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Martin Chinagorom: Our Okada

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It was reported that FG may approve a proposal made by the National Council on Transport to ban Okada (commercial motorcycles). Not unexpectedly, when issues like this which affect a seeming small percentage of the population, people don’t care. They ask why they should be bothered by this negligible piece of information, in the face a plethora of important issues that should demand their attention. What they do not know is that, in that okada world, that piece of information was laden with trepidation. If the proposal comes to fruition, its effects would be to them as devastating as those bombs on Hiroshima.

I do not really blame people for not being interested, and I understand the sentiments of those who think the proposal is a step in the right direction, because truth be told, Okada can be a dangerous means of transportation and has been used for some nefarious activities. But, it is still someone’s survival ticket. It is the reason someone lay claims to two/three meals a day. It is the reason there is a roof over people’s heads at night. The sound of their Okada starting in the morning is to them the sound of hope, that their children are fed today, that they will be taken care of in case they get ill, and that they are in school in the hope that tomorrow they will escape the harsh realities of their parents’ lives. That sound is an assurance that their old parents in the village would not have to bend their arthritic bones to labour for food that barren lands do not always assure.

In the BN report of this development, part of the statement from the Ministry of Transportation reads:

All states and the Federal Capital Territory have therefore been advised to establish a public transport system that ensure strict regulation of the operation of public passenger transportation system through a well-articulated management system for enhanced safety, security, effective and efficient service delivery

The states are to also develop master plans for the development of intelligent transport system to facilitate the development and management of their transport operations in line with emerging trends and global best practices.”

The argument is for safety, security and development into transport operations in line with emerging global trends. Banning people’s means of livelihood should be at the lowest rung of option in achieving this goal of the Ministry of Transportation. Have the roads been fixed yet, such that lack of safety on our roads is a reality engendered by only Okada? Have there been strict regulations, trainings, orientations, sensitizations, that tackled the issue of lack of safety and whose failure can be blamed on okada riders’ incorrigibility?

Have enough jobs been created? – the kind of large workforce that would assimilate the millions that Okada is a means of livelihood so that they really have other options. Yes, millions, because it is not just the Okada operators but their mechanics and Okada parts dealers.

Truth is, Nigeria is still a third world country and in such places our Okada is a subtle savior. A lot should be in place – developmental and economic – before this important aspect of Nigeria’s reality is phased out. What that statement does show, is how this could be another means by which the few rich enable their status teeming poor. When Ohakim banned okada in Owerri years ago it was so he could force his tricycles on poor masses who had no choice, and Okada riders had to pay through their noses in a brutally enforced system of hired purchase. Tell me this is not going to happen, even on a larger scale now.

You may not care, but situations like this is what we all get a feeling of, directly or vicariously. And that is because, when these millions are cut loose into a job market that already enjoys over 30% unemployment rate, that would be deal a massive blow to the economy and society. There is no saying how a man would react whose source of livelihood has been cut off and his wife is pregnant with twins and he has kids to feed and give education. Sooner rather than later that reaction would be a concern to us all.

So you might not see them because to you their existence is fleeting. Your contact with them is the shortest of all possible contractual responsibilities. When that money changes hands, and they hand you your balance if there is any, that is the end. You’re on to your world, as they are on to theirs, a world very much like yours, with wives and children and parents and responsibilities and love-worries, only you have not found yourself in less favourable realities where you have to carry people around to have a day’s meal.

So before you form your opinion on government directives such as this, look at the big picture, however myopic that might be.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Grantotufo

Emeka Chinagorom is an analyst in Washington DC. Born in Onitsha, he studied philosophy in Rome before moving to the United States. When he is not obsessing over food, he is trying to read and write. His short story, NOW THAT YOU ARE BLACK IN AMERICA, won the 2017 Ian McMillan award. Emeka is working on his first novel and some short stories. You can find him on Instagram @emmyemc.

12 Comments

  1. Quirky

    October 30, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    When a govt. takes from people and not give back then there’s bound to be calamity. The likes of Boko Haram and militancy has not yet been completely eradicated from our society yet the govt seems to require a new evil that can be born out of hunger. hmmm there’s fire on the mountain and i am on the run because this new development is pure madness!

  2. Femme de l'Avenir

    October 30, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I support your stand and decry situations where the government albeit with good intentions takes away food from the mouths of some of its pple, okada riders being quite a number. Ban them and what do they do?? Turn to robbery or fall back on jobs in a non-existent employment market. Or perhaps they can get on that welfare package that the FG pays its unemployed citizens. Oh no, that’s another country. Make them think this one well abeg.

  3. Frankly Chris

    October 30, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. It is appalling that some ill-thought policies are half-sold to Nigerians and straight away contemplated, with no immediate regard for its effects on the masses. Like you rightly pointed out, the death traps we have as roads, should be fixed and alternative means of livelihood created, for the expectant unemployed bunch; a fallout from the execution of such policy. Else, we might be unconsciously increasing the manpower in armed robbery, kidnapping and other related fields of that aspect of Nigeria’s labour market.

  4. jaybaby

    October 30, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you!!! You just gave a voice to the voiceless….in the long run this may affect us all. the govt should start bringing up policies that are more beneficial to the masses instead of making things even more difficult for them

  5. Osigwe paschal

    October 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    hmm

  6. efe

    October 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Naija Government.,do not ever have alternative plans for their citizens.
    Just making laws and Policies that are favorable to them alone,
    They should be READY for the outcome of this proposed ban.

  7. Omoté

    October 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you, I never thought of the okada rider as anything more than an unnecessary nuisance. Now I know he is not just an okada rider but a human being who needs to survive just like the rest of us.

  8. Chinma Eke

    October 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I said it sometime ago, that people in Government offices resume for work each day and say to themselves; ‘how do I make live more difficult for the average (ordinary) Nigerian?’

  9. benny

    October 30, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Diaspora people… okada does not affect a small fraction of the population, it affects a majority of the population. Maybe the few nigerians u see on social media with their tales of bourgeois living compared to the overall population may seem like majority to you but okadas are the most popular means of transportation in Nigeria despite being banned in several cities.

  10. tunmi

    October 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I am ajepako, absolutely and positively. Okada is a necessity like danfo and molue buses. My aunt was coming to the us from Nigeria and she was stuck in traffic. Guess how she got to the airport. Pkada and her luggage over her head. Nigerian politicians…and Nigerians sef. How can the average Nigerian have a voice?

  11. me2me

    October 31, 2014 at 4:55 am

    I agree that some people will be affected, from the riders to the importers, even commuters like myself. I also agree that the government should find a solution that works and I don’t mean keke. But above all I personally want Okada banned. I have to stop being selfish and look the bigger picture, the number of bike accidents in a day is alarming, the death rate, the fact that they don’t adhere to traffic rules….Safety first before my comfort of getting home quicker. Nigerians are lawless as individuals so I doubt there is a way out. We didn’t have bikes before and we survived. You all should search for the death and injury rate from okda before claiming u are standing up for the voiceless

    • kk

      October 31, 2014 at 8:24 am

      @me2me exactly my thoughts. I SUPPORT THE COMPLETE BAN OF OKADAS. Okada riders are extremely lawless people. Yes Government MUST create alternative means of transportation (like rail) and alternative means of employment for them (like keke Napeps- even those ones are beginning to cause nuisance).

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