Okadanomics of Lagos
Banning okadas won’t fix an unmet demand
Ownership of a car, bike or motorcycle is an indicator of the development of an economy. Nigeria, one of the least common places to find a car imported $112 billion worth of motorcycles in the second quarter of 2019, more than what was spent in the first six months of 2018 combined.
In a 2015 Pew Research Survey, 18 percent of Nigerians said they owned a functioning car; 35 percent said they owned a motorcycle. In South Africa, 31 percent said the owned a car while 7 percent owned motorcycles. Among the eight African countries surveyed Nigeria had the highest number of motorcycle owners; South Africa had the least.
According to data compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), importation of two-wheelers has risen significantly in the last two years. The biggest surge was in the fourth quarter of 2018 where expenditure on bike importation rose 109 percent.
Unemployment and heavy traffic are a menace but have been critical to the successful take-off of Nigeria’s bike ride-hailing industry which is worth around $65 million, based on the amount three biggest players have so far raised. Though the capital is for expansion activities in Nigeria and West Africa.
Max.ng, Gokada and ORide have no less than 2,000 bikes among themselves and employ thousands of Nigeria’s working population in areas they operate, especially Lagos.
An operator of one of these bike-hailing companies is assured of N8,000 daily. That’s a lot of money for someone with a master’s degree, some of whom took to riding motorcycles as a means of livelihood. Safety, cost, convenience and quality of service are the advantages they have brought to the riotous, unregulated and inefficient transport system of Lagos.
Customers of these bike-hailing companies are mostly the tech-savvy youth whose rapid adoption of smartphones is pushing the digital transformation of the country. They are also in a hurry; Lagos go-slow hampers their hustle. But they don’t mind taking their time to settle with the bikers on destination, route, and sometimes fare. Once a bargain is struck the pair put their helmets, the power bike roars to life and they zoom off.
Traffic in Lagos is notorious. Horror stories of being stuck in traffic for five hours are common. In Lagos, motorcycles are often the only means to catch a plane (though one left home hours ahead to avoid traffic), arrive at work on time and dare to attend more than one meeting. Teju Cole the novelist who is writing a book on Lagos, calls Lagos a one-meeting city. In London, a commuter using public transport can reach 20 percent of jobs in 45 minutes.
It’s too early to say if the bike-hailing companies won’t be allowed to resume operations. It would be absurd. Why did Lagos State allow them at all if their operations didn’t comply with the 2012 law now being enforced? Lagos risks sending the wrong signal to investors who see opportunities in the transport sector.
Lax enforcement and politics under Governor Ambode were the reasons okadas became uncontrollable. The administration of Governor Sanwo-Olu is right to restrict okadas and kekes from major highways and bridges. It will curb accidents and reduce chaos. The sheer volume of motorcycle riders with three or more passengers riding without helmets and against traffic had become the norm, an unruly nuisance.
Nevertheless, even though Gokada, Max.ng and ORide brought sanity and safety, even though okadas have become the most efficient means of transport in Lagos, they are not the solution. An intermodal transport system with more high capacity vehicles like the 30-seater BRT buses plying more routes, light rail and ferries will make mobility easier and cheaper. It will require more infrastructure investment, the N100 billion raised last week is laudable but little.