The spate of insecurity in the country has prompted the Federal Government to consider banning the use of commercial motorcycles nationwide. The idea came up after a recent National Security Council meeting in Abuja. According to the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, motorcycles provide the means of transportation for terrorists. “Placing a ban on the use of motorcycles and mining activities will cut the supply of logistics to the terrorists. This will be done in the national interest,” Malami said.
To an extent, the Federal Government is right. Motorcycles, popularly called Okada, in Nigeria enable terrorists or bandits to penetrate any community or object of attack easily and also enhance their quick escape from a crime scene. The terrorists, who attacked the Kuje Correctional Centre, made effective use of motorcycles. They reportedly stormed the prison in hundreds of motorcycles and after accomplishing their aim, they escaped through the same means. The various attacks that had been carried out in Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Taraba, Zamfara, and some other states were made possible by the use of motorcycles.
Besides, motorcycles have led to the untimely death of many people in the country. Apart from not being balanced, some riders also do not learn how to drive it well before hitting the road. This often leads to avoidable accidents which claim some lives. Two years ago, the Lagos State Government claimed that motorcycles and tricycles contributed to most accident deaths in Lagos. It said the state recorded over 10,000 accidents between 2016 and 2019. This, it added, caused over 600 deaths. This figure contrasts sharply with the statistics from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the National Bureau of Statistics, which indicated that only 1,644 road accidents occurred within the same period in Lagos. Out of this figure, about 462 deaths were recorded.
This notwithstanding, some states of the federation have banned Okada operations in their territories. In 2006, the Federal Capital Territory Authority banned it within the federal capital city while tricycles or Kekenapep were restricted to estates. In Lagos State, government recently banned the use of Okada in six local government areas. This took effect from June 1, 2022. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the ban would be extended to other local government areas within a short while.
It is pertinent to note that in advanced economies, motorcycles are rarely used as a means of transportation. This is because the streets and roads are well planned and tarred in such a way that taxis and mini buses could go anywhere. In our own case, especially in rural areas, taxis cannot easily navigate many places because of bad roads and poor physical planning. But for Okada, no road or area is too remote for it to enter.
No doubt, poor traffic management in our urban areas contributes to the preference for motorcycles in some cases. In a place like Lagos, traffic gridlock is too common. This often leads to lateness to meetings and work. It could also lead to missing of flights and other important engagements.
For many people, Okada has become a veritable means of livelihood. There is high rate of unemployment and underemployment in Nigeria. Banning motorcycles will mean throwing millions of youths into the labour market. And where they cannot find any other job to do, they may become willing tools in the hands of criminals and terrorists who may recruit them to cause more havoc in the society. Cars are also used for robbery but this has not led to their ban. FRSC statistics across the country even show that cars are more involved in road accidents than motorcycles.
Okada is a child of necessity and the only way to dislodge it completely is to provide alternatives. Government, for instance, must ensure that many youths are gainfully employed. Skill acquisition centres can be built for those who are not educated enough to enable them acquire some skills. Like the Lagos State Government, which provided Last-Mile, medium and high-capacity buses in the areas where Okada is banned, governments at all levels should provide or encourage entrepreneurs to provide vehicles that will ply every part of the cities.
Okada riders should be encouraged to switch over to tricycles. The advantage of using tricycles is that it can also enter remote areas like motorcycles. Besides, it cannot be easily used for robbery due to its low speed.
We acknowledge the enormity of the security challenges in Nigeria. But the solution does not lie in the total ban of motorcycles nationwide. Rather than the total ban that has been proposed, we call for partial ban of Okada in some parts of the country and total ban in areas where insecurity is high.