The Oasis Reporters
August 7, 2023
Traffic in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities, can be a nightmare. Citizens often spend 30 hours a week in traffic jams.
In 2023, Lagos was ranked the fourth most uncomfortable city to live in in the world partly because of this.
Motorcycle taxis (also known as okadas), and tricycle taxis (keke Marwa) are popular ways to negotiate the traffic. These operate as a form of informal public transport. But okadas were banned from large parts of Lagos in 2022 by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who has just been re-elected.
A survey we conducted found that the ban was very unpopular. In an ongoing project undertaken with our colleagues Basirat Oyalowo at the University of Lagos and Eghosa Igudia of De Montfort University we surveyed over 1,700 people in Lagos in 2022. Around 72% disagreed or strongly disagreed that the ban was in the public interest. The authorities had announced they had public support from most Lagosians for the okada bans when they were first announced.
When we collected data in August 2022, after the first ban, people surveyed highlighted the lack of transport alternatives, notably for riders to earn money and for passengers to navigate the terrible traffic. Bans tend to be opposed or ignored if they cause inconvenience and disruption, or worsen poverty and inequality.
We are now helping local people develop alternatives to outright bans so that there could be better transport options. We are presenting these ideas to policymakers. These suggestions include establishing a way to get the public more involved in decision making, including a permanent forum bringing together policymakers, security officers and people working in the informal economy, such as okada riders.
Respondents also told us they want the government to create alternative job opportunities for riders before they are affected by any bans or restrictions.
We propose providing adequate and affordable transport alternatives for those previously using okadas to get around; and that politicians regularly monitor the effects these measures are having on citizens.
Alternatives cause problems
Because of the ban, some former okada riders have turned to driving keke Marwa. These are also vulnerable to coming off badly in road traffic accidents, and are not as able to cope with narrow streets as motorcycles. Road accidents remain high generally, despite the okada ban. Meanwhile, the casualty statistics presented in support of the okada ban have been criticised by local journalists for not being accurate.
Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola had wanted to completely ban okadas in 2010, but compromised on banning them from about 5% of Lagos’s roads. An outright ban was imposed on okadas from six of parts of Lagos in June 2022, followed by bans in a further four areas in September 2022. Discussions with local colleagues suggest that some were areas with particularly bad traffic and dense populations. Others, however, were areas where middle-class voters appear to have lobbied for inclusion in the ban. One motivation for this probably was concern over noise rather than traffic jams or criminality.
To help replace okadas, in May 2021 Sanwo-Olu launched a fleet of 500 minibuses, billed as “first and last mile buses”, with a plan to expand these to 5,000. Even if that figure is reached, these numbers cannot match the number of displaced okadas. And these minibuses don’t have the flexibility of the okadas they are intended to replace to nip in and out of Lagos’s narrow streets and past jams. On a visit to Lagos in April 2023, the UK researchers saw hardly any of these new buses, but the old danfo (private minibus) and keke Marwa were still there in great numbers.
Injuries and deaths
Over the last decade in particular, okadas have been a source of injury and death on the roads, with some riders also accused of exploiting the manoeuvrability of the motorcycles to commit crimes. But they have also provided an income to hundreds of thousands of people and enabled millions of citizens to navigate the vast metropolis fairly swiftly.
The ban has hit the riders’ ability to earn money, but also affected the millions who previously were using okadas to get around.
Another of the government’s arguments for banning okadas was their use by criminals. One of our interviewees reported that in an earlier court case, the judge said that the authorities should identify and apprehend criminals, rather than assuming that all riders were criminals or “could-be criminals”.
Criminals cannot simply be identified as those who ride a motorcycle, nor can the authorities ban every mode of transport that criminals exploit. Motorcycles are used widely in sub-Saharan Africa as an integral part of the transport system – the challenge is to maximise their benefits while managing and minimising their downsides.
Our research confirms that okada riders and those who used okadas view such their use as a legitimate source of income, this is particularly relevant in a country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world (over 71 million). Meanwhile, as Nigeria’s economic powerhouse, Lagos continues to draw in people from across Nigeria and beyond, and informal economic activities such as okada riding have helped to absorb these individuals into the economy of Lagos.
There is little evidence of improvement in the general traffic situation in Lagos because of the ban. Poverty remains widespread, the motorcycle taxi ban has the potential to make that worse as people struggle to find affordable, accessible transport and others are denied the opportunity to provide that.