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#SurvivingLagos: The Risky Love-Hate Relationship With Okada

Lagos, Southwest Nigeria is a city of dreams and for dreamers. However, due to the occasional traffic jam, sometimes, the only way to save your dream in Lagos is with an Okada. But this can be dangerous.

In Lagos, the only part of your commuting that you have power over, is leaving your house. When the Lagos air hits your face as you enter its roads, you are left in the hands of its erratic traffic. Your 9 a.m. appointment soon becomes a lunch date. 

The unpredictability of Lagos and its unending traffic has caused residents, visitors, and tourists to miss flights to their destinations, while some have missed job and business opportunities. 

Speaking to HumAngle, residents narrate how Lagos traffic has made them miss a lot of opportunities from job interviews, meetings, flights, to business appointments. 

While Lagos is often touted as a “city of dreams” and “centre of excellence,” many dreams and excellence have either been lost or nearly lost to standstill traffic congestion.

For Alex Babatunde, a media executive, he almost lost an opportunity in Abuja when a 30 minute journey to the airport became an unending nightmare.

Babatunde said he “narrowly missed the flight because of repairs on the third mainland bridge and commuters had to use the Eko Bridge as an alternative. The same gory day, the governor and his entourage were passing through the area,” adding more fire to the gridlock.

Babatunde said he had left his house at Victoria Island by 8:00 a.m. WAT to catch a local flight to Abuja for 1:00 p.m. at the Murtala Muhammed International airport at Ikeja. Despite hours of advance planning, he missed his flight.

“I got to the airport at 12:50 p.m. and was told that they have shut boarding. It was traffic galore and everywhere was blocked. Without traffic, from my home to the airport should be about a 30 minutes journey at maximum,” he said.

Victoria Island to Ikeja; ETA vs ATA. Credit: Mansir Muhammed/Mapy.cz/HumAngle

Babatunde had to pay N11,000 extra to reschedule his trip for later that day, in addition to waiting from noon till 6:00 pm.

Babatunde is not a standalone story. Oludiran Olushola also shares a similar tale. 

“I was to depart from Lagos to Abuja by 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2020, so I left Ibadan where I reside around 1:00 p.m. to beat the infamous Lagos traffic,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, my journey didn’t go as planned. My delay started as the bus I boarded from Ibadan to Lagos broke down twice along Mowe-Ibafo lane, Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Due to that, I had to pick another cab from Mowe directly to the Murtala Mohammed international airport Ikeja. On getting to Lagos, I got stuck in the heavy traffic for like one hour thirty minutes,” he said. 

Mr Olushola said he had to board a commercial motorcycle, popularly known as okada, to beat the traffic. 

“To solve the problem, and to meet up, I eventually took okada for a faster movement, but then I didn’t get to the airport till around 5:10 pm. I was told by the airport attendants that I missed my flight already, as a result of that I was asked to pay extra charges of ₦25, 225,” he said. 

Okada ban contributing to missed opportunities 

Okada, Lagos’ ‘fastest’ transportation means. Photo: Muhammed Akinyemi/HumAngle

Most of the residents who spoke to HumAngle said the ban of okada also contributed to missed flights, job interviews, and business interviews. 

Sharing his experience, Kunle Ayinla, an auditor, said missing your flights and interviews was lesser before the ban. The Lagos state government had banned two-wheeled commercial movement in 2020 to curtail crime and movement regulation.

The Lagos state government said it was concerned for residents, adding that Lagos had recorded 600 deaths in 10,000 accidents involving okada between 2015 and Feb. 1, 2020.

The government also said Okada is responsible for 83 per cent of 385 cases of avoidable fatal vehicular accidents in Lagos.

To replace these Okadas, The Lagos state government launched 500 First and Last Mile Buses (FLM) meant to be deployed to inner roads in Lagos. 

But this only worsened the mobility challenges of Lagos state. Among several businesses and families caught in the ban, travellers took the most beating. 

Before, “all you need to do is alight from the bus or car and get on a bike to your destination,” Ayinla said. 

Another commuter, Tobi Adebowale, a lawyer who lived in Ikoyi, explained how using okada helped him not to miss his flight.

“On my way to Abuja on Jun. 20, 2021, for a 2:15 p.m. flight, I was caught in traffic on my way to the airport. I had left home early around 12:05 p.m. for the airport and should ordinarily have made it to the airport by 1:00 pm as the trip is usually about 45 minutes. However, as of 1:30 p.m., I was still in traffic about one kilometre from the airport,” he said. 

According to him, having observed the traffic situation was not getting any better, he alighted from the cab by 1:35 p.m. and took an okada to the airport. 

“The okada man saw it as an opportunity to charge me a hefty sum of N1,000 for the short distance. He claimed that the charge was high because he and other bike riders paid a fee to policemen on a weekly basis to enable them to ride against traffic anytime the traffic was heavy,” he said. 

Okada portends grave risk 

A public health nurse, Kikelomo Sowore said one of the dangers of getting on okada is the risk of suffering head or brain injuries from road traffic accidents. “This is because many of them don’t have helmets for passengers.”

She also said bikes expose people to the scorching sun which could affect the skin and eyes.

Okada in motion. Photo: Muhammed Akinyemi/HumAngle

“Restricting them to suburban areas, and mandatory use of safety gear such as helmets by the operators and passengers, can also help to reduce the impact of road accidents,” she said.

Residents also recognise the risk of using okada to beat traffic. Ayinla told HumAngle that he does not support it totally “but it has helped us meet up with appointments. As good as the bikes are, they are damaging lives.”

Leeway

Alex Babatunde, after years of surviving the Lagos traffic, believes it can, on some days, be avoided. Babatunde told HumAngle that commuters should “avoid [commuting] at peak time. Try getting out a little early. Also, check out alternate routes, although there are chances that they may be a little longer. When you are choosing your route to work,  listen to the radio stations that air traffic updates.”

He said for people with appointments, “it is safer to stay closer to the location of the interview or meeting a day before.”

***

This story is a part of the multimedia series titled ‘Surviving Lagos,’ where HumAngle highlights the challenges ‘Lagosians’ face every day to make ends meet and how spending long hours in traffic is affecting families and careers. 


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Azeezat Adedigba

Azeezat Adedigba is an Assistant Editor/ Lagos Bureau Chief for HumAngle. She is also an investigative journalist and the winner of the 2019 Female Reporters Leadership Program (FRLP) organised by Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ). Azeezat is passionate about gender and children advocacy. She has a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos.

Muhammed Akinyemi

Muhammed Akinyemi is the Sub-editor and Head of Standards Desk at HumAngle. He tweets personal opinions via @theprincelyx.

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