Okada: To Ban or To Regulate?

A 2014 report by Premium Times indicated that there were about 8 million Okada riders in Nigeria, this number is certain to have increased since then. So, the proposed nationwide ban of motorbikes popularly known as “Okada” in Nigeria will have huge social implications if implemented. It will stretch the police in terms of enforcement and will worsen the economic conditions of many law-abiding riders and their households.

1. When we confiscate and destroy motorbikes, many innocent riders will be affected some of whom took loans to buy their bikes. These include young graduates who have tried unsuccessfully to find gainful employment.

2. These otherwise patriotic citizens will feel unjustly treated and become disgruntled and may resort to crime directly or indirectly to survive or as a pay-back to a system that treats them with cruelty and deprives them of legitimate livelihood.

3. Many people have also come to rely on this mode of transportation as the only viable option especially in remote and rural areas.

4. Sadly, even after a ban, criminals may still exploit loopholes from exemptions that will be granted to personnel of security forces, delivery riders and power bikes to perpetrate their evil acts.

5. Instead, government should consider regulating Okada by licensing corporate riders like Gokada which can be monitored and held accountable and introduce a cooperative society structure for non-corporate riders where government will licence the cooperatives and register their members capturing the identity of each rider, their motorbikes, and then restrict them to operate within a specified area.

6. The use of trackers may also be mandated as well as enforcement of traffic rules and use of safety gears like helmets. A compulsory micro-insurance scheme may be introduced to cover the riders and their passengers.

7. In addition, membership of a registered Okada riders cooperative could be restricted to indigenes or residents of the area in which they operate to prevent infiltration by “unknown” riders.

8. This will ensure that members know each other and can easily identify strangers within their area which can be promptly reported to the authorities.

9. This will turn the riders into a community policing and security intelligence structure. Their licence to operate will largely depend on prevention of Okada related offences and crimes within their jurisdiction.

10. In addition, this formalisation will enable government to bring the riders into the tax net and replace the current system of extortion by non-state actors with government levies which can be dedicated to road maintenance.

Oftentimes, a problem is an opportunity to find creative solutions that will benefit society. Cars are used for crimes, but we don’t ban cars; buses are used for criminal activities and we haven’t banned them; why should Okadas be treated differently? In my view, the outright banning of any legitimate activity should be a last resort after all other options have failed.

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