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Okada in Lagos – A need, A solution

Blanket bans were a hallmark of the military era in Nigeria in the ’80s and ’90s. Many will recall the infamous announcement of government takeover by General Abacha in 1993:

“The National and State Assemblies are dissolved…The State Executive Councils are dissolved… All Local Governments stand dissolved… The two political parties are hereby dissolved… All processions, political meetings and associations of any type in any part of the country are hereby banned.”

Such was the character of military style leadership – command and rule. Democracy on the other hand eschews such top-down insensitivities. It rather embraces the voice of the people, evaluating the impacts of both actions and inactions of leaders on the people.

Accordingly, one would hardly expect that an evolving mega city like Lagos, within a democratic dispensation, would employ the use of a blanket ban to fix the issue with motorcycle taxis, popularly referred to as ‘okada’. While the arguments in favour of the ban may be cogent, the strategy of execution generates much concern.

A critical analysis of the issue further elucidates this discourse. What is/was the primary issue? Okadas had become very conspicuous on Lagos roads. Like flies, these motorcycles swarmed both major and minor roads, meandering their way around traffic, constantly plying the route of least resistance, oblivious to every traffic sign and signal, scarcely seeing the need to apply the brakes even in precarious conditions. Consequently, they became highly accident prone, leaving many Lagosians with severe injuries, orthopaedic damage, and in extreme cases, death.

Numerous accounts have also been told and recorded of theft and armed robbery involving the use of okadas especially at ungodly hours. Obviously, based on the foregoing, okadas became a high risk to public safety, health and security in Lagos State.

Having understood the ‘What’, the discourse is furthered by root cause analysis to define the ‘Why’ – Why did okadas ever become a means of transport? Why is the use still sustained? The answer is simply expressed – ‘a need’.

Motivational speakers and business people have for ages spoken of identifying public needs as a trigger to business solutions. Similarly, there was a transportation need, a gap. The inability of existing public and private transportation to adequately cover the metropolis, irregular routes, bad roads and inconspicuous locations created a need. The inability of the State to rid its roads of traffic-induced downtime created a need for a faster means of transport. Okadas became the solution to a public need. Furthermore, okada, while meeting public transportation needs, provided employment to many young unskilled men, providing them a steady cash flow. A government-induced public need simply attracted a private-driven innovative response, laden with high risk. It was labelled ‘okada’.

Juxtaposing the ‘what’ against the ‘why’, one wonders, how does a government manage a ‘high-risk’ solution to an obvious need? Eliminate the solution with its attendant risk, thus re-creating the need? Or tactically work out a withdrawal and substitution parallel plan? So far, what has been done is an outright ban, elimination. Yet, the need persists and commuters are stranded at bus stops, previous okada riders become unemployed, creating another risk of idle hands, prone to evil and crime. Elimination ultimately creates another risk cycle of unemployment and crime.

The alternative is a multiple prong approach. First, effective communication and involvement of the public is paramount in determining a substitute solution with less risk.  Perhaps consider an initial withdrawal of all okadas, then a substitution midway – with appropriate structure and controls in place. Motorcycle lanes should be marked out/demarcated on all major roads. A parallel follow-up to this may be a re-registration program for all potential motorcycle riders involving an intensive mental health check, safety indoctrination, road traffic education, several driving tests, motorcycle road worthiness, first aid training, and some business planning and management for value-add. Licenses should be issued only to successful candidates. Each okada driver should then be deployed to a pre-determined local government area with bi-weekly surveillance reports.

A similar case is seen in the construction of a highway within a city, leaving residences on both sides. While this portends a solution, it nonetheless creates a need. Pedestrians may need to move from one side of the road to the other. A high-risk solution rears its head – run across the road. Ban pedestrians from crossing the highway? No. Rather, build usable average height pedestrian bridges at regular crossing points. Employ change management to motivate pedestrians to use it.

In the bid to eliminate adjudged high-risk solutions, government must endeavour to avert re-creating public needs. A blanket ban hardly augurs well in the long run. Public need will always beckon innovative solutions, each with attendant risks. Parallel substitution is vital.

Eliminate solutions? No. Eliminate needs. Provide solutions.  Improve solutions. Mitigate risk.





Plan it, Track it…or Lose it

In today’s world, new businesses are born from the culmination of innovative ideas. Each business operates primarily to make profit on investment by providing products and/or services that meet an existing or expected market need. The fact that a business boasts revenue does not imply that it is profitable. Profit making businesses, small or large, create success and continuously improve by effective planning, execution, tracking and controls.

At the initial stage for many small businesses, financing is typically a major hurdle, especially within a Nigerian market where easy credit facilities are still in the evolution process. As such, angel investors, which may include friends, colleagues, family, are usually approached by beginning entrepreneurs saying – “I have a business idea…will require start-up capital of N500k. Can you help?” In expected response, the potential investor whether family, friend or private equity firm will request to see a business proposal – “Show me your business plan“.

Planning, top-down or bottom-up, is one of many crucial factors to business success. Simply put, the business owner needs to be clear on a number of points – What is the product/service? What output capacity is planned (e.g. No of units/day/month/year)? How will this be achieved – What key activities are required to achieve output? What are the human resource needs for each activity? What materials and equipment do you need to get started? How much revenue do you expect per unit? What is the total owner’s cost per unit? Investors will expect you to prepare a cash flow sheet, determining the present value and expected profitability of your business. These metrics are only ascertained based on your business plan. So, plan properly.

Now the financing is in place, the business plan approved, and somehow, you have started running business operations. How well is your business doing? While it is understandable that many times, businesses may not ‘stick to the plan’ due to complexity and uncertainty in business environments, it remains essential that progress on the plan must be tracked. Plan it, and Track it. A local cement block making business planned to produce 400units/day and sell at least 350, leaving a daily inventory of 50units/day for the first 6 months. After being funded, the business commenced accordingly. However, over the first month, actual production was 250units/day with daily sales of 200 units. The business owner, oblivious to this gradual development, continued operations, overjoyed with the decent revenues. Was the business making money? Yes, probably even covering cost, but how well was it performing? It was certainly not meeting the plan, and was certainly underperforming its profit, if it expended the planned cost to produce yet less output.

It is one thing to track and measure, it is another thing to track and measure the right things. Readily, a business would prefer to track and measure quantity of output and cost but focus must also be placed on quality, speed, dependability and reliability. Were customers pleased with the quality of cement blocks produced? Were they durable, reliable and dependable? Having displeased customers is easy potential for undermining expected sales. What is the rate at which the cement blocks were being produced? Why the drop versus the plan? Was it due to faulty equipment, incompetent employees or perhaps environmental factors like continuous rainfall? At the end of the day, the business must not forget to track its customer base. What sorts of customers are most frequent and loyal? Which ones have reduced patronage? Why? Do you need to target other types of customers? What works for one business may not work for the other. It is important to track the right metrics.

Performance tracking, controls, and progress measurement provide a health check for any business and should be done on a routine basis. Small or big, each business should produce a periodic form of reporting. It could be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, documenting specific performance indicators, plan versus actual etc. Effective tracking raises red flags, identifying operational issues very quickly, to enable the business respond promptly and appropriately.

To fail to plan, they say, is to plan to fail. What you do not track and measure, does not get done, so goes the old management adage. How can you improve business performance if you hardly know whether it’s doing well or not? To the business owner, the message is clear – Plan it, Track it…..or Lose it.

NB: This post was first featured in an SME Magazine (June 2012), and then YNaija (September 2012)