By Carl Umegboro
RECENTLY, the Lagos governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu outlawed commercial motorcycles and tricycles in the state leading to criticisms from several quarters in the state. From government’s side, the action was targeted at reducing the crime rate in the society. Admitted, most of the heinous crimes are perpetrated in collusion with motorcycle operators popularly called Okada which clearly manifested recently by the arrest of Okada riders with handguns and other arms concealed inside parts of their motorcycles. Kudos to the Police Intelligence Response Team, IRT, led by DCP Abba Kyari. Operatives of the team group has continued to show expertise in the discharge of their job and therefore deserve encomiums.
However, as the society is tensed up over unemployment ratio, it must be noted that tricycle and motorcycle transportationhas been bridging the gap on unemployment, and thereby contributing positively in a measure to secure lives and properties. The question is: if with the engagement of such a great population of operators, security challenges are pronounced in the society, what will happen when they do not have means of livelihood? Of course, there will be fire on the mountain.
To ban the masses means of livelihoods without first providing alternatives is not ideal. Many of the operators opted for the vocation as a last resort after some ugly incidents knocked them out of the ring. Presently, there’s no welfare packages for the unemployed, and the microfinance banks that are supposed to support SMEs (Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises) do not help matters. Clearly, there are no sufficient job opportunities even for the employable. Many that are willing to work are roaming the streets looking for non-existent jobs.
Suffice to say that instead of the outright ban on Okada and Keke Marwa, the Lagos State government should instead put stringent measures in place towards organising and monitoring the operators adequately for security reasons. Particularly, there should be compulsory registration of the operators and also restricting them to some designated routes.
For instance, the expressways should be no-go areas for them. However, what then becomes the fate of residents in the remote areas that due to bad roads can with less difficulty move around through motorcycles? Suffice to say that it goes beyond banning but putting necessary infrastructures in place. If there are good roads for vehicles to ply, especially mini-buses, certainly, many commuters will not go for motorcycles or tricycles.
The ban similarly occurred in the Federal Capital Territory leaving commuters to suffer since the long buses in the fleet of Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company are insufficient and therefore rarely available at needed times. Commuters are getting excessively stressed up in the Federal Capital Territory unlike before while going to work and other places. So, governments must always ensure that palliative measures are put in place before adopting radical policies so as not to imperil the same lives they intend to protect. Government is essentially about service to the people.
Without doubt, the operators will find themselves in extreme tight corner without any means of survival. If government had designated mini-buses with a hire-purchase scheme as a model, the motorcycle and tricycle operators could key in, and the idea would be unique. But to chase out poor masses who are struggling to survive without any provision for them is unconsciously endorsing insecurity. Absurdly, this is a society where a minister, or lawmaker goes around in official fleets worth over N100 million, yet, ordinary social facilities to the masses are unavailable. Government must ensure that its policies, no matter how good they may become in the long run, do not first drain the masses.
To expect every business to operate in a modern plaza is welcome, however, not realistic given its financial implication, especially different capacities to pay. Rome they say, was not built in a day. As a coin has two sides, so is any society. Hence, the need for government to weigh both sides and carry everybody along. Otherwise, democracy may shift to become a government of the affluent and for the affluent. So far, the masses are not participants in reality, but reserved valuable assets for campaigns just to get into power. After the phase, everyone is on his own.
Recently, a former ‘distinguished senator has in a twitter brashly justified his passion for insatiably acquiring luxurious automobiles when the people in his locality are living in abject poverty. Meantime, he has not even a factory or serious business anywhere to create jobs for his people. What is important to him is to display customised posh cars with special numbers in his garage. Yet, during election campaigns, the masses will put their lives on the line for little or nothing.
Recently, about 40 bank accounts in foreign and local currencies were allegedly traced to the son of a state governor and Speaker of the State House of Assembly by the anti-graft agency which buttressed the point well. Imagine the ones yet to be traced.
No wonder there are many unoccupied estates in many places, particularly in the federal capital territory, with no identifiable owners who may possibly have gone into hiding for fear of investigation. Nigeria’s democracy presently reflects‘lootocracy’ than democracy. Apparently, the military sold a looting template to the people, and not democracy as practised around the world.
A society that neglects the masses in its plan cannot wake up with radical changes overnight, otherwise, the good policy may end up doing more harm than good. There are millions of adults willing to engage in one lawful endeavour or the other, but find themselves handicapped due to unavailability of jobs and capital. Ideally, any responsible and committed government must take cognisance of this and do the needful prior to any ban.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United Kingdom).