By Moses Alao
Barely a few weeks to the end of 2023, Oyo State governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, FNSE, issued an ultimatum to operators of commercial motorcycles and tricycles in the state.
In that concise but weighty ultimatum, the governor directed that all commercial motorcycle riders popularly known as Okada riders should get themselves registered under the Oyo State Residents Registration Scheme being overseen by the Management Information Centre of the Governor’s Office.
The same instruction was given to tricycle riders and with a caveat that from January, 2024, the force of the law would be wielded against dissidents of the policy, it was only a matter of time before commercial motorcycle riders began to feel the pangs of the law enforcement agents’ Axe of Damocles.
Not a few people had looked forward to that day when Okada would be banned from the state, especially in major cities where complaints of motorcycles being used by criminals and robbers are rampant. Thus, when the governor made the pronouncement through his Special Adviser on Media, Sulaimon Olanrewaju, the ‘Ban Okada Group’ felt they had got a one-up against the ‘rampaging Okada riders.’
All along, though, the school of thought that believes that a blanket ban should be placed on commercial motorcycle operations in Oyo State has never had an upper hand, as the governor of the state and number one Security Officer, has always seen things from a different perspective. For Governor Makinde, who wears the caps of the CSO and that of the CEO, meaning that he is Chief Security Officer as well as the Chief Economic Officer of the state, securing the lives and properties of Oyo State residents from criminal elements who use the ease of escaping on Okada to visit evil on the people is as important as exploring the advantages of the motorcycles as the easiest and most popular means of transport for the teeming residents of the state whose daily hustles contribute to the economy of the state. It is based on the need to balance the two sides that the governor has always insisted that a blanket ban on motorcycle operations might bring more harm than good to residents.
Indeed, the governor, renowned for taking a fearless position on issues even if it meant standing alone, had to argue against banning Okada operations in the South-West when the issue assumed the dimension of a matter of national importance and many governors argued that banning motorcycle operations was the panacea to robberies in the country. What was Makinde’s premise for taking that decision? A larger percentage of the population depend on motorcycles as means of transport to and from their places of work and business and placing a blanket ban on the operations without adequate provisions for the people would be an ill-wind. While one would not say that Makinde won the argument or that his position was superior, even those who canvassed the opposite position have not implemented the ban.
But then, there is another headache- how to secure the people without necessarily banning Okada riders. This was where Makinde’s November 22 directive became imperative. Typical of the governor, however, he ensured that the state did not fall into the common error that governments often commit, prohibiting without providing alternatives. Having issued an ultimatum that any Okada rider who fails to register with the state and/or use the reflective jackets for easy identification will face the music, the Oyo State Government moved a step further on January 4, 2024 by distributing 15,000 reflective jackets with unique identifiers and barcodes, which when scanned can actually give one the identity of the riders, which had been preloaded into the Oyo State Residents Registration Database.
As a sweetener on the policy, the state government also stated that each commercial cyclist would be enrolled into the Oyo State Health Insurance Scheme.
With this aspect of the policy, the state government has taken a bold step to reduce the hazards of commercial motorcycle operations, as the business is prone to accidents and whenever operators got involved in accidents, the harsh treatments meted to them in different major hospitals as punishment for the recklessness of some of the riders, can only be a story for another day. With their enrolment into OYSHIA, riders who meet with unfortunate accidents can rest assured that hospitals that subscribe into OYSHIA would not discriminate in giving treatments.
Most importantly, however, the state government’s policy on Okada operations will help to streamline the business, as criminals who use motorcycles to perpetrate heinous crimes across the state would have to think twice due to the introduction of an identification system that can facilitate easy recognition and apprehension of culpable operators. It is also important that the introduction of the registration scheme will limit the number of operators, as those without genuine intentions cannot but look elsewhere outside the state.
Equally typical of Governor Makinde as a friend of the masses and leader always seeking comfort for his subjects, the governor decided on giving out 15,000 reflective jackets to Okada operators as opposed to other climes where governments and individuals would have used the opportunity to milk the riders. Considering the harsh economic situation in the country, which led the Makinde government to introduce the Sustainable Action for Economic Recovery (SAfER) under which the government is supporting the citizenry in the transport, agriculture, food security and health sectors, the decision of the government not to belabour Okada riders with having to buy the jackets is commendable.
In all, the registration policy for commercial motorcycle and tricycle riders is one whole laudable approach to securing the state and ensuring that small businesses that depend on them to commute are not hurt. That is the stuff of forward-thinking governments. Like a gambler should know when to hold the cards, when to fold the cards and when to walk away, Governor Makinde is a good leader, who knows when to give ultimatum and what to do to make it enforceable. Now, by the time the force of the law is deployed on commercial motorcycle operations, it would be a good step in the right direction for the state.
▪︎Alao is the Special Assistant (Print Media) to Governor Seyi Makinde