OKADA RIDERS GO DIGITAL IN LAGOS, SEE THEIR NEW LOOKS

One of the Gokada riders

One of the Gokada riders

In the Lagos metropolis, they have become ubiquitous, the green colour on the helmet the rider dons and on the motorcycle itself standing them out in traffic. They are the two-wheeler version of Uber and Taxify, the popular online car transportation solution to commuting in cities.

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They are commercial motorcycle riders, popularly called okada, that you can have at your service within minutes anywhere in the Lagos metropolis by simply working an app on your phone, the same way Uber and Taxify services are beckoned. The creativity is, however, a step ahead of automobile taxi services as residents of the metropolis seek ways to beat the excruciating traffic problems to arrive at their destinations in good time. The okada, weaving in and out of long queues of traffic hold-up, will, you can be sure, arrive at your destination many minutes faster than any car taxi will.

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In the metropolis, the traffic complexion has always been known for decades to be pale, with commuters stuck in traffic for several hours.

The situation seems worse these days as the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has initiated many road construction projects that are being done simultaneously.

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On the Oshodi-Abule Egba, Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, the construction of a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridor has been going on for close two years. Attending the project daily is a gridlock, especially at peak traffic periods in the morning and evening when workers and traders are headed to their different offices or shops, or going back home. On best days, motorists and commuters can be stuck in traffic on the stretch for two hours.

In Agege, the state government is constructing a flyover at the Pen Cinema axis to ease the traffic jam that has been the norm there for many years. But before the paean that will come with the completion of that flyover, motorists that must use the road network in that area are going through great pains.

At Oshodi, the ongoing construction of an ambitious transport interchange project and the Oshodi-Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road is also creating long queues of traffic hold-up, while on the Mile 2-Trade Fair Complex-Okokomaiko expressway, another epileptic construction project is making driving and commuting an infernal experience. On the Lagos Island, Third Mainland Bridge and Lekki, up to Ajah, motorists and commuters can also be held down for hours in traffic.

Besides, with an estimated 15 million people residing in the Lagos metropolis on a small land mass, and well more than a million vehicles on the roads (according to the Lagos State Motor Vehicle Administration Agency which gives daily records of an average of 227 vehicles per every kilometre of road), debilitating traffic congestions seem inevitable. So in Lagos, there is no escaping from the intense infliction of horror when the traffic snarls. As many commuters have found out, there is a limit to what solutions the Uber and Taxify car initiatives can provide when they are hooked in a gridlock.

This is where the manouverable commercial motorcycle comes in. The okada seems the most efficient means of transportation to navigate the densely populated city and not-so-well planned roads. The other rough-and-tumble okada rider has been providing a relief in that direction for many years, giving their passengers fast rides to their destinations, using the popular 100cc motorcycle. But the rider has always come with his threat to life, high on drugs and alcohol many atime and scarily overspeeding. Their excesses got to a level that a former governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola, had to ban those okada riders from major highways and restrict them to the inner roads.

The ban has since endured.

With commuters in Lagos, many of them business people, losing valuable hours in traffic jams, despite Uber and Taxify, the resort to commercial motorcycle as a way out was inevitable. The state government’s ban on commercial motorcycles is limited to 100cc motorcycles.

In 2017, two young entrepreneurs, Chinedu Azodoh and Adetayo Bamiduro, saw in this ceiling an opportunity to engage in the okada business, using a higher engine capacity. In June, they birthed MaxGo, using the 200cc motorcycle, which, they believed, can run on Lagos roads legally.

They didn’t stop there. With a benefit of education and internet savvy, and borrowing from the Uber and Taxify initiative, they created an app that elevates the business from just an ordinary street run to online orders. Seven months later, another young entrepreneur, Deji Oduntan, launched his own Gokada online commercial motorcycle app.

Gokada has since exploded on Lagos roads; everywhere there seems to be a green helmet or two bobbing on a 200cc motorbike. In an interview with a publication, Oduntan said the company has its sight on massive operations. “We haven’t even started yet. Gokada will be literally all over Lagos,” he said.

Saying Gokada regards MaxGo more as a counterpart in the business than a competitor, he quipped, “The industry is nascent and one or even two players are not enough to position it properly. So for now our efforts are complementary. In five years, Gokada will be the one-stop shop for the Nigerian consumer. We will be solving multiple problems once we have thousands of bikes on the road. With that kind of reach, we will be able to fix delivery and logistics, and of course transportation.”

A rider with Gokada, who gave his name as Benjamin Apugo, told our correspondent that the company was registered with the Lagos State government to ease the worries of Lagos residents on traffic gridlock.

Another rider with his passenger
Another rider with his passenger

“Our main aim is safety; that’s why we carry only one passenger. We use our helmet, we obey traffic lights and we obey all traffic rules.

We don’t overspeed. Without helmet, I can’t carry you. If I want to carry you now and you say you can’t put on a helmet, I will not carry you. We don’t carry pregnant women and under-aged persons. If you have a child with you, I can’t carry you. We place premium on safety,” Apugo said.

He enthused that with over 1000 bikes, the company has created employment opportunities for many Nigerian youths who are on the Gokada platform as riders. “On a daily basis, you can do like 10, 15 or 12 rides in a day. That is a lot of money,” he said.

Also a rider with Max.ng, Olawale Hamza, explained that the company had been in operation for years as a courier company working jointly with Jumia before it eventually diversified into carrying passengers.

A passenger on Gokada, who identified herself simply as Kehinde, a student of the University of Lagos, described the premium bike service as “a relief against traffic snarls” in the state.

Also, a businessman, Mr Olanrewaju Tobi, said his love for Gokada has been increasing as it saves him from the stress of Lagos traffic.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that a ride on Gokada from the main gate of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to the Techpoint office costs about 200. This is about 40 per cent less than what normal commercial motorcyclists charge for the same distance.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the fares charged by the online commercial motorcycle service provider aren’t really different from what their unregistered competitor demand. For instance, from Ikeja to Yaba, a distance of about four kilometres, attracts about N800 per passenger on both rides.

But did the relevant authorities really approve these online commercial motorcycle services to undertake their operations? The state sector commander of the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC), Hyginus Omeje, in a chat with our correspondent, said, “The truth of the matter is that I have not come in contact with those people officially, but I won’t pretend that I do not see them. What I notice about them is the safety consciousness on their part because anybody they carry, they have a standard crash helmet that must be used.

“But I need to get clarification from the Honourable Commissioner for Transport on this. This is because it seems everybody is looking the other way. I have not seen any official document exempting them. They seem to be more safety conscious in their profession than other bike riders, though.”

The Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Dr Taiwo Salaam, however, insisted that the government did not authorise the operators for such business. In a telephone chat, Salaam said, “Gokada and all these bikes are operating illegally”.

When Salaam was told that the Gokada is a registered company, he retorted, “Ask for their letter of approval.”