When, on February 1, 2020, Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial capital, banned commercial motorcycles and tricycles from major routes, officials said the move was aimed at securing lives and sanitising transportation in the city.
Traffic in Lagos is maniacal, frenzied, time-consuming and can be outright dangerous, especially with the upsurge in traffic robberies.
To reduce the number of hours spent daily in traffic, thousands of residents resort to using commercial motorcycles and tricycles, popularly known as Okada and Keke Marwa respectively. Their sizes provide ease of navigating through hellish gridlock.
Besides, thousands of young people are currently engaged in the most disorganised public transport sector ferrying people around the city’s major highways and inner streets.
“It is a lot easier for me to take a bike from FESTAC to Ebute-Metta to get what I want and return quickly,” said Ibrahim Bashir, an auto mechanic.
But state officials think otherwise. The okada and keke operators have wreaked more havoc than could be imagined. Consequently, the government restricted their operation in six local government areas. The ban also affected bike-hailing companies like O’Ride, Max NG, and others.
How are Lagos roads now?
It is over a year since the ban has been imposed and okada riders still rule on major highways, defying government’s order. In fact, they now ply the roads in Alausa secretariat, the seat of Lagos State Government, despite many signage that reads: “Okada/motorcycles are prohibited.”
As traffic jams continue to exert more stress on commuters without any solution in sight, thousands still rely on the banned motorcycles and tricycles to move around, even in areas where they are restricted from operating.
The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), owned by the state government, would have been an option for some commuters because of the subsidised transport charges and a section of the road dedicated to the blue-coloured buses, but they are not immune to the traffic situation.
GoKada, O’Pay, Max NG, others gone
While okada riders continue to be ‘king of the roads,’ ride-hailing companies whose operations have been halted feel hard-done, with millions of dollars into the transport sector almost going down the drain.
The prospects of mass employment and reduction in vehicular movements on Lagos’ over-stretched roads have been cut short by the ban. Some investors in the transport sector believe the ban is a bad signal for potential investors in the state.
Speaking on some of the dysfunctions in Lagos, especially the problems with public transportation, Cheta Nwanze, partner at consultancy SBM Intel, said: “Some moves by the state government, such as new fees and licences for ride-hailing companies, had discouraged investment in the sector.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, refuted claims that the government was working against the growth of businesses because of the okada ban.
“There’s been talks of so many people bringing investments and all of that, but safety of lives is paramount to the government of Lagos State,” Omotosho said.
Omotosho insisted that the ban on motorcycles was in the best interest of the people to safeguard their lives from road accidents often caused by the reckless operation of Okada riders.
“The hailing services were not targeted at all. In fact, the problem is that the hailing services were seen to be committing the same offence that the popular motorcyclists you see around were committing. So, they (bike-hailing companies) had to go with them. There is no way one could be left for the other.”
Enforcing the ban
Taofik Adebayo, spokesman of the Lagos State Taskforce, an agency responsible for the enforcement of the ban, said a minimum of “250 motorcycles were confiscated by operatives during operations every week.”
Adebayo absolved the government of any blame for the halt in the operation of bike-hailing companies in the state.
“Nobody asked them to go,” Adebayo told our correspondent. “They choose to leave the roads. The only thing the government said was that there is an engine requirement for any bike to be on the road.”
Despite glaring views of unhindered operations of okada riders in the restricted roads, Adebayo said the enforcement was on course and had recorded success as “lesser accidents have been recorded in Lagos State since the restriction was announced.”
His claim was corroborated by the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Yaba, where victims of road accidents are often treated in Lagos, especially those with severe wounds and injuries.
Ranti Babalola, head of emergency services in the hospital, said they “observed a cynical decline in road traffic injuries resulting from motorbikes” when the ban was just announced in 2020.
Bike-hailing companies diversify
While the restriction hit hard on their operations, bike-hailing companies have since diversified to other businesses. GoKada, O-Ride and Max-NG have all moved to logistics and courier services in Lagos.
For Chinedu Azodoh, Max-NG co-founder, the ban was an opportunity for the company to pivot into other business units and drive growth in other cities in Nigeria.
“Since the ban, we have been aggressively pushing growth in other markets. Today, we are outside Lagos. We currently operate in Ibadan, Akure, Kano, Ekiti, and Ogun states,” Azodoh told The Guardian in an email.
He admits that the government restrictions were unexpected, “but we have moved on as a company.”
O-Pay, the operators of now-defunct O-Ride, declined to speak about the effects of the restrictions on its business and investment. A spokesman for the company said, “the company has moved on to other things.”
The company announced the closure of three of its units – ride-hailing services, O-Ride and O-Car, and logistics service O-Express in July, blaming harsh business conditions and the coronavirus pandemic for its decision.
With Max-NG’s 1,000 bikes in operation in Lagos prior to the restriction, the bike-hailing company’s investment into the transport sector was estimated to be about $1.8 million. According to Azodoh, one bike costs N700,000 on average.
The ban consequently meant a massive loss of jobs for the riders whose means of livelihood were hampered. Though it was hard for the companies to swallow the restrictions, it was harder for the bike riders.
“I was hopeless when the government ordered the restriction,” Olamide Ogunronmbi, a former O-Ride motorcyclist said. “There was nothing to eat and I couldn’t perform my responsibilities to myself and my family.”
Private transportation companies in Lagos are heavily reliant on investor participation. This may have dampened their morale, but some of the companies have stayed afloat due to resilient innovative business drive and investor’s belief in the companies.