In Lagos, like most other parts of the country, commercial motorcycle operators, commonly referred to as ‘okada riders’, have come a long way since the ‘80’s when they first surfaced to form an integral part of the socio-economic machinery. Unemployed youths used this transport system for commercial purposes, to transport stranded, but willing, passengers through the narrow and not-so-good roads deep into the far, inaccessible parts of the cities or villages. The name ‘Okada’ was derived from ‘Okada Air’, the now defunct local Nigerian airline which was unpopular for its comfort, yet remained the most patronized local airline in the country. The riders could manoeuvre between the heavy Lagos traffic and take passengers to their destination promptly, just as Okada Airline did.
If not for these ‘kings of the road’, many commuters would have missed that crucial flight, the job interview that held the ‘last hope’, that all-important board meeting, or any other equally important engagement. In the thick Lagos traffic, they have saved the day when the caterer got stuck with the wedding cake and last-minute accessories; they have ensured that tired workers got home way before midnight, since the buses and cars cannot yet fly. The good they have done and still promise us are innumerable, but so also are the cases of doom.
Largely constituted by a young demography, it is not uncommon to see these youngsters, often below eighteen years of age, mounting commercial bikes, with little or no training – a few hours of training suffices in many parts of the country. They usually cannot read and/or do not pay attention to traffic signs. This is not helped by the poor state of Nigerian roads, decorated with pot-holes. The National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, hosts hundreds of victims of bike accidents; too many young and promising lives have been cut short, and many have been permanently maimed in okada-related mishaps. Also associated with the phenomenon is an increase in crime rate, particularly in the city centres, urban slums and red light districts. They have also been blamed for their roles in worsening traffic situations in the cities where they operate.
Cross River state, Imo state and the FCT administration have since banned commercial motorcycles in their state capitals, but that has proved a tad difficult to enforce in a more complex megacity as Lagos. However, on Thursday 24 November 2011, the state government announced a tactical ban on the activities of commercial motorcyclists in the state, banning them from carrying pregnant women, school age children, and women with children on their back. It is hoped that the government would continue in ongoing efforts to adequately provide for other easily accessible and cost-effective alternatives, whilst strengthening public enlightenment campaigns on basic traffic laws, health and safety.
P.S: Most of these photographs were shot in Lagos and others in Port Harcourt. The photo [© Bayo Omoboriowo] with six school children and a motorcyclist was selected for the finals of the Nigeria Photography Awards 2011 in the Lifestyle Category.
Bayo Omoboriowo is a freelance photographer and photo artiste. A double-finalist (Still Life & Lifestyle) at the maiden edition of the Nigeria Photography Awards in July 2011, his works have appeared on BellaNaija.com, YNaija.com, and in Y! Magazine. He loves documentary photography, though he also dabbles into events and portrait.
Twitter: @BayoOmoboriowo | Blog: www.bayoomoboriowo.com | Facebook Page: Bayo Omoboriowo
Jide Odukoya, a graphic designer and (front-end) web designer, decided to build a career in photography barely a year ago after purchasing a Canon 550D with which he had experimented for a while. A Photoshop faithful, he dabbles into several kinds of photography, the top three being documentary, street, and wedding photography, in that order.
Twitter: @jideodukoya | Blog: www.jideodukoya.com/blog | Facebook Page: Jide Odukoya Photography
Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. He believes in the inspirational power of words and pictures, which he explores in helping to make the world a better place. He writes from Makurdi, Benue State, where he is presently on the national youth service programme.