By Jude Atupulazi
On Thursday morning I came upon the video of a young lady involved in the Okada business in Lagos. She was lamenting the ban on Okada operations in parts of Lagos by the Lagos State Government and wondering what the government expected her to do to take care of herself. Another video was later shown where a good spirited man who watched her video invited her and donated a car to her which she would probably use for Uber business. The reactions that followed the man's gesture were mixed. Some called the Lagos State Government names for nearly rendering the lady useless, while some chose to concentrate on the gesture of her benefactor. But my focus will be on the ban on Okada operations by some state governments, with my own state government as a case in point.
You see, the services rendered by Okada to people are invaluable. You only get to know this when you look for them and you don't see them. It is especially painful when you live in a place only Okadas can access. In that case you will have to walk a long distance to get to the point where you can board either Keke, Shuttle buses or taxis.
The reason usually given by government for banning Okada is security. The government argues that criminals use Okada to reconnoiter, rob and quickly get away. Another reason usually given is that Okadas are prone to accidents. I agree completely with the two reasons.
However, criminals also use other vehicles like Keke, Shuttle buses and buses to rob. It is even more dangerous when victims are lured inside vehicles from where it is more difficult to escape, especially when such criminals work in gangs.
Again, since the ban on Okada in the major cities of Anambra (Awka and Onitsha), has crime reduced? We now hear about ''one chance buses'' which drivers/conductors lure unsuspecting victims into boarding only to be robbed or taken away to far off places for ritual purposes. At least, we know that it will be difficult for a lone Okada driver to do that to a passenger victim.
Given that not much has changed since the ban, would it not be necessary to review the Okada ban? Okada is the easiest commercial transport to acquire. It is also the cheapest. Indeed, not many can purchase Keke or Shuttle bus. That is why it was easy for the said young lady to acquire an Okada.
Methinks that rather than ban Okada, government should liaise with their union to devise a foolproof way of checking criminal elements from impersonating genuine members. One of such ways is to enforce the wearing of uniforms by Okada drivers with numbers for ease of identification. Same should go for Keke and Shuttle buses. While it cannot be entirely guaranteed that criminals can't impersonate them, it certainly goes a long way in helping.
Government's ban on Okada is only in the townships. This means that they still operate in villages. Now, how much has crime increased in those villages by way of people using the Okadas to commit crime? At least in my own village where Okadas still operate, I'm yet to know of any crime committed by those using Okada.
It is a fact that since the ban on Okada in parts of Anambra, some of the old operators are yet to graduate to driving Keke or Shuttle buses. They have not done so because they cannot afford it. Government, before the ban, had promised to give them Shuttle buses on hire purchase. By July this year, it will be two years to the date the Shuttles were promised but yet to surface.
It is easy for those who are comfortable to dismiss the hardship suffered by others. I do not blame them because they don't know what hardship feels like. Some of the Okada drivers got their vehicles on hire purchase just before the ban. The ban simply got them out of a means of livelihood. That ban also affected those who repair motorcycles and those who sell their parts, thus triggering a ripple effect.
Thus, rather than curb crime, that ban may well have thrown more people into crime in order to eke out a living. In this scenario, who is losing and who is winning?
Government should always strive to show a human face in all they do. Had the Good Samaritan in Lagos not come to the aid of that lady, she could have ended up whoring.
I suggest that in all the states where Okada has been banned, there should be a review. For instance, the ban should be restricted to major highways where accidents are more likely to happen, while they should be allowed to ply on the streets.
I know people here who have been suffering to go to and return from work because they live in areas not accessible by Keke which is the nearest thing to Okada. This would not be the case if there were good roads everywhere. But since such aren't available, why not wait till that time before banning Okada?
In serious traffic situations one can park one's car and use Okada to dash to where they want to go. It cannot happen now here.
I therefore urge government to review this Okada ban in the interest of both the drivers and the suffering people who miss their services.
The idea behind the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps scheme was at the time a wonderful one. It was chiefly meant to aid the process of bonding among the various nationalities in the country where stereotypes threatened to tear national unity apart.
For instance, the Yoruba corps member coming to the East would be warned to be careful as the people in the East ate human beings. Ditto, those of other tribes going to other places. But through this scheme, many have come to know that those stories were old wives' tales. Many have also come to strike long lasting friendships and having the opportunity to visit and live in places they would never have gone to.
Before now, corps members were assured of accommodation by their host state governments and employers. Thus, when one journeyed to a strange land, one didn't have to worry about where to lay one's head. It is no longer so now.
These days, many corps members are left to look for accommodation in places they have not been to before. Given the situation of things in the country today, this is criminal. How, indeed, can one allow a young lady from Sokoto to come to Anambra and start looking for accommodation? In doing this, many have run into bad people.
Government owes it as a duty to ensure that these young men and women are provided accommodation. It is a must and as important as providing them allowances.
It appears that government is losing interest in the scheme. This is why despite the turbulence in parts of the North, people are still posted there only to be killed by Boko Haram members or kidnapped by Fulani bandits. This can no longer be tolerated.
In 2011 Anambra buried a female corps member killed by Boko Haram in the North. Would she have died if she wasn't criminally posted there?
It is either the government ensures that people are posted within their regions or they scrap the scheme. I'm pretty certain that if the Boko Haram had been operating in the South of the country, the Federal Government would have suggested regional posting in order to safeguard those from the North. But since it is happening in the North, the FG feels comfortable in allowing people from here to go risk their lives there. That's why people from the South are still being posted to states like Adamawa, Yobe and Kaduna, causing parents heartaches. It is no longer acceptable.
From what I see, this once wonderful scheme is outgrowing its usefulness and if the government cannot do the needful and really take adequate care of these young men and women, then the scheme should be discarded. It does not end in increasing their allowance.
Of what use is allowance if, like the dead female corps member in 2011, the other corps members are brought home dead? This is certainly no way for anyone to serve their fatherland.