The wisdom and nonsense of the legalisation of ‘Okada’ business – Ghana Web Portal

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At the Traffic light in front of the Odorgonno Senior High School, my car and the next car had stopped at the red-light signal. The light was green for pedestrians to cross, a woman and her toddler (daughter) started crossing the road. Suddenly, before one could say jack, a motorbike with a passenger run into the woman pushing her down on the ground.

The daughter screams and cries so loud as she watches her mother lie down in shock. The passenger on the motorbike gets down to help the woman up as bystanders also approach to help the woman and his daughter. Before one could say another jack, the motorbike rider speeds off jumping another red light and off into oblivion.

I attempt to chase the motorbike with my car but it was not a reasonable thing to do since obviously I could not meander through the traffic jam and also jump red lights to get to him. I believe several people reading this piece have had some similar encounters with motorbike riders and more so commercial motorbikes popularly known as ‘Okada rider’ in some of the cities and towns in Ghana.

Ever since the former President of Ghana and the NDC Presidential candidate announced his idea to legalize Okada operations in Ghana, there has been several discussions from the various divide. In some cases, the NPP appears to say that they are also considering engaging Okada riders and some party communicators also appear to agree with the legalization of Okada. For me this trend is mind boggling and unfortunate.

Three (3) main arguments I have heard in favour of the legalization of the Okada is the fact that:

  1. It is a source of employment for the youth.
  2. It assists people to move fast around the cities in Ghana despite heavy traffic.
  3. Roads are terrible in certain areas in Ghana and therefore it is only the ‘Okada’ which can transport people to and from those areas.

These reasons go a distance but not the full journey when it is viewed in the light of other broader generational considerations.

It is almost a fact that, Okada riding is a source of employment as long people will be willing to patronize and are illegally patronizing. However, if anyone thinks Okada as a sustainable means of employment for his countrymen then perhaps a much more holistic thought will have been better.

In one of the interviews of taxi drivers in Cape Coast by one television station, the taxi drivers lamented the drop in incomes because of the Pragya and Okada operators.  

The legalization of the Okada business certainly will increase the number of Okada operators in the country and this will certainly reduce returns and employment for taxi drivers and other alternative commercial vehicles. Thus, employments are therefore being shifted around and there will be a negligible amount of real additional employment created.

All things being equal, Taxi drivers and Trotro drivers will be losing their jobs to Okada operators. In effect, there will be a marginal increase in employment. Is the marginal increase in employment worth the dangers and challenges the legalization of Okada will bring?

Discussions with some Health Professionals who work in emergency and accident centers in Accra and some other cities reveal motorbike accidents are already on a hike. People are losing their lives and the limbs due to several precarious accidents on a daily basis.

As a country, are we ready to sacrifice the riders and passengers of these Okada because we claim it will provide employment? I have also heard arguments that cars and buses also have accidents; so, if cars and buses are involved in accidents and they carry passengers then motorbikes must also be allowed to carry passengers.

This argument certainly hangs on a very weak tree branch. Anyone who sits on a motorbike has his or her whole body exposed to injury and broken limbs even in case of a simple collision or a fall. A person who sits in a car or bus has the covering of the vehicle and in ideal situations there are seat belts. The relative exposure to danger is worlds apart.

Adding to the thought, what is really the career progression for an Okada rider? is there any promotion (Chief Okada rider?), increase in income as the years go by? SSNIT contributions, Pension arrangement, Life Insurance? Workmen compensation in case of injury and disability?

Certainly, without any of these, is the job of an Okada rider anything to tout as a forward-moving country? Have we even communicated to people seeking Okada jobs that these benefits are things people who are employed can get? Certainly not, we will keep them in the dark and throw crumbs at them.

Secondly, Okada riding is not a ‘thing’ our security forces can regulate and control. There are several times I have seen Okada riders jump red lights at the Sakaman junction as the Police just looked on. Certainly, if 5 Okada riders jump the red lights, two Policemen at the traffic cannot chase them to arrest them and bring them to book and this is due to logistical and numerical challenges.

In any case who exactly will they be chasing out of the 5 Okada riders. With the legalization of Okada, one can but imagine about fifty (50) Motorbikes the traffic lights disobeying and jumping traffic lights. It will certainly be much herculean for the Police to chase all the numbers and arrest all of them.

In one of the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly Community engagements at the Gbebeyise school; the Police and District lamented their inability to chase and arrest bag and phone snatchers in the community because they use motorbikes and the Police were yet to procure motorbikes in order to chase them through certain corners to arrest them.

If the Police are struggling to chase two criminals on a motorbike, how will they chase and arrest over 50 motorbikes disobeying traffic rules at a go? The lawlessness will be exacerbated. 

One afternoon at the Airport Traffic Lights interchange, the Police lady was directing traffic because the traffic lights were non-functional. An Okada rider rode past even when the lady had signaled his side to stop coming and had alerted another side to come into the interchange.

The unfortunate happened; a big vehicle run into the Okada and pushed them as far as the curbs of Airport View Hotel. The Police lady took a cursory look at them and turned back to her work of directing traffic uttering ‘Mo aso y3 den, y3 ka omo ntsie’ translated ‘you people are stubborn, you do not listen’. She was frustrated with the conduct of the Okada guys and could not be bothered.

If anyone tells us that when Okada is regularized or legalized, they will stop jumping red lights and ride responsibly, that assertion will be ridiculous because the implementation of the laws in view of their increased numbers will be near impossible.

Another nebulous reason given for the legalization of ‘Okada business’ in Ghana is because it is because it is easier and faster to move around the city with an Okada. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is faster to move around on an Okada largely because they jump red lights and break some traffic rules of speeding.

In any case, if as a country, we want people to move around quickly in the cities, is the Okada the surest way to go? That is surely a dodgy thought based on getting people happy for today.  As an expert in Town and Country Planning, I know that the sure way to deal with the traffic situation especially in Accra is to

  1. Construct a reliable rail system which will access main converging points in the city.
  2. Remove all 12-25-seater buses from the cities and ensure that only over 50-seater double-decker buses move through the cities of Accra. All other smaller buses like the 12 – 25-seater commercial buses must all operate in the outskirts of the city. In so doing, small number of vehicles will carry more people and reduce the number of vehicles on the street. If these buses are reliable and comfortable then even people will park their private vehicles and join these buses to access the other parts of the cities
  3. With the above done then there must be tolls for those who drive private vehicles to the Central Business Districts of the various cities.

In real plain language, legalization of Okada business does not form part of generational thinking, it is a thought to get peoples stomach full for a while. 5-10 years from now, we will be battling greater menace which will not be able to deal with because of votes in elections.

Some few years ago, the country was discussing the removal of Benz 207 cargo modified to passenger buses from the street because many people were dying from accidents involving these buses.

Most of our Trotros are cargo buses which have been modified into passenger vehicles. We should be working at replacing all Trotros with comfortable double-decker metro buses in the cities and not adding another apology of a transportation system. The worst train coach our leaders have used in the United Kingdom is better than the best Trotro you ever sat in.

The final and strongest reason given is that there are some areas within the cities and certain towns and villages where only motorbikes can access because of bad roads and therefore Okada should be legalized. Whiles I attended a conference in Adidome, I had to use an Okada to move from the conference grounds to my hotel room because that was the available means of transport then and there.

Although it was very dangerous because no helmet was provided for my head and my seat belt was the shoulder of the rider, it was quite access-convenient. But the question was, could there be a relatively safer option than the motorbikes to move people around in smaller towns or unmotorable roads? There is tricycle which is covered at the top and popularly called ‘Pragya or Mahama Camboo’.

I believe that if as a country we cannot provide accessible roads throughout the country at a go, we should use the Local government system to regulate such means of transport. Laws covering the use of motorbikes and tricycles as commercial means of passenger transport should be placed within the purview and decisions of the various district Assemblies because every community has its specific needs and also as they grow their needs may vary.

In my personal opinion, in the extreme case, Local Authorities can decide to enact laws to regularize the ‘Pragya’ as an alternative means of transport in non-accessible areas. Commercial motorbikes known as ‘Okada’ are too dangerous and should be totally out of the question in nationwide discussions. Motorbikes should just be restricted to be used as cargo or delivery vehicles commercially.

In conclusion, if your leader has travelled to London, Atlanta, Washington, Dubai, Lagos and Tamale and he is thinking of turning your transportation system to look like Lagos or Tamale instead of Dubai and London, then know that consideration of future generations has not been part of this thinking. Whiles other nations even in Africa and the world are thinking of flying cars, speed rail and we are here deliberating Okada as a means of employment and as transportation. God help us all.

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Source Author: Kenneth Darko