Funmilayo Odude, Legal Practitioner, Damod Law Practice

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Lagos State and its controversial okada and keke ban 17 Mar 2020

Some okada riders

On February 1st, 2020, the Lagos State Government (LASG) effected a ban on commercial motorcycles and auto-rickshaws, referred to in local parlance as ‘okada’ and ‘keke,’ respectively, in six Local Government Areas (LGAs) and nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the state. Beyond the debate and criticism the ban has generated, it has affected a lot of people who depend on the deficient public transport system in a state with over 17 million people and a land mass of about 452 square miles (sqms).
Much of the criticism of the ban has come from two major groups – residents and business owners, particularly the bike-hailing start-ups, most notably, Gokada and ORide, a subsidiary of OPay, a mobile-based platform for payment, transportation and delivery services. The ban has created horrendous commuting challenges for Lagosians and significantly affected the operations of the transportation start-ups, leading to a lot of job losses.

This article aims to discuss whether the ban was indeed justifiable and if it was implemented properly. For one thing, it is important to clarify that the ban effected the provisions of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012 and the Transport Sector Reform Law of 2018. The legality of the restriction is, therefore, not in dispute. However, as a policy directive of the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration, the ban leaves much to be desired.

The first step in any policy formulation process, both in the private and public sectors, is the identification of the need or problem the policy seeks to address. The LASG said it identified rising crime rates, road accidents and the incompatibility of bikes and kekes with the ‘mega city status’ of Lagos as the reasons for the ban. Citing statistics of road accident fatalities related to motorcycles, the Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Frederic Oladeinde, stated that at least 600 deaths were recorded between 2018 and 2019. Permanent Secretary at the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Taiwo Salaam, put the number of deaths caused by motorcycle accidents between 2011 and 2019 at 11,000. These are, no doubt, worrying figures.

Defending why it included ride-hailing companies in the bike restriction, the government said: “They have also been found to be part of the problem. The truth is that okada, no matter what fanciful name it is called, is not part of the Greater Lagos which we have embarked. Our youths no longer learn the trades we used to be proud of – tailoring, bricklaying, printing, painting, and others. Now we get artisans from neighbouring countries. okada is not enduring (sic) trade.”

The motorcycle-hailing companies have, however, argued that their riders have not been found culpable in road accident fatalities, hence, that cannot be a valid reason for the outright ban on their operations., for example, has asserted that since it commenced operations in 2015, it hasn’t recorded any bike crash leading to death. Gokada claims to have a 99.8 per cent incident-free rate. The start-up expressly stated on its verified Twitter account on January 29th, 2020, that: “for every TEN THOUSAND (10,000) rides people have taken with GOKADA there have been chances of only 2 incidents occurring.”

Based on the safety records claimed by the bike-hailing companies, it would appear the informal okada riders are the culprits of the road accident statistics cited by the LASG.

With respect to security, LASG’s contention is that ‘okadas’ were being used by criminals as a means to quickly flee crime scenes. However, this is an argument the tech-based bike-hailing operators have also controverted. The companies have argued that the nature of their operations actually promotes safety and helps to fight crime.

Lagos is not the first state in Nigeria to impose a ban on bikes as a security measure. States in Northern Nigeria such as Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Adamawa and Zamfara have banned okadas as one of the ways by which they are fighting banditry and other crimes. There is also a ban on commercial motorcycles in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

While it is completely legal, the Lagos motorbike ban is a flawed policy. There are several reasons for this assertion. The ban was ill-planned and poorly communicated. As a result, the implementation has been slipshod.

The first point to make is that the transport start-ups didn't enter the market through the back door. Although there have been no reports of a concrete agreement between the LASG and the companies, there were reports of ongoing negotiations with respect to their operations.

The companies invested in motorbikes that are above 200 cylinder capacity with the understanding of the existing legislation that allows motorcycles that meet that engine capacity threshold to operate on highways and bridges. They also ensured their riders took adequate training and safety measures, which the informal okadas frequently flout.

According to a report by TechCabal, there were ongoing negotiations in 2019 that would require the startups to pay a license fee of N25 million annually per 1,000 bikes. There were also the state-sanctioned levies demanded by and paid to the local transport unions. The unions demanded between N500 and N1,000 from the riders of these bike-hailing services, depending on the neighbourhood they were operating in.  

It is, therefore, curious that the government would completely disregard the engagements it was still having with the formal bike operators and impose the ban. Moreover, the government was flatfooted in its implementation of the policy having made no additional buses available for commuters at the time the ban came into force.

Inconsistent or inconsistently-enforced policies often lead to unfair results. In June 2019, raised USD 7 million in a funding round led by Novastar Ventures, Nairobi-based venture fund, and Yamaha, the Japanese multinational corporation. Gokada, on the other hand, raised USD 5.3 million in funding from Rise Capital, a global investment firm, in May 2019. These investments have now been put at risk. This, of course, would dampen investor confidence in Lagos and could limit future investments in the state. Already, SafeBoda, an East-African motorcyle-hailing company, which had announced a plan to expand to Nigeria this year, has since excluded Lagos for its expansion even before the okada ban in the state took effect. According to Quartz Africa, the company cited the frustration of motorcycle companies in the state.

It is also an indictment on the LASG that it could not consistently enforce a regulation that was put in place under the administration of Babatunde Fashola. In 2012, the Fashola administration enforced okada ban on major roads and highways, although it permitted the informal bikes to operate on inner roads and streets within certain communities. The current ban does not make the exception in terms of road type.

The LASG also lacks the capacity to effectively enforce its own ban. Last month, there were reports of the informal bike operators riding in the areas they have been banned from operating. Worse still, they continue to violate traffic rules with impunity.  

To ensure road safety, there needs to be a proper training and equipping of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA). This would solve or at least greatly reduce most of the problems relating to the disorderliness and disobedience of traffic laws by the riders. Indeed, drivers of public transport buses (both the yellow buses and BRT buses) are major causes of disorderliness on the road, causing traffic and putting the safety of law-abiding motorists at risk. And apart from the bus drivers, a lot of other motorists in Lagos cannot be exculpated from disobedience of traffic rules. Identifying the easiest targets, namely bikes and keke, and banning them, is lazy governance. Disorderliness by motorists is also a behaviour not worthy of a mega city and must be removed from the society through law enforcement and civic education.

Lagos is unarguably Nigeria’s most economically-attractive state. Over the years, it has witnessed an influx of informal okada riders from other Nigerian states, including where they were previously banned, and also neighbouring countries. Surely, this should raise security concerns. But the Lagos okada and keke ban is an attempt to use one policy to solve an insecurity problem, which has multiple and overlapping causes. The challenges of security are too complex to simplify the solution to a ban on commercial bikes and auto-rickshaws.

To address insecurity in Lagos, the federal government needs to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the security apparatus in the entire country, which it controls. The high rate of poverty in the country also needs to be addressed by the governments across all levels.

The LASG has vowed it will not revoke the ban on okada and keke. But it has yet to provide the fleet of buses it said would alleviate the suffering of commuters as a result of the ban. The government also needs to provide more confidence to Lagos residents and investors with respect to its policy formulation and implementation processes. The government should also realise policies are not static. They can be reviewed and revised where necessary.