In the lead up to the 2020 elections the two main political parties competed with each other in raising the matter of what they termed “Okada” operations.
From the almost complete silence on this matter after the elections, it would appear that it was raised only as a means of gathering votes.
The reality of the matter, however, is that the dangers posed by motorcycles on our roads are real, present and continuing, and it is a shame that as a nation we have ignored it and appear to move on from this danger that confronts us daily.
At present there is a law that intends to ban the operation of Okada(s). This law is found in The Road Traffic Regulations 2012 (LI 2180), as follows:
Section 128 (1). “The Licensing Authority shall not register a motorcycle to carry a fare-paying passenger”.
Section 128 (2). “A person shall not permit a motorcycle or tricycle which that person exercises control to be used for commercial purposes, except for courier or delivery services”.
Section 128 (3). “A person shall not ride on a motorcycle or a tricycle as a paying passenger”.
Even though this law deals with both motor and tricycles, for the purposes of this article, we will limit the application of this law to motorcycles.
The summary of this law is two-fold. First it is an offence for anyone to operate a motorcycle in carrying a passenger for a fee. Commercial operation of motorcycles is therefore permitted only for the carriage of goods.
Secondly, it is an offence for a person to ride on a motorcycle and pay a fare.
For this reason, the law also prohibits the vehicle licensing authority from registering a motorcycle to be used in carrying fare paying passengers.
This use of motorcycles for carriage of fare paying passengers is what is popularly termed “okada” operations, and will be referred to as such in this article.
This is the law that must be interrogated objectively to find out if it adequately addresses the dangers that motorcycle operations generally pose to society, or indeed, if it addresses them at all.
It appears that there are two main reasons presented to inform the decision to impose this ban. The first is the unacceptably high rate of the tragic loss of lives and limbs as a result of motorcycle operations. This may be put down to plain disregard for road traffic regulations or the lack of riding skills by the operators, or to both.
The second is the notable use of motorcycles in the perpetration of violent crimes. These criminals, in full crash helmets, ride high powered motorcycles, accost their victims, rob them violently and disappear at high speed in heavy traffic even before the police can arrive on the scene and pursue them.
If there are any other reasons for the ban, they have not been publicly stated and are therefore not widely known.
If these stated points are the only reasons for the ban we must admit that this law does not cure the ills that have been so clearly identified.
The defects of the law are plain for the following reasons:
First of all, what has been criminalised is only the use of motorcycles to carry fare paying passengers, but it does not criminalise their use to carry non fare-paying ones. This means that one can carry a passenger on his motorcycle, but as long as that passenger is not charged for the ride, the operator can break all the road traffic regulations that are currently killing and maiming road users without falling foul of this particular law.
The obvious question to ask is, “how does mere payment elevate the ride to a criminal act? What is the danger, and therefore the crime, in paying for services rendered”?
Another defect is that any road user will notice that it is not only okada riders who disregard road safety regulations and ride carelessly. Private motor cycles, couriers and other delivery motorcycle riders are all guilty of reckless and dangerous riding.
On a daily basis these “non-okada” motorcycles rip off driving mirrors of vehicles in traffic, ran down bread winners at pedestrian crossings, end up in mangled heaps under vehicles, and scatter body parts of riders and passengers in gruesome fashion on our streets.
The danger to road users and motorists is caused by the operation of motorcycles generally, and not restricted to okada operations, yet this law does not deal with the use of motorcycles generally.
Additionally, even a dedicated okada becomes a private motorcycle, and outside the remit of this law, so long as it is not carrying a passenger. In this case the inexperienced and undisciplined rider of this okada is still a threat to road users, but is plainly outside the reach of the law.
Yet another hole in this law is that, since under the law an okada passenger also commits an offence, he and the operator, if confronted by law enforcement, can simply lie that it is not a fare paying ride. They will therefore also fall outside the law whilst still posing a significant danger to road users.
Plainly the desire to eliminate or reduce road accidents caused by the use of motorcycles is not being achieved by this particular law.
On the matter of the use of motorcycles for criminal activities, it is also worthy to note that criminals who ride powerful motor cycles to commit crimes are, in any case, not affected by the ban since the passenger is not a fare paying passenger but a comrade in crime. This type of operation is also not affected by the law, and the law, therefore, is ineffective to control it.
Again, even though this law bans okada operations, it is common knowledge that okadas are actively operating in the full glare of law enforcement agencies both in urban and rural areas.
To put it plainly this law is not being enforced. Some say it is because it is virtually unenforceable. This is so because okada operations are need based. Despite the obvious hazards they pose to their passengers it is still a preferred mode of transportation to beat traffic on urban roads and to reach areas that are inaccessible in rural areas.
There is clearly then a need to face this reality and approach the dangers of motorcycle operations in a practical but effective way. That is why the opposition to the issue of “legalise and regulate” is difficult to understand, except on grounds of politics.
In the meantime, despite the clear evidence that private motorcycles are also getting involved in accidents daily at the cost of precious lives, and the need for our policy makers to be concerned about this, we saw that during the election campaign period, the much applauded gift to a political party’s campaign machine is motorcycles. Political parties either do not understand the dangers of general motorcycle operations or are willing to ignore them for political expediency.
The call by a section of society to legalise and regulate it, in view of this reality, is clearly the best, if not the only, approach.
With the inadequacies of our current law to cure the harm being perpetrated by motorcycle operations, what is needed therefore is to repeal Road Safety Regulation 128 and address this menace of motorcycle operations on our roads in a comprehensive way.
At the core of whatever measures will be put in place to make our roads relatively safe for riders and the public, the following three key issues must be included:
A comprehensive and rigorous training and strict licensing regime of motorcycle riders must be instituted. Motorcycle riders must only be licensed if they attend approved riding schools and pass required tests. Retired Police despatch riders can be involved in this training regime, and this should be a source of employment for them. Hopefully this will drastically reduce such incidents as motorcycles hugging the middle of “speed lanes” at low speed, ignorant of the dangers they expose themselves and their riders to from speeding vehicles behind them.
Motorcycles meant for okada operations must have restrictions on their engine capacities to distinguish them from private ones. There is no need to use powerful motorcycles as okadas.
In order to further distinguish them from private motorcycles, okadas must be painted in a uniform clearly distinct colour to easily identify them as such. Licensed riders must also be made to wear similarly clearly coloured and visible jackets or vests with bold identification numbers. This will also enable easier enforcement of regulations.
These two restrictions will further help raise the awareness of citizens if they see any powerful motorcycle not bearing the okada marks trailing them, or hanging around.
Too many lives are being lost by our failure to act collectively and comprehensively to an obvious danger.
It is our hope that, after the heat of electioneering campaigns has abated, we will admit that the menace of motorcycle operations needs to be addressed beyond political denials, and must be done in a manner that will deal with the defects of L.I 2180.
Job creation for okada operators with payment of taxes, although beneficial to society must be seen as merely secondary to road safety.
Too many lives and limbs are being lost for this obvious danger to be ignored.
By Captain (RTD) Michael Yao Foli
The writer is a Retired Airline Pilot