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.