"Okada", "Achaba", "Going". By whatever name it is called, the commercial motorcycle has aggressed its way into the mainstream of public transportation. This phenomenon started in the late 80s as one of the many inqenious palliatives to the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP). Lower cadre government workers bought motorcycles on loan and commercialized them to augment their meager income. Then, the "Okada" was mainly restricted to inaccessible routes or those that the commercial buses considered unviable. But now, the "Okada" has become a key player in public transportation and like a swarm of rats infesting the urban sewer the ."Achaba" has morphed into a living version of an urban nightmare. If you have experienced the thrill of racing through traffic, cursing, banging on cars, running pedestrians off into the nearest drainages, all the while going against traffic rules and regulations or with three to four passengers on a motorcycle designed for two - then you begin to understand the power of the Okada. But even so, the Okada is different things to different people in its daily odyssey. Sometimes a life saver, at other times an armed robber, a murderer when the mood catches, a pickpocket when opportunity permits ... For their" sheer inconsideration and male violence, commercial buses used to be the kings of the road. But, if you have borne the brunt of an Okada man's tyranny on any of our major roads, you would know who the new boss is!
The Okada reigns with a haughty majesty. They make their own traffic rules, and then break even those without scruples. Other road users have no choice. Whether in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Kano, Okada men bond together to mete out instant justice to the unfortunate driver who let himself have an accident with one of them. Like men in power, these riders brook no irritation, however slight. Unlike our men in government however, the Okadas reign comes with a price. Orthopedic hospitals are full of victims of Okada accidents,but its as if a broken leg here or a smashed head there are a small price to pay for the Okada man's domination of the roadways.
The Nigerian government is trying to make a law to literarily dissolve the central labour union (the NLC) and prevent it from opposing its unpopular policies. But who can try that with the Okada? Theirs is a unity that no Labour Reform Bill can break. When the Lagos State government tried to sanitise the trade and ordered them to wear reflective jackets at night and helmets when they ride, even the courts rose in their support. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes the fatuous boast of catching financial criminals "anytime, anywhere", but what has anybody done about the Okada who organize themselves to make daily "donations" to local policemen in exchange for freedom to ride as they please? And then the NDLEA. Has anybody deemed it fit to check out the Okada man's permanently glazed eyeballs? Surely, the vigour of the average okadaman must be the result of more than mere zest. To understand the place of the okadaman in the national scheme, you also need to understand that element that has kept him in business the one for who he toils. The passenger.
If the Okadaman is a metaphor for the abject failure of public transportation policies (if any), the passenger is a veritable study in how thin a line there is between desperation and fatal helplessness. Analysing the okadas passenger is not an easy task. After all, how many of us city dwellers have been able to escape an Okada ride at one time or the other. If we contest the mental competence of those who allow themselves to be rode roughshod (no pun, please) by the okada man, then we might as well admit that a significant portion of our city dwellers need also to visit the psychiatrist. The passenger is both a victim and a perpetrator. He is the man in a hurry, pointinq out small gaps in traffic for his goggled "driver"to maneuver through, and then bIaming other road users for being sluggish In the wake of his naked two wheeled rocket. She is the woman with a baby strapped to her back and a heavy load of foodstuff in her arms, precariously balanced on a smoky bike. She is the pregnant woman rushing home to prepare the days meal, dozing as her ride struggles for road space with a truck. The barely dressed young lady tightly hugs the okadaman for dear life as he tears through bumps and potholes, blaring heavy music from the ingeniously_ fitted stereo on his bike. Each one of these may symbolize something desperate about the stresses of daily living, but what do you say about the woman in Niqab, sandwiched between the okada man and her "afaa"[husband]! Maybe one day, someone will have the courage to truly study the Okada and what it represents. It may be too late to expect that something serious will soon be done to impose and truly enforce uniform standards for the safety of life and limb. But till then, the okada man reigns over the roads, every single ride, a mortal risk!
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited