For the Love of Bans

In January 2020, the Lagos State Government announced a state-wide ban on commercial motorcycles for a range of offences, including causing many road users to lose limbs and other body parts. Whereas the ban was on all motorcycles, it was perceived as a move against Gokada, Max, and similar startups, especially as conventional bikes were soon back on the roads complying with the daily extortionary and ultra-official cash fees paid to enforcers (“agberos”) on the roads. Effective 1st September 2022, there is now another ban covering many parts of the state, which extends an earlier ban that had fewer areas included.

To put things in context, Lagos State is not the only state to ban motorcycles as a means of public transportation. In 2008, the Rivers State Government banned bikes from plying roads in the main parts of Port Harcourt, restricting them to the outskirts of the main city, and other towns and villages. Some other states have also placed similar bans with varying degrees of compliance and enforcement. To be fair, a case could be made to justify eliminating bikes from the roads. However, I think the bans are promulgated by officials who likely have cars, hence, are less likely to be affected by any ban, and that the bans are consistent with the Nigerian approach of taking the easy way out of any problem.

To understand how a well-run public transportation system that includes commercial motorcycles could function, we can look at Kigali in Rwanda. Although some might argue that Rwanda is a tiny enclave compared to the relative monstrosity of Nigeria, the fundamentals could easily be tweaked to suit us. Over there, bikes are controlled, all riders have two helmets—one for the rider and another for passengers. This means that no bike is allowed to carry more than two persons (except may a passenger has a little child). With this controlled system in place, the complaints levied against bikes in Nigeria could be handled.

But we had no need to even look at Rwanda. Back here in Nigeria, Gokada and similar platforms were providing a service that could easily allow the government to know every biker on the road, with GPS coordinates that track bikes in real time, and could be used for investigations where necessary. Those bikes also had two helmets each, and with the right controls, the riders could have been made to comply with whatever rules the government wanted, except for paying “un-trackable” cash as daily fees to authorised hoodlums on the roads. Instead, the government chose to ban them, while allowing unregistered bikers who complied with the cash payments.

The problem with these bans on bikes, especially in a place like Lagos, is the snowballing effect it would have on all road users, including car owners who may feel uninterested. Firstly, for persons without cars who live or work in areas not on the route of tricycles (“keke”) or buses (taxis are mostly private in Lagos), they would now have to rely more on their legs to move around. While trekking might be a health enabler for some persons, we would be ignoring persons who have health challenges that would make trekking a killer for them.

Secondly, for car owners, the ban would cause more persons to do whatever it would take to buy their own cars. Note that Lagos already has “excess” cars plying its roads, despite several persons choosing to keep their cars at home to avoid getting stuck driving in bad traffic conditions. As more persons either buy cars or return to using their cars more often, the situation with hold-ups would worsen and affect all road users, including the government officials. Oh, I forgot that these officials have overzealous security operatives ever ready to flog road users off the roads and drive against traffic to ensure their principals quickly get to their destinations.

Other petty issues like the need for a functional public transportation system that serves all classes, or solid economic growth to get bikers employed or running other businesses rather than expanding the robbery industry are outside this article’s scope, so we move on.

In case you have not noticed, this article is not exactly about Lagos. Rather, the latest ban by Lagos is symptomatic of a widespread Nigerian approach to problem solving via military-style bans, even where there is clear evidence that many of these bans either do not work, or merely create an avenue for extortion wealth-gathering by government officials and security operatives. All our uncles, whether it is Bubu, Meffy, or Jide, love the thrill of a simple ban. Maybe we need to start singing in their ears that there could be other options, though more stressful, to solve our problems. As loving uncles, I hope they would love us more than they love bans.  

Image Credit: gbhbl.com


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