• Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Okada, keke, and the future (1)


The motorcycle (okada) has no future in Nigeria unless it can be forced to conform to a number of stringent requirements. These requirements should apply regardless whether the vehicle is in private or commercial use.

The “stringent requirements” are really the same baseline requirements for all road-user citizens: bicycles, motor cycles and scooters, tricycles (keke), cars and trucks. In every case, the vehicle must be registered; it must carry insurance sufficient to pay compensation for damage to property, injury to persons, and death. The driver must be trained and licensed. He must observe all rules of the road, stay in his lane, and pass only when it is safe to do so.

In addition, every okada rider (both driver and passenger) must wear a safety helmet. There can be only one passenger, and no child under 12. Okada cannot carry any sort of freight except what can be fitted in a wire basket or parcel box permanently attached to the vehicle.

It is the failure of Nigerian authorities to put down these hard and sensible rules, and enforce them on the various classes of road users, that led to the chaos and tragedy on our motor roads. And sanity and order will reign only when they do.

Meanwhile, okada drivers rule the motor roads (the same way that gangsters and hoodlums rule the streets in slum neighborhoods)—at least until they get banned or restricted. Whenever there is a collision between car and okada, the car is always deemed to be wrong. That is the universal practice. An okada driver can be as outrageous and irresponsible as he pleases; he can flout all the rules of the road—but nothing touches him. When he collides with a car, almost always from his recklessness, a swelling crowd of his fellow okadans quickly gather and threaten to lynch the motorist unless he coughs up cash to repair or replace the motorcycle and provide medical treatment for the injured okada driver and his passengers.

Nothing the motorist can say will change anything: his one voice is drowned out by the okada crowd, none of whom may have been present when the accident occurred; but even in the rare cases when some equally loud-voiced witnesses convince the mob that the okada-man was at fault, the mob will nevertheless with one voice insist that the motorist must pay because “he has money” and the okada-man does not.

The okada crowd is a lynch mob, totally beyond rationality as mobs usually are, and bent on avenging their poverty and wretchedness on any available members of the economically better-off classes. Which explains why motorists can expect neither sympathy nor protection from any traffic wardens, most of whom are themselves too poor to afford a motorcycle, not to speak of a car.

To date, the greatest invention in the control of traffic and road safety is not the traffic circle (or “roundabout”), powerful and efficient as that invention was (and the larger the more efficient). Rather, it is the traffic light (or “red light”): red for stop, green for go, yellow for get ready to stop or to go, depending on which protocol is adopted. With a steady, stabilizer-regulated non-stop supply of electricity, and assuming good quality mechanism and accessories and expert installation, traffic lights operate efficiently 99.9% of the time. They prevent traffic tie-ups and devastating collisions at road intersections, saving millions of man-hours and hundreds of millions of lives.

Road traffic rules apply to all vehicles, whether on two, three, four or more wheels. No vehicle is permitted to cross a red light—by day or night and even if there is no cross-traffic at all— except for police, ambulance, fire service and other such “emergency vehicles” which are usually clearly marked and equipped with rotating multi-colored signal lights. Other exceptions are when the law permits a right turn at a red light (only when it is safe to do so), or when a police or traffic officer waves motorists through a red light (having first stopped the cross-traffic who have the green light and therefore the right of way).

Any vehicle operator who disobeys a traffic light at any time, not to speak of habitually, endangers the lives of all road users. Such a person is an outlaw and barbarian and does not deserve the privilege of a license to operate a motor vehicle. And attempting to operate a motor vehicle without a license should draw down the severest punishments—especially if a license was never obtained, or was cancelled as penalty for repeatedly flouting traffic laws or causing serious or fatal accidents.

Okada drivers simply refuse to obey traffic lights—in the all too few places where such lights operate. They recognize no road-user courtesies or good manners of any sort. The hours they save their passengers from go-slow traffic by driving furiously between traffic lanes, weaving in and out of traffic and rushing heedlessly through red lights, daring even heavy trucks and trailers—such gains are clearly outweighed by the frequency and seriousness of the accidents they cause. 


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