In strong defiance and resistance to the blanket ban imposed by the Lagos State Government on the operation of commercial motorcycles and tricycles in some parts of Lagos State, a group of concerned residents under the aegis of Occupy Lagos, on Saturday, embarked on a protest to Eko Atlantic City, venue of the Lagos City Marathon to draw international attention to what can be described as a policy somersault. One of the most fascinating sight from the Protest was the picture of a young lady, holding a Placard with the bold inscription, “you do not build a mega city by hiding the poor”. The inscription could not have been more apt!
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s face the issues, I believe the government has is well-intentioned, in fact I recall saying on Channels TV last week, where I had earlier shared my opinion on the issue that it is impossible to anchor a sustainable city on Okada, just as it is also difficult to invalidate the concerns of the government which borders on safety and security considering the number of accidents recorded in deaths in General Hospitals alone, excluding unreported cases, the risk is truly high and the concerns of government are well valid, but this is how far I draw the line with the Babajide Sanwo-Olu led Lagos State Government.
Let’s face it, the Okada Ban is untimely, unpopular and therefore insensitive. It is safe to say that pragmatic thinking, thoughtfulness and rigour did not go into the decision, because the government was more interested in aesthetics and façade without really sparing a thought for bulk of the population which would be most affected by the ban. The hurry, urgency and interval between the announcement and implementation without providing viable alternative puts a major mark on the action of the government. It shows a clear lack of empathy and compassion for mostly the poor, vulnerable and impoverished who constitute more than half of the population, they are the ones who have had to trek long distances in the sun and endure long queues at different Bus Stations. Trust Lagosians to always make a parody out of everything on social media, aside the hashtag “Lagos is Walking which is an imitation of “Lagos is working” a popular catchphrase that has been adopted by successive government in Lagos State, there is also this comic imitation of a popular Christian song that draws attention to the plight of many Lagos residents, I particularly find the latter part of the song fascinating, which says “Oh walk, walk, walk, walk, walking in the light, walking of God, oh trek, trek, trek, trek, trekking in the light, trekking in the light of God”.
I am astounded that the Lagos State Government would enforce an Okada ban, without putting in the painstaking effort to resolve the traffic situation which has become hellish and monstrous. Before the ban, Lagosians were estimated to spend an average of 30 hours a week in traffic and about 1560 hours annually, no other city comes close to this infamous index, Since the enforcement of the ban, the traffic situation has almost quadrupled as more cars now have to cram the just a little over 9000 roads in Lagos. Most Lagos residents are now forced to spend most of their productive time in traffic owing to the increase in the volume of cars on the road. My friend Ugochi Nnorom who used to drive from Ikoyi to Marina in just 25 minutes during the peak period, now spend close to 2 hours on the road for the same journey. The situation is now really bad, it is beginning to take a toll on overall productivity and wellbeing of many Lagosians, including this writer who also endures several man hours on the road.
One of the reason Lagosians have always fancied the use of Okada particularly the ride hailing services is to reduce the time it takes to move from one part of the city to another, since the ride hailing services are relatively safer, it is irreconcilable that they are also affected by the ban at least for now. Unlike several other cities in the world, Lagos should even have any business with traffic in the first place, considering that Lagos already has a combined advantage on water, rail and road.
To build a sustainable transport model, the government only has to leverage on this comparative advantage to build an integrated transport model that meets the aspiration of all Lagosians.
At this point, I am also worried about the fate of the several riders, particularly those of the ride hailing services, who have now been laid off. Just last week it was reported that Gokada one of the big hailing start-up has retrenched 70% of its workforce. Most of the riders have now been thrown into hopelessness and unemployment without any hope of sustainable livelihood. It is unbelievable, that the government is most unconcerned about their future.
That the government would wake up to announce a ban and enforce same ban within 5 days, sends a bad signal about Lagos as an investment choice or destination. It cast a dark cloud of uncertainty on Lagos as a viable place for business operation, growth and expansion. Is the government even aware of the huge financial investment that has gone into the ride hailing start-ups, would it not be better for the government to regulate and not ban them at least for now? It is unlikely that policy somersault like this, will encourage new businesses, while existing ones are likely to continue to operate in an atmosphere of uncertainty, which is antithetical to the growth of Lagos.
Again, while I believe that you cannot anchor a sustainable city on Okada, but you cannot also build a mega city by simply hiding the poor. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu must realize that the strength of Lagos is in the will, resilience and tenacity of it’s people, government must not be perceived to be working against their interest or trying to break their will.