Okada is a term that emanates from Nigeria. It refers to a motorbike. Lagos, which was once the capital of Nigeria, was so choked with traffic that it was only motor bikes that could move business persons within Lagos with the necessary speed. Secondly, the Okada was able to take passengers to places where the road was very bad.
Today in Ghana, Okada has become a part of the Ghanaian vocabulary. It is an open secret that though the Ghanaian laws make it illegal for a motor bike to be used for commercial purposes, the Okada business is a booming one. This has raised several issues. A section of the Ghanaian public, mostly the middle class and the upper class, are calling for a ban on the use of motor bikes for commercial purposes for reasons which I shall discuss later in this article. There is also another section of the public, who are in my view the silent majority, calling for their legalisation. I call them the silent majority, because they do not have access to the microphones. They don’t get interviewed on TV or radio, they are poor and their views are usually not considered. I side with them in calling for the legalisation of Okada and I shall discuss my reasons below.
The first reason some are calling for the ban of motorbikes being used for commercial purposes is the sheer indiscipline the riders exhibit on the roads. It often seems as if they have a right to disregard traffic regulations. Okada riders refuse to stop at red traffic lights, causing many accidents in the process. There have been a number of incidents in which they have knocked down pedestrians who tried to cross because it was red for vehicles. Whilst other vehicles have stopped, motor riders would speed through and cause damage. To me, in spite of this bad behaviour by some motor riders, this cannot be a good reason why we should ban commercial use of motor bikes. The reason is simple: it’s the duty of the police to arrest and prosecute indisciplinary road users. There is no concrete evidence showing that it is the commercial motor bike users who exhibit this indiscipline. So, we should enforce the laws and avoid pointing accusing fingers on Okada men, as we call them.
Closely linked to the indiscipline argument is the number of accidents that are recorded on a daily basis. The Ghana Medical Association, for example, has joined the call for the ban on Okada, citing the large share of accidents related to the use of motor bikes as their reason to do so. Again, they did not give any statistics, but have just joined the already existing chorus saying we should ban Okada because they cause more accidents.
Then finally, there are those who say that since the law does not support the commercial use of motor bikes, its operations are illegal already and we must just stop the illegality. This sounds very straight to the point and convincing to me. But why has the government not been able to stop the use of Okada for businesses? This is where my reasons for supporting its legalisation instead of banning comes in.
No government would like to fight the will of the people. At least not when they would come back for the votes of the people in the next elections. IF a government cannot stop the will of the people, yet the will of the people is illegal, then it stands to reason that parliament must change the law and make the will of the people legal so the people do not become criminals in their own home. The larger majority of the people, though silent about this Okada phenomenon, have accepted it as a convenient means of travelling in many parts of Ghana. In fact, in some villages in Ghana where cars are not common, it is Okada which is used to carry pregnant women over long distances in order to get to clinics and deliver when they are due. How do we ban Okada when the government has not been able to provide an ambulance for every community in this country? Not too long ago, we were all talking about ambulances when a report showed that Ghana has less than 50 ambulances serving the over 30 million citizens. To many people, the Okada is their only surviving means of transport and the calls by the few Accra based middle class to ban it is not welcoming news.
My second argument is about enforceability of any ban if we do ban. Conversations with some policemen and some Okada users show that it is very difficult for policemen to arrest Okada riders. This is because it is very difficult differentiating a motor rider with a passenger for commercial purpose from a motor rider with a passenger for social purposes. In most instances, the police then stop the riders and interrogate them, but they simply lie that the passenger is their friend, or family. There is no law preventing a motor rider from taking a friend or family member on a ride. This will mean that the police will have to stop all their duties and follow every Okada man to find out whether it is true the passenger was a family member or a friend. Is this what we want to use the few policemen we have to do as a nation? I don’t think so.
To me, we stand to benefit if Okada is legalised in the following ways.
2. Insurance for passengers
4. Ability to go where cars cannot go
Currently, even though it is an open secret that Okada is operating, the operators do not pay taxes. Of course they cannot pay tax on an illegal business. When it is legalised and regulated, the government can tax them appropriately and use it to develop the country.
Passengers who frequently get into accidents with Okada riders are unable to do a formal report and get insurance . In fact, since the business is illegal, we cannot tell if they have proper insurance that can cover themselves and their passengers. A legalised Okada business will allow the government to ensure that the right insurance is done to cover both riders and their passengers.
The larger share of the population is still in the lower income bracket and Okada is surely affordable. Why don’t we legalise it for them? A legalised and regulated Okada will ensure we have identified riders who will be more likely to obey road regulations than the current unidentified riders who just misbehave.
Lastly, our roads are still bad in many parts of the country. Motor bikes are able to access most of these places that cars cannot. So why don’t we legalise it for people to feel safe to use them?
To conclude, yes, there are dangers in riding on motor bikes just are there are dangers in driving even in the best cars. Persons who board motor bikes are presumed to know the dangers in riding on them. They are already riding on them anyway and it will be very difficult trying to stop them. I believe it will be in the interest of society to legalise the use of moto bikes for commercial purposes so that we can properly monitor its usage, exact tax from it and use the same to fund their regulations. Most importantly, a legalised Okada will ensure that the many who get involved in accidents with Okada can get adequate compensation through insurance.
Richard Amarh is Executive Director at the Progressive Peoples Party (PPP) in Ghana.