(Vanguard of Sunday, August 27, 2006)
Here is the last paragraph of the Preface to a book written by a friend whose passing on last year is being marked today at a local government area in Benue State. I should tell you more about the friend and the work he left behind.
But here is the paragraph: “In the absence of serious moves to provide mass movement of people in towns and villages over short distances, the Okada phenomenon is here, and has a long time to be around. He is welcome. Or is he not?” The quotation is from a 157-paged book, Okada Rider: You can’t do without him. But more relevant than the book and the writer, at least until we have proved a point of the importance of the two, is whether the Okada Rider is welcome or not.
The recent events that have led to very serious decisions being taken in a move to checkmate the bad side of the Okada presence in our midst seem to point to no other conclusion than that the Okada Rider is not welcome.
The latest proof of what we have in store for Okada is the decision of the Lagos State Government to stop this vehicle of movement of the common man from operating in Lagos between the hours of 7 in the evening and 6 in the morning. I can see Governor Ahmed Tinubu and his Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dele Alake, really angry and upset and unsettled because of what Okada Riders have turned Lagos State into.
My wife told me what they said happened. Imagine, she said, 21 Okada Riders lining alongside 21 vehicles and dispossessing them of their money, rings, wristwatches, gsm handsets etc and zooming off without anyone even knowing what had happened! She did not know when this incident took place. But the reaction of the Lagos State government is the ban which stipulates heavy penalties for breach of the order. So if anyone is found breaking the order, the motor bike will be seized and the rider fined N50,000.
I do not know what facts have emerged since this ban on the cheapest means of transportation for the poor both in urban and rural areas. But I think my friend Dele was more heavily weighed down by the information on the ills of the Okada Riders than the strategy to deal with this bad side of a necessary evil.
Oh yes, the Okada is an evil means of transport, but we gave birth to this evil. How much is the cost of a car? What has happened to city transport services? Where are the cheap buses that took many of us to work in the morning and brought us back late in the evening, cheaply? Where are the trains that took off from Iddo terminus and provided the beautiful scene of people hanging on top of the coaches?
With the collapse of the Metroline that Jakande had planned for Lagos, what had we in its place? Where are the roads to drive on? Who is doing something about the gullies that are breaking up towns and cities; and the manholes on our intercity highways? The Okada Rider had never had the need to compete with the long haulage road, destroying heavy-duty lorries. But once you are in any habitation with a population of about a hundred people who need to move things from one place to the other, Okada is there!
If you arrive anywhere in the city and you are looking for a place, all you need is the name of a street or a landmark – church, hospital, petrol station, mechanic workshop, supermarket – and Okada will take you there. In fact they work in associations and do not accept any intrusions. So how come that instead of strategically moderating the Okada business so that we can even locate the operating bases of robbers, we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater? This is no strategy. It is confusion.
But all is not lost. We cannot ban use of fire because it burns. We cannot ban kia-kia buses because armed men rob the passengers and throw them out of the moving vehicles. We cannot ban use of cabs on our roads because some of them are used for robberies. We won’t put a stop to use of luxury buses because they are boarded by robbers who shoot people in there that are not cooperating when the robberies start at places where ready help would not be available.
Would we ban the police and the army from our roads because some robbers wear police uniforms and army fatigues? Banning Okada from operating at all, or limiting them to certain areas or specified times of the day is addressing the problem short-term. There must be long-term solutions to problems of this nature and what is needed is strategy, not short-cuts.
I do not deny that desperate situations may produce desperate solutions. But I believe that when problems arise, we must play war games in resolving them. War games look at all scenarios, at all possibilities. If ten windows open up to a problem, you look at the problem through ten windows. Then you apply the journalistic questions to the solution you are proffering.
The Five W’s and H are the irreducible minimum questions that must be asked and answered. Each answer may raise other questions that must be answered. When there are no more questions to be answered, then you go for the solution that emerges, and the success of such a solution is how much it will impact on the people on whose behalf you are right where you are.
The book I quoted from deals more with strategy than short-cuts. And I will not hesitate to call my friend Dele Alake during the week to ask him to look at what Felix Audu, who had a PhD in political science, specializing in international relations and strategic studies, has done in researching every segment of the Okada phenomenon, and registering his findings through dialogue! Oh yes, through conversations between friends and foes alike, those for Okada Riders and those against Okada Riders. Even Okada riders make a case in this unique book in which yours sincerely, my humble self, am a fictional character moderating the Okada debate!
Hear what Charles Uta, an Okada Rider says in defence of their presence in the polity (page 20) – “We are the children of need, and if that need is met, we will be nowhere near. Did not a Minister of Transport try to displace us by introducing the bicycle? He rode it to work, even to council meetings. Can’t you see that even the effort to promote the bicycle at our expense failed when the minister was almost crushed on an Abuja street on the bicycle on his way to attend the Federal Executive Council meeting!”
Audu now brought Tony Momoh on stage; and he said I said that the presence of the Okada Rider everywhere in the country is not a reaction to an appeal to invest in that area of earning a living. “It is born of need. Can we not start to ensure that we reform the Okada Rider and make him the doctor on call who provides for you and for me and for everyone else, a safe ride to where we want to get to quickly!”
This exciting book of ten chapters – All Comers Preoccupation; Okada in the life of our community; Okada to the rescue; Role in sustaining Nigeria’s economy; A veritable element in technology transfer; Socio-political perspectives of Okada Rider; Nuisance and necessity; Okada, you can’t do without him; Okada Rider, a right to life; and A promising future; is the most fulfilling food for thought I have seen in respect of a child born of our national neglect.
There is a preface written by the godfather of Okada Riders, Charly Boy; and a prologue in which a vehicle inspection officer confronts an Okada Rider who tries to justify why he had on his bike, a woman in labour along with the husband and two children! He had neither a helmet for himself nor for the family, and he had no driving licence! The epilogue tells the experience of a daughter who watched as her sick father struggled through a manuscript that he believed would strategically address the Okada phenomenon.
I took the document from Dr.Audu and edited, and have had it published, early enough for the family to see what their bread winner had done before he died in May, 2005. Yes, early enough, because today, at his village in Ushongo Local Government Area of Benue State, a quiet service is being held for the repose of the soul of the man that Okada Riders and posterity will remember for the pioneer work he has done on the a transportation system that is like fire which burns, but is accommodated because without it, we cannot cook our food.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 187 – 190; Lagos, 2008).