By EMMANUEL UDOM
In Lagos, south-west Nigeria, okada business is the in-thing. The operators, called riders are everywhere-from mega areas like Ikoyi and Victoria Island to slums like Iyana-Ipaja, Agege and Ajegunle, among others.
Observations and interactions show that frustration, triggered off by the alarming unemployment statistics in Nigeria forced 90% of persons to venture into the ever -risky and unpredictable transportation business, called Okada riding.
As I write this piece, the tag words, or what some other persons prefer to call key words that come to my mind are: reckless, abusive, restive, runs, hustling, robbery, accidents, broken limbs, death. The list is limitless and I am sure you, my dear readers could also add to it.
James Akpan is an indigene of Akwa Ibom state and a rider in Lagos. He lives with his family of seven children and a wife in a 1-room apartment, located somewhere at Adeshina street in Abule Egba, Lagos. They call this sort of apartment in our local parlance, face-me-I-face-you, where a husband, wife, and children live. Another sign of poverty, if you ask me.
But, Akpan has been maintaining a very predictable routine in the last two years. He wakes up in the morning and hit the nearest beer parlor or joint where herbal concoctions are sold.
These concoctions, brewed with roots, leaves and other items from plants and animals are mixed together and sold to the likes of Akpan, who want to keep their malaria at bay, while going about their risky business.
This Akwa Ibom state indigene will take a shut or two of the Ogogoro and finally smoke some sticks of cigarettes before hitting the streets with his okada. He unknowingly told this reporter last week that on the average he makes between N5000 to N7000 on a good day conveying two passengers from Abule Egba Bus-stop to Oshiodi bus-stop with his okada.
If he makes this much everyday, he ends up either at a beer palour or paraga joint spending about N500 daily on locally brewed herbal drinks and cigarettes.
Statistics show that there are about 5million okada riders doing business in Nigeria, with a greater percentage of this number operating in Lagos and parts of Abuja, among other major cities in the country.
When you talk about okada business it is about taking beer, gin, ogogoro and other illicit drugs to be high. Some of them think that drinking alcohol to stupor; smoking Indian hemp and sniffing illicit drugs will give them the strength and boldness to work real hard, become reckless, abusive and restless while driving on the road.
Last week Monday, Dannie Eze, a friend and national president of Paths of Peace Imitative, a non-governmental organization summoned okada riders on a peaceful protest to the Lagos state government secretariat in Alausa.
This reporter was among the many journalists from the print and electronic media that marched from Ikeja under bridge to LASG secretariat, where Eze in his usual characteristics told government point-blank the 496 roads listed on schedule 2 of the state traffic laws was not acceptable to okada riders in the state.
The PPI leader insisted that if the riders allow the government to run away with the law, which has already been signed into law by Fashola, it will equally run okada riders out of business and increase crime rates. He is dead correct right here.
Statistics from the police and FRSC show that 80% of crimes committed in Lagos are linked directly or indirectly to okada riders. This does not mean that all okada riders are robbers, kidnappers, assassins etc. There are a whole lot of responsible and respected persons running the okada business.
Also pay a visit to the National Orthopedics Hospital in Yaba and some private and government mortuaries and you will see that number of riders either stone dead or with broken limbs. While, I do not support Fashola to ban totally the activities of the riders, I do not think the governor is interested in killing the Okada business, but simply to sanitize it.
It is all about killing the crime, reckless, abusive and restive spirits in some of the riders in line with the mega dream of the government. If the traffic laws will do the magic, so be it.
Secondly, banning okada business without solid alternative by government will heat- up the system increase crimes and criminalities and eventually placed the police and other security agents under intense pressure. I rest my pen for now.