• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Opay: Are Nigerians really helping start-ups to grow or killing them?


When business owners say it is difficult to operate in Nigeria many people do not understand especially those who do not own any business. It always looks rosy from the outside but when you pay close attention to these start-ups operating in Nigeria you realise that they are just there struggling.

Even some actions portrayed by the government seem hypocritical and usually go the opposite direction. For a government to ensure that businesses become more sustainable within its environs, then, it must think beyond just signing several MoUs with investors and sending representatives during launch. It’s about developing the right policies to ensure that businesses operate peacefully while making it easy for them to scale and sustain. It is about lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary levies.

In Lagos State, the biggest problem is traffic which appears to be an insurmountable task. It does not matter if there are policies in place to mitigate the ever-rising surge. The reality remains that to date, residents have continued to have been affected by the problem.

And I find it ludicrous for someone to think that bikes operating in the state is the major reason for the gridlock. Shying away from the major problem to inconsequential matters is just heart-breaking. The dilapidated state of the roads is the major cause of traffic in Lagos. Period!

Interestingly, the emergence of bike-hailing start-ups in Nigeria’s economic hub was to save millions of Lagosians from the non-stop traffic. Nobody wants to waste 3 hours on a thirty minutes journey, that is the problem these start-ups are solving.

More so, the fares charged by these bike-hailing start-ups via their Apps are way too low compared to what the regular bike man charges on the streets of Lagos. Tremendously, residents who can afford these low-cost services get relieved from the damning Lagos traffic.

With any of the bike-hailing Apps, you can just book a ride, in a few minutes, the riders arrive and take you to your destination. Let me also remind you that, these start-ups have taken off many unemployed Nigerian youths from the streets, so, their so-economic impacts in general cannot be questioned.

Before Gokada, Oride and Max.ng, three of the major start-ups in the space, commenced their operation they met certain requirements. And I must tell you that it wasn’t an easy one. The Lagos State Government proposed regulations that include licensing fees and annual taxes.

Each of the bike-hailing start-ups were required to pay annual licensing fees of N25 million ($70,000) per 1,000 bikes and then N30,000 ($83) per bike after the first set of 1,000. The start-ups are also expected to pay annual taxes on revenue.

After Opay had acquired its operational license from the Lagos State Government. The start-up also rubbed minds with MC Oluomo, the leader of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). Both parties signed a pact and this essentially involves Opay remitting some portion of its profit on a monthly basis to NURTW. All of these MoUs that were signed was to ensure that riders on the platform do not encounter problems while operating in Lagos.

The truth is the regular Okada rider does not enjoy this sort of operational freedom in Lagos. They are constantly harassed by the Police and another gang of miscreants known as Agbero. At designated checkpoints, they pay a certain amount of money to them. This is a reoccurring phenomenon in the state.

As a resident who continues to patronize Opay ride services, I can attest that Opay riders have enjoyed certain rights and privileges. However, in the last couple of weeks, the story has changed and could go worse if not speedily and properly handled.

First, riders on the Opay platform are getting arrested by the Police, while the Agberos have begun to demand money from riders. The Lagos State Government claims that the seizure of Opay bikes was geared towards sanitizing the Lagos highways. What will the Lagos state government gain if they continue to seize Opay bikes? Absolutely nothing. These riders are not causing traffic or any mishaps to Lagosians. In fact, they are doing what the Government has failed to do.

Even the Agberos are taking advantage of the situation. And it’s quite sad State Government uphold the “Agberos” in high esteem. These bunch of miscreants are becoming too powerful and enriching themselves via extortion from transporters. If Lagos State Government claims it does not hold them in a high esteem, then, they should be banned their operations. But then, if you get them banned, how will politicians get thugs who will help them snatch ballot boxes during elections?

Further, another observation is that Opay riders are beginning to exhibit their innate greed instincts. The average Nigerian wants to exploit, that’s the sad truth. During peak hours, usually from 4pm, Opay riders purposely go offline. The end goal is for them to charge you like the regular Okada rider. Once they are offline, the App will not be able to generate the amount to be paid after a ride.

Normally, when you book an Opay ride, the App shows the amount you are to pay at the end of the trip. Ironically, the average Opay driver during peak hours wants to inflate fares. During those peak hours, when you request a ride, they hardly accept the request because the fare is just too small for them.

At this point, it is imperative for Opay to critically introspect and have another discussion with the Lagos State Government to thrash out these recent unwelcoming and ugly incidents. If the State does not address the issue of Police harassment and extortion from Agberos, then, they should have an alternative plan. If it’s not going to cost them financially, then they should consider closing down it Oride business and focus on other services.

Conclusively, Opay should be stringent with riders on its platform and have an effective monitoring system that detect riders who go offline during peak hours for selfish aggrandizement. Once a rider does provide a justifiable explanation for not being online during peak hours, they should stop such rider from operating.