The decision by the Lagos State governor, His Excellency, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to restrict motorcycle and tricycle operators on major highways across the state from February 1, was premised on two core reasons; safety and security. The motives behind the decision no doubt are genuine, given the statistics quoted, except that he, in my opinion, took the wrong approach to dealing with the problem.
Let me begin with the issue of safety. People did not consciously or intentionally opt for death just as the bikes were seen to herald. Deputy governor, Obafemi Hamzat, admitted in his guest appearance on Channels TV, that ‘economic situation forced them to do it.’ Traffic gridlock due mostly to bad roads, as well as the swift, cheap and accessible service, with the aid of technology, the ride-hailing companies in particular provide, made people ignore the glaring death snares of using a motorcycle. Well of course, as Lagosians will say, something must kill a man.
How about we begin by first addressing these circumstances that lure commuters to such death snares. First, by completely providing the over five hundred buses promised and get them fully functioning on the roads and most importantly, make it cheap and available. Then adequately provide the locally manufactured speed boats too running on our waterways to reduce preference on roads. Also, patiently fix the bad roads and complete the light rail blue line construction. Having done that, we sensitize the people on the dangers in their continuous use of the motorcycles.
These would have resulted in three things. One, Lagosians willfully abandoning the motorcycles without any government deliberate intervention to making the choice for them. It would simply have been a case of here is life and death but we advise you choose life. Trust me Nigerians are wiser in this regard. Two, the backlash the government faced on account of its austere measures would have been averted.
Lastly, the government would have prevented the huge loss of investment ride-hailing companies suffered as a result of the hasty restriction or perhaps suffer less, given that as astute businessmen, they (investors) would have seen the long term unsustainability of remaining in such once propitious business and begin to gradually pull out, unlike the abrupt restriction of their operation and its ripples on unemployment, widening inequality and low investor confidence.
The overall result would have been a win-win for all parties; both government and private, without anyone making a fuss about a tall order foisted on them. If I were Mr governor; as his excellency fondly wishes to be called, this is what I would have done. It is simply a demonstration of sheer sensitivity to the plight of even the least person on the street regardless of his social status which of course should be a hallmark of an ideal leader.
Providing about 14 speed boats and 65 buses and the promise of more to be rolled out, the government merely presented what seem like a silver bullet to arresting or reducing the increasing number of fatalities recorded and checking insecurity in the state which obviously is not, for crimes can inevitably still take place in buses and cars. Whereas the organized ride-hailing operators had extensive reliable measures to manage risks through its speed limit technology and even in its recruitment process through proper profiling and data management of their employees and all. Mind you, the new buses and ferries are not also spared from criminals penetrating.
I listened to the deputy governor mention that more two thousand taxis would be injected into the transport network as part of its palliative measures. Except the plan to assemble such locally, it is clearly a partial progress in error, in that, having more cars on our roads only end up adding to the problem of traffic gridlock. It is better to have one bus convey fifty persons than fifty cars to fifty persons. The difference is clear I guess.
There has been comment like, the restriction is in just six local governments which are also not the densely populated areas, such as Alimosho, Ikorodu, and other areas where the ‘masses’ of our people live. It is not about where they live but where they go to catch bigger and better fishes which takes us back to the relevance of the bikes to access those few but indispensable roads without going through the regular Lagos hassles. No one can deny the fact that the restricted L.G.A.s are virtually the milk and honey land of Lagos.
There were just not enough good roads to ease traffic, the buses and boats were just being rolled out, even though not adequate but with the promise of additional supply, yet the okadas were hastily restricted. Nigerians resorted to O-trekking; the new leg-hailer, fares became high as commercial bus operators made exploit, queues piled at bus-stops and the sundry hassles that attended the restriction. Huge investments and jobs were lost; adding to the already precarious level it currently is, and more. Sadly, a young schoolgirl was even victimized in the fallout of the policy. All of which could have been averted if the proverbial cart had not been placed first. Music legend, Fela calls it ‘double wahala for dead body’.
By doing the above, again the government toed the line of the federal government taking away citizens’ right to choose among various alternatives in its exasperating policy on border closure, in an attempt to increase appetite for made-in-Nigerian goods. David Hundeyin made a salient point on this in his ‘Solving Nigeria’s economic problem: A commonsense approach’ that “the box office record for a movie shown in Nigeria belongs to The Wedding Party, a completely Nigerian movie by Kemi Adetiba, which was shot in Lagos with a Nigerian cast, crew and investment team. For reference, Avengers Endgame – the biggest movie of all time – did not even come close. Nobody was forced to watch The Wedding Party, and Endgame was not banned from screening to promote local content.”
Despite the quality of foreign movies in our cinemas, it has not eroded the market share of our Nollywood movies, reason being that the latter still present qualities that appeal to us and has well-nigh adequate facility to market its products in cinemas at affordable prices, amid glaring economic constraints. The industry has shown resilience in competing with the foreign movies without government intervention in the sector.
So also it was expected with the border closure. Manufacturers only need to produce quality and essentially make it cheap to enjoy sheer patronage. The bottleneck is not in the quality though, but producing cheap goods which obviously requires some critical infrastructural provisions such as power, good roads, et al. all of which appears a luxury for our hardworking government to avail. Well their shrewd measure to remediate the lack of patronage of made-in-Nigeria are conspicuously seen in the current inflation figures at 12.13%.
Lagos, no doubt, ardently desires to become a mega city but cannot do so in isolation. The underdevelopment effect of other states in the country would naturally spill over into the state and create pressure on her limited infrastructural resources as seen today. Just as you strive to improve, others would obviously want to tap from such prosperity hence the massive rural-urban migration. This brings to mind the bigger and broader Nigerian problem of an unworkable system. Thankfully the solution isn’t farfetched and can be seen in the call for restructuring to give regions power over their destiny.
One recipe to remediate this problem of rural-urban migration however, will be to dismantle the port monopoly Lagos enjoys till date and begin to develop more ports beyond the shores of Lagos. Clearly the port is a bigger factor to the prosperity of Lagos. Perhaps they could pressure the federal government to make steps to address the reliance on just two ports in one location despite the possibility of siting another and easing the spread of developments.
A friend once jokingly remarked, ‘you cannot be a Nigerian and be an Arsenal fan. Choose one struggle!’. The struggle and suffering in being a Lagosian, much less a Nigerian, is realer than we can even imagine. If we cannot make it better, at least not worse. Well, after all is said and done, I am not his excellency. Eko o ni baje o!
Kennedy Igwe can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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