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BN Photo Stories: OKADA! Meet the Kings of the Road

BellaNaija.com

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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.

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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.

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CREDITS:

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.

Twitter: @gbengaawomodu | Blog: www.gbengaawomodu.com | Facebook Page: Gbenga Awomodu

57 Comments

  1. Chi

    November 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    wow! nice work, love every picture! U should get paid really well for this outstanding work done. Lighting, emotion, concept, editing all well done! Excellent job! x

  2. Gracie

    November 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    That bloody one… 🙁 As much as i love bikes, we all need to be careful too! Hmmph…May we all be safe!

  3. funkola

    November 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    horrified by a couple of them…the one with 6 kids and the accident one with blood on the road.

  4. Lin Lan

    November 25, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    The pic of 6kids on a bike is jst -___- suicidal mehn!
    The accidnt pic is sad tho

  5. Abs

    November 25, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    OMG! now i understand why people say in nigeria everything is possible. im in shock. Im a Ghanaian who lives in Accra and as someone who has never sat on a motorcycle before, all the pictures above made me feel like screaming out of fright. I’ve heard about a place in Accra where Okada business has started and I keep hearing in the media warnings from the police to the pple in that business. could human life be tht un-appreciated? Oh Nigeria!

    • LindsayLohan

      December 2, 2011 at 1:41 am

      Please, there are bikes in Ghana because Ghanaians are laid back and have no fight in them. Have you been to towns and cities in the Caribbean and in European countries where bikes are their major means of transportation? I’m sure if it was that, you’ll be in awe of the ‘Obronis’. Everything is possible in Nigeria, thank God. In Ghana, nothing is possible and that’s the problem. Shio!

      That being said, Nigerians do have a lot that needs to be put into road safety, bikes or not!

      Please Bella, moderate my comment because you allowed this racist person’s comment.

  6. kenny

    November 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    niaja!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!hmmmmmm

  7. warref-

    November 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    LAGOS MEHHHNNN!I MISS MY CIRRYYYY

  8. Cool Cool Rider

    November 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    So we turned off Admiralty, with me driving, and saw a stream of okadas on a side street. We drove up to approach one, and my pal riding shotgun had wound down the window to ask the okada for directions when we heard “BOOOOM!!”. The car rocked forward on impact.

    Oh that can’t be good, I thought to myself.

    Me and my mate got down from the car to look. An okada guy had collided with the car and had totally smashed the left rear light. Valentine’s Day Massacre was about to occur on the Lekki Peninsular. I was sooooo angry.

    I looked and the okada culprit was writhing on the floor in pain, with his finger sliced.

    Men I was still angry.

    I was like “Look at what you have done to my car. You have smashed the rear light”

    The okada man kept bellowing and writhing on the floor louder.

    You know the drill in Nigeria – whoever is angrier or more upset or more aggrieved is usually the one likely to gain upper-hand or not be at fault. If you dull, you may end up replacing your car rear lights as well as paying for the okada-man’s hospital bill. If a policeman passes by, and intervenes, you will also pay a “consultancy fee”.

    For about 5 minutes, me and the wounded okada man, who was still on the floor writhing and holding his calf, and bellowing like a crazed banshee, had the following exchange:

    Me, in a loud voice: “Aboki, see wetin you do my motor! You go pay for the back-light”

    Okada man in a louder voice: “Yeeehh!!! I don die o. You don broke am for my leg o. Shege banzai!!!!”

    Me, in a louder, louder voice “Make you stand up!!! Na you hit me from behind! I go seize ya machine o! Plus ya helmet!! And the passenger helmet!!!”

    Okada man in a louder louder voice “My leg don broke o!!! You don kill me. I just come from Jigawa this morning o!!!!! This machine, na ma brother own o!!!!!”

    And I am like, Dude, you just came from Jigawa this morning and you are operating as an okada man in bloody Lekki of all places, expressway and all.

    In case you did not know, in Nigeria, when someone smashes into your car, you don’t ask for their insurance; no sir, you ask for their assurance – their assurance that they will fix the car or foot the bill for any repairs – immediately.

    My friends too were all pissed and angry and engaging other people on the scene.

    Meanwhile, all the okada men in Lagos were swarming on the accident scene. It was now a case of 3 versus the great multitude. Uh oh!

    The okada kept writhing like a worm with salt on it. It wasn’t looking good.

    Then a man forced himself to the front of the gathering and said in the thickest Igbo accent “Mallam, why you de lie”.

    Without even looking at me, the man continued: Mallam, why you de lie?! Na you jam this man motor for back? I see you, you de drive okada and de follow ya brother talk, and you no see say this man motor don park. You come hit am, break the back light. When you see say you don jam am, you come de lie for ground, pretend like say you don break ya leg.”

    Apparently, the man (let’s call him Good Samaritan) had been making a phone call in a recharge card centre by the side, and had seen all that had happened. Aww bless.

    Good Samaritan now did something that surprised me. He walked to the okadaman on the ground and held the okadaman’s ankles and started stretching and bending the okadaman’s legs at the knees. “Aboki, you talk say your leg don broke abi? If e don break, why you fit bend and straight ya leg? Get up jare!!!”

    The okada dude realized that his game was up; he stood up like Lazarus!

    Bloody hell!……………………http://woahnigeria.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/speed-demons-okada-riders/

    • POintOf Correction

      November 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

      LMAO!!!

    • Ronnie

      November 27, 2011 at 7:39 am

      LMAO!

    • diamond

      November 28, 2011 at 9:26 am

      ROTFLMAO. Men! that okada man has too much sense for soebody just coming from Jigawa that morning.

    • diamond

      November 28, 2011 at 9:27 am

      ROTLFMAO. Men! that aboki had too much sense for someone that is just coming from Jigawa that morning.

    • Mariaah

      November 29, 2011 at 3:34 am

      Lmao… You ‘ve got to love esco and his stories… Ps Igbo guy Aka Good Samaritan is a S*T*A*R*!!!

      The picture with 6 kids: HORRIFYING!!!

    • Temiloluwa

      November 30, 2011 at 9:09 am

      LOL!!!! Jokes!!! I’ll post my experience too lol:

      I had a lovely day on Friday the 21st. I was especially excited about seeing the weekend begin and at about 5:20 or so, I left work and headed towards Ajose Adeogun. As I turned into Mobil from Ozumba, an Okada came from NOWHERE and hit me hard! My number 1 thought was ‘Jesus, I’m not going to add manslaughter to the list of my sins’.

      Scared, shaken, angry, I parked in the middle of the road got down to assess the damage done, not even to the car but to the bike man in particular. I was scared that this man had killed himself. As soon as I saw that he was alive, breathing and actually fixing his bike, I screamed at him in a way that shocked even I. It was as though someone came out of me to vex and I was calmly observing the goings on. I was livid.

      ‘How dare you ride your bike like that?!’ ‘What if you had killed yourself? You didn’t even check the road. You’re lucky nothing happened to you!’

      Our typical pocknosey Nigerians had gathered- most people were on Team Temi and they were asking me to calm down and take it easy. I decided to heed their advice and gently started walking towards the car. Just as I turned, the only member of Team Okadaman, one white man, said ‘Calm down, you are a lady. And it was your fault, you were overspeeding’ I saw RED! Let’s just say he received the remaining part of the venom I was trying to swallow. I was outraged.

      What does ladylikeness have to do with this? If he had killed himself and I was bundled to Alagbon police station to write a statement and be detained, would they have treated me like a lady?

      A few minutes after, I felt bad that I wasn’t calmer and that I didn’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit sha. But okada men make it hard to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, really. They do not obey traffic laws, they don’t obey traffic lights, they are just totally impossible!

      Dear Lord, please this is to remind you of my earlier request for okadas to be banned in Lagos and for them to be provided with even better and less endangering jobs. Thank You Lord.

      http://temiville.wordpress.com/

    • Temiloluwa

      November 30, 2011 at 9:13 am

      Lost my other comment 🙁

      This is too funny and I’m sneaking to post this. LOL!!! I love your description… Lemme post my own experience:

      I had a lovely day on Friday the 21st. I was especially excited about seeing the weekend begin and at about 5:20 or so, I left work and headed towards Ajose Adeogun. As I turned into Mobil from Ozumba, an Okada came from NOWHERE and hit me hard! My number 1 thought was ‘Jesus, I’m not going to add manslaughter to the list of my sins’.

      Scared, shaken, angry, I parked in the middle of the road got down to assess the damage done, not even to the car but to the bike man in particular. I was scared that this man had killed himself. As soon as I saw that he was alive, breathing and actually fixing his bike, I screamed at him in a way that shocked even I. It was as though someone came out of me to vex and I was calmly observing the goings on. I was livid.

      ‘How dare you ride your bike like that?!’ ‘What if you had killed yourself? You didn’t even check the road. You’re lucky nothing happened to you!’

      Our typical pocknosey Nigerians had gathered- most people were on Team Temi and they were asking me to calm down and take it easy. I decided to heed their advice and gently started walking towards the car. Just as I turned, the only member of Team Okadaman, one white man, said ‘Calm down, you are a lady. And it was your fault, you were overspeeding’ I saw RED! Let’s just say he received the remaining part of the venom I was trying to swallow. I was outraged.

      What does ladylikeness have to do with this? If he had killed himself and I was bundled to Alagbon police station to write a statement and be detained, would they have treated me like a lady?

      A few minutes after, I felt bad that I wasn’t calmer and that I didn’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit sha. But okada men make it hard to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, really. They do not obey traffic laws, they don’t obey traffic lights, they are just totally impossible!

      Dear Lord, please this is to remind you of my earlier request for okadas to be banned in Lagos and for them to be provided with even better and less endangering jobs. Thank You Lord.

    • Purpleicious Babe

      November 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      loooooooooooooooooooooool….. never a dull moment with u esco… jokes..

  9. Tiki

    November 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I never take bikes unless ABSOLUTELY called-for, and u should see me yelling at the guys to take it easy! I pity those forced into it due to unemployment sha…it’s a hard life wey we dey live for Naija.

  10. cold

    November 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    wat! i wouldnt call the six kids one poverty thatz wickedness…infact the govt should create some sorta law against it and fine pple where necessary

  11. Olabeemaselfbad

    November 25, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Love both lightingediting and each of the shot beautiful . The arrangement of the photos are beautiful with each photograph is got a story its telling 😉 gr8 shots Love it

  12. MyView

    November 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    While I love the photography, this is the most dangerous form of transportation. All you need is a slight bump and that little baby’s neck snaps for good and the mother blames the neighbor for juju. The kids in the back, riding at night with no lights, there are so many things wrong with this and the pictures do capture the situations perfectly, nice work.

  13. shydiva

    November 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    You guys sha stalked that chic with the yellow top and flying hair…lol

  14. steezz.com

    November 25, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    oh my God. what a collection of pictures. and dat bloody one, so sad. welldone guys.

  15. NNENNE

    November 26, 2011 at 12:16 am

    The picture with the kids on the bike brought tears to my eyes. As long as we continue to sell our votes,enabling wrong leaders, being tugs for them and selling our conscience, things will remain as they are. For I believe the answer lies in each and everyone of us.SELFLESSNESS and not SELFISHNESS!!!!

    • Gidi

      December 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

      That has nothing to do with govt. If i had my way, the parents of those kids will be charged for negligience and outright stupidity.
      They do not deserve to be called parents and no one should even talk about poverty in that case.
      How do you put your kids in harms way like that?

  16. missy

    November 26, 2011 at 12:38 am

    okada! i miss riding one sha.

  17. Tina

    November 26, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Shocked at some of these pics………kids should not be riding these.

  18. Mary007

    November 26, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Interesting well taken pictures each with a story, the light skinned okada rider looks a tad bit like Ramsey Noah

  19. Tosin

    November 26, 2011 at 6:28 am

    As much as I love adventure I avoid riding okada. Great photos.

  20. Dahlia Voka

    November 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Thanks BN i really likes the story

  21. 9ja Mom

    November 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    My heart cries for the children – the most ironic of the photos is the mom with a helmet while her child sits on her back unprotected. Where are the lawmakers in this? It has to stop! Ensuring children are protected should be at the forefront of what we do and it’s sad to see that is not the case.

    Unfortunately, things can never be good for a nation that places very little value on human lives moreso Children’s lives! My heart goes out to those who do not have a choice but to engage Okada as their mode of transportation – they really cannot be faulted given the state of the roads and lack of safety enforcement.

    http://Www.9jamom.com

  22. Funmi

    November 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Naija impossible is nothing

  23. segun

    November 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    nice one! good work!
    it’s a pity, though, that we ignore this reality!

  24. Neha

    November 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    An amazing set of photos! Thanks for sharing.

  25. Jovie Onyema

    November 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    see that woman wey carry cooler!! if not for okada, that food no go reach that wedding!

    In as much as okada riders make a lot of things difficult, its annoying when they continue in their ungentlemanly behaviour, rushing up and down, disregarding traffic rules, almost causing mayhem. in general, the government should improve our transport system sha….what happened to trains? they’ll surely help reduce traffic jams…

  26. Lagos Boy

    November 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Nice Pics…

  27. Titilayo

    November 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Tanx 2 BN for dis eye opener, I like biking but dis wil make me more careful.

  28. kiki23

    November 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    As much as some of these pics are gruesome, okada has nothing to do with poverty. it is even more expensive than the buses. CEOs, managers, top pple in coys, working class folks sometimes use em to bit traffic when they are in haste for meetings. If power bikes can be cool, why the morbid fear of okadas? All it requires is proper safety such as a ban for kids.

    • Gidi

      December 5, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Who said power bikes are cool?

  29. AJCiti

    November 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing, I rode my friends motorcycle in Canada & I got a really bad burn on my leg from the exhaust pipe. It was kind of my fault because I backed into it while the bike was idling but anyways…I was so scared on the back of that thing I can’t imagine riding one in a crazy place like Lagos.

  30. bukioni

    November 28, 2011 at 12:35 am

    I’m not even gonna front I’ve ridden on many an okada. I think the issue here is not the ‘okada’ per say but their road worthiness, the state of roads generally, age restrictions and road safety. All motorist including car drivers owe a duty of care to other road users and should therefore ride/drive responsibly. Motorcycles are by no means objects of poverty, I very recently checked out the prices of Vespa’s and they are pretty expensive, i’m talking thousands of pounds; and they’re electric scooters not even motorcycles!
    http://www.emblemofbeauty.blogspot.com/

  31. maob2nyc

    November 28, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Painfully no one is makng any solution-based statement..all we see is the beauty of the pix and the helpless pity for the wounded and dead. Its time we wake up to the realities of the now. Which kind poverty go make woman package children untop of bike?

  32. Tayo

    November 28, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Great pictures! But some of them were downright scary (and kids should NEVER be allowed on Okada under any circumstances). However, those who think that Okada is symptomatic with poverty are ill-formed (though it might be in some places), because here in Lagos Okada often costs more than BRT (or even Molue, another dangerous contraption) but is often favored for speed and access to any locale within the city. Eko o ni baje!

  33. cathy

    November 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

    we nigerians are born hustlers. i love naija i no go lie

  34. Toese

    November 28, 2011 at 11:21 am

    ln as much as l love this…l didnt see the pictures that has babes…. because seriously in VI, the love of Okada is the beginning of wisdom with our damn traffic where you can spend an hour from Ajose Adeogun to Idowu Taylor…okada is the way mehn and we have chicks flying it(or mounting de ni)

  35. HRS_Cindy

    November 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Omo babes dem no dey carry last! lol…This is photography at its best! Woahhhhhh

  36. Rihanna Breaks Down

    November 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Love the pics… Wish we could know more about the one with blood on the ground, and the bike under a wheel…

  37. miss T

    November 30, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I’ll walk to my destination before getting on one of these…especially in Lagos of all places!

  38. triangle

    November 30, 2011 at 10:42 am

    okada was banned in abuja city centre but still operate in some satellite towns within d city. It’s a normal thing to board okadas in those places and is in fact the only means of transport within those towns unless u hv ur private car. Then i went to lagos, and boarded a bus frm obalende to ajah, the traffic wz something else. After travelling over 10 hrs to lagos, staying in traffic for hrs again wasnt an option o. So i came down frm d bus n took a bike. Serious mistake! The okada man was weaving in and out of traffic like no man business. When he almost rode into a truck, i jejely wore d helmet he gave me, eh i was forming before. The following day, i also took a bike frm ajah to law sch, the guy threw me down at chevron roundabout, since then i have vowed neva to ride an okada in lagos again. In Abj yes, but not lagos o. And they neva obey the traffic light, lol. I no fit shout

  39. Purpleicious Babe

    November 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I can’t remember the last time I rode on okada. But do not think I will do it anymore (well time will tell ohhh).

    Sha, me I thought okada name was a yoruba word (learnt something new today)Happy smiles…

    Personally, I think solution should be provided (better roads, better road training and law enforcement etc)….

    I would like to own my bike one day though (there is something about leather and bike riding that I like)….. hmmmmmmmmmm.

    God will continue to protect the road we drive on and help us to protect ourselves….

  40. Oyinade

    December 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

    @BN: “In the thick Lagos traffic, they have saved the day when the caterer got stuck with the wedding cake” – haba Bella, when have you seen a caterer with a cake on an okada? lol

  41. Bee

    December 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    @BN: the parents of the 6 children on that okada shld be arrested and punished for attempted murder…………….. Mehnnnnn, Okada na sharp! sharp! as my friend will say.

  42. vickky

    December 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Lovely pics. Did anyone notice the last kid on the bike was shutting his eyes so so tightly and praying, it seems, not to fall off….Poor kid(s).
    Okada, as pointed out, was derived from the old Okada airlines which was wonderfully unique back in the day. Whenever there was a backlog of passengers to anywhere in Nigeria, say from Nigeria Airways delaying their flight for the umpteenth time for technical reasons, Okada was sure to suddenly announce that destination. There was usually a mad rush, tickets hastily purchased and passengers relieved as Okada airlines saved the day……..Hence the name Okada was applied to motorcycles. LOL.

  43. Okechukwu Ofili

    December 5, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Poignant and touching pictures! Gives one an insight on the positive and negatives of Okadas. We hate them but can’t fail to admit that we can’t do without them…keep on rolling Okadas.

  44. Jolex

    December 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    So what other jobs would the government substitute for these people, Lord help us.

  45. fatai Kuteyi

    October 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    The State Goverment Should totally Ban Okada in Lagos- State, But before then, The State Goverment Can Hire them for AGRIC FARM purposes, Lagos State Can Lease about 500-000 Heckers of Land from any States, And used this land to provide food for Lagos- State. Put them in the farm to work and get payed. Out of the land, Lagos-State need to provide an Accommodation in the farm for them to live, With water and Eletricity.

  46. Franklin Israel

    October 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Hey guys, Great work.

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