efforts to get employed failed. He said the ban had affected his daily income, even as he plans to relocate to other parts of Lagos where routes are unrestricted to continue to eke a living from the business that has paid so much more than some white collar jobs.
THE NEXT EPISODE
The prevalent issue with policies in Nigeria is that the intent might be commendable, but the approach is usually flawed.
Lagos is actively striving to meet the global standard of what a mega-city should be, but its transport infrastructure is a great hindrance to achieving this goal. While it is true that motorcycles and tricycles often create chaos on the streets, transportation experts believe that one cannot overlook the essential service they provide for those who use them and cannot afford taxis on a daily basis. There is, according to them, also a question of safety with more pedestrians on Lagos streets which lack sidewalks and the danger of more people walking at night in areas without street lights.
Invariably, government, according to experts, will need to balance the trade by addressing the challenges that lead to the influx and flourishing business of motorcycle transportation which are; bad roads, traffic jams and the continuous rising unemployment rate in the state and the country in general.
Only and until these are done will Lagosians not think the state government operates like a terrorist who has a shallow thinking of what he wants to do and never thinking of a bigger picture and the long term consequences of the act he is about to commit.
It is good to dream of a mega city, but we must not in the process put the cart before the horse. That would mean building the dream of a mega city on a shallow foundation.