On Sunday 23rd of August, about 5:45 pm while coming back from the hospital where I and friends had gone to visit another friend who had undergone appendix operation, we drove up to a cross-road and were stopped by the red light. As we waited for the light to turn green, a reckless driver who was old ran the red light and hit an okada rider and his passenger who had the right of movement.
By the way, okada is the popular term for commercial motorcycles in Nigeria.
Back to my story, as the reckless driver hit the okada rider and his passenger who happened to be a woman; both persons were sent flying in the air. The woman landed on her face while the rider landed on his side, they were bleeding heavily and looking dazed, not able to muster a reaction to what just happened. The reckless driver who hit them got down from his car looking somewhat nonchalant; at least that was what I could read from his posture and body language. As the scene began to attract people, our light turned green and we moved, fortunately the incident occurred near the popular University College Hospital (UCH), so I reckon good Samaritans must have rushed the victims there for medical attention.
As we moved on, the incident dominated our discussion in the car and I began to wonder whether okada really is a solution or a problem. To be honest with you, I have been bailed out of difficult situations by okada where taxis or buses were not available or when there was heavy traffic on the road and I have been fortunate not to be involved in any incident. Like a day my bowel was threatening to erupt like Mount Vesuvius of Pompeii, I was waiting for a bus home when I started getting the danger signs; I desperately needed to get home because there was no public toilet in sight. So I quickly hailed an okada rider and hopped on his bike like it was an action movie. I didn’t mind how much he was going to charge me, all I wanted was to get home and race into the toilet before something ‘uncanny’ happened (Lol). He got me home in good time, beating all the traffic on the road and I was grateful. Before we got to my home, I had been covered in cold sweat and upon arriving; I managed to muster enough resistance against the looming disaster to pay the guy for his service before beating Usain Bolt’s record to the toilet. Okada, that day, was a saviour for me; I shudder to imagine what would have happened if I was in a bus or a taxi and stuck in traffic (Tragic!).
Expert okada riders would easily weave in and out of traffic congestions and save you a lot of time that could have been wasted in the traffic which is why they are very popular with many ‘rush hour’ people. But my worry about okada is that they and their passengers are more exposed to traffic dangers than car drivers and their passengers. Like the incident I spoke about earlier, if both the okada rider and his lady passenger had been in a vehicle rather than on a motorcycle, the impact of the accident on them likely wouldn’t have been so much because in fairness to the reckless old driver, he wasn’t speeding. They likely would have gotten down from their vehicle and exchanged hot words with the reckless old driver (a prelude to ‘speaking fist’ lol, topic for another day!) rather than nursing injuries.
For many Nigerians, okada is a blessing while for many others, it is a curse; or how do you expect victims of accidents caused by the crazy speeding of the okada rider to describe it? There goes where my problem with okada as a means of transportation lies. Many okada riders over-speed, they don’t ever want to slow down or reach a halt. They believe they can always beat any situation with speed, like overtaking, very quickly, a car driver who is about doing a turn from the very side he is turning his car to. Many riders and innocent passengers have lost their lives to accidents; some have been maimed and rendered lame from the misjudgements and miscalculation of riders. And the worrisome thing to me is that the population of okada riders is growing at an alarming rate every day and many of them have little formal education so do not understand traffic signs.
More and more artisans and craftsmen are abandoning their occupations and taking up okada riding because of the allure of quick money the venture holds out. I gathered that in one day, an okada rider can make about ₦4,000 which adds up to ₦120,000 in a month, all variables being constant. Consequently, more and more people are joining the ranks of okada riders. I won’t blame anybody who wants to earn an honest living be it okada riding or anything else, but I do not like reckless riding, violation of traffic rules, and disrespect of car drivers especially as they have passengers, sometimes one, sometimes two or three. In some places, okada has been used, sadly, to perpetrate crimes like bag snatching from unsuspecting ladies at a bus stop, robbers using it to escape from robbery scenes and so on; which is why in some states in Nigeria, okada has been totally outlawed or have their operation seriously limited and under constant scrutiny.
In the ancient city of Ibadan where I reside, I do not see the government easily phasing out okada, if ever they decide to do so, because it has gained so much ground and has become a part of the daily lives of citizens. You find workers and students desperately hopping on okada so they don’t go late to work or school. If the Federal Government of Nigeria decides tomorrow to outlaw okada as a means of transportation in all 36 states of the Federation, many Nigerians will cry while many will rejoice; after all, how were we surviving before okada became a popular means of transportation? Don’t you think we will simply get used to not seeing okada anymore and just get on with life? I think so, really. But till that happens, we keep choosing either to use it or to ignore it. Okada has offered many quick fixes to problems bothering on getting to your destination in time, while it has also brought about problems that have, in many cases, altered people’s lives completely. Honestly, I do not know how to describe okada; either to call it a help or a problem, but I do know that if we sampled the opinion of Nigerians on the street, we are likely going to get an evenly divided response for and against okada.