Issue of the Year: The Okada Rider ( 2nd Runner Up)

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BY VICTOR OMOREGIE

OKADA refers to a town in the Ovia North East local Government Area of Edo state. Its popularity was made possible by Chief Gabriel Osawaru IGBINEDION, the Esama of Benin Kingdom. Chief Igbinedion named his private airline service OKADA AIR. However the motorcycle got its present local parlance of being called ‘Okada’ from the unique and peculiar marketing style of the Okada Air Ticketing Staff. In the 80s Okada Airline had no particular route.

The flight schedule of the airline depended on the number of passengers on ground, which meant the airline headed for the destination with enough passengers.

Immediate travel arrangements

Thus it became a regular feature at the airport for passengers to besiege the Okada Airline stand because they were sure of prompt and immediate travel arrangements.

This was different from other airlines, who either kept on rescheduling their flights, leading to long waits by passengers at the airports. It was this ability and fame of the Okada Airline at that time to get to any part of the country promptly and safely that was translated in local parlance to describe a motorcycle, which could render the same kind of services on land.

The earliest recorded commercial activities of ‘Okada Riders’ was in the 1980s in Calabar, where they were called ‘AKAUKE’, meaning ‘where are you going’ in Ibibio language. Owing to the deplorable roads in the Calabar metropolis at that time, the motorcycle was the fastest and easiest means of transport. Thus you found in every nook and cranny of the city, motorcyclists shouting at the top of their voices “Akauke, Akauke, Akauke” to attract every potential customer.

However what made the ‘Okada Rider’ to become the face of Nigeria’s most common professional was the down-turn in the economy. With the country’s poor economic policies that played out during the 80s, a lot of Nigerians lost their jobs and were offloaded into the labour market. From the youths in the rural areas to the university graduates that have been searching for the proverbial ‘white-collar jobs’ in the urban centres, being an Okada rider was the only option.

For most of these persons new jobs were not forth coming and the stringent conditions given by the banks to get loans to begin an alternative business venture, went further to worsen their condition. Coupled with the fact that most of the roads were not motor able for cars and other larger vehicles, the Okada rider became the King of the Transport profession.

Again the ever increasing population in the urban towns that was always on the move and wanting to get to their destination on time gave the Okada rider an edge over other professionals within the transport industry.  The Okada Rider became the transition from being unemployed to getting a regular job. In time most State governments later legitimize the Okada riding profession by making it a symbol of their various poverty alleviation programmes.

With its ever growing number to be found in most urban centres of the country, the Okada riders formed unions to further legitimize their presence. In some states like Lagos where there had always been a problem with traffic grid-locks, the Okada rider became King.

His services were wanted by almost every Lagosian, who wanted quick and efficient services to get him to his destination on time. The Okada rider became indispensable as he rendered services of all types within the community. From assisting families for school runs to getting some very senior executives to meet up with very crucial board meeting.

For these executives, their drivers could come later to pick them up, but arrival on time at very crucial meetings needed the services of the Okada rider. The state of most Nigerian roads gave the Okada rider a wide berth to operate. These roads were in such deplorable states that only a motorcycle could navigate them. Most of the hinterland roads that led to where a majority of the population lived were deplorable and the citizenry had to depend on the Okada rider to bring them out to the nearest motorable road. The Okada rider became a profession that could be reckoned with. The profession became a legitimate bread-winner for most families that  had already lost hope and in most cases one to be proud about. The Okada rider became the legitimate stop-gap to poverty.

Being an Okada rider, however, had its challenges. First came, the law enforcing agents, who took delight in harassing the Okada rider in order to collect their daily gratification. Then came the government agents of all sorts, from the local government revenue generators to their state counterparts. At the end of the list came the criminal-minded individuals in the society, who the Okada rider must beware of at all times. This individual makes the difference between going home with a day’s profit or losing everything. These criminals often time disguised as potential passengers, only to dispose the Okada rider of the daily takings and in worst case scenarios dispossessed the Okada rider of the motorcycle.

The advent of the Third republic politics brought with it a more definitive role for the Okada rider in the nation’s body politics. The Okada rider became the first line of support and defence for most of the ruling parties in the states. He became an ever present feature in every political rally. Local dispatch riders heralded the arrival of party chieftains and were used to propagate and circulate policies of these political parties to the nooks and crannies of the political party’s area of operation. The Okada rider came to represent the face of hope for the common man against all odds of poor governance and bad economic policies. This was the glorious days for the Okada Rider. He became the “Beautiful Bride” for most political parties, because of the services he rendered.

However all of sudden the phenomenon called the Okada rider is being gradually driven out of existence in the guise of protecting the lives of the citizenry and reducing crime.

In Lagos State, the government says it has restricted the operation of the Okada rider to 475 roads out of its 8500 roads. However this law also says that motorcycles below 200cc capacity cannot ply the remaining roads. Putting the two clauses together, the Okada rider seems to have been banned entirely.

Meanwhile they are hounded all over the place by the police. In Delta State, there is an outright ban of the activities of the Okada rider. All over the nation, state governments are issuing policies to either totally ban or restrict the movement of the Okada rider. As part of the excuses being bandied about by some these state governments involved in the gradual extinction of the Okada rider is that persons with criminal motives have often times posed as Okada riders and then went ahead to commit heinous crimes. This they say is responsible for the increase in crime wave in the said states.

However the question being raised by some Nigerians is whether other means of transport like motor cars are not also used to commit crimes also. If so, why not also ban operators of such vehicles or restrict their movement to certain areas. In Lagos State where the Okada Rider has been restricted to 475 roads or not, the incidence of “one-chance” criminal act perpetuated in danfo vehicles, car snatching, armed robbery etc has not reduced. Another laughable excuse to cut short the ambition of the Okada Rider, is the incidence of motorcycle accidents, which government say it is on the decline since the ban.

Okada rider’s membership in Lagos State alone stands at 250,000. Simple calculation to the barest realistic number would come to over 8,000,000 millions Nigerians from at least 25 states of the country that are being thrown back into the labour market. While other nations are searching for modalities to reduce unemployment, Nigeria is increasing its number. The rippling effect on criminal activities can be better imagined. What is needed is a better management of the activities of the Okada rider.

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