Okada Ban: Another Case Of Ineffective Policy Communication
By Tunji Faleye
February 1, 2020 will forever remain an indelible day in the minds of motorcycle and tricycle (okada) (keke marwa) and commuters who daily ply the Lagos roads. This is following the enforcement of the ban or better still, the restriction of the use of Okada and Marwa by the Lagos State government in sixteen major local government areas and LCDA across Lagos.
Even motorcycle-hailing firms such as Gokada, Max-Ng and Oride were not spared. The founder, motorcycle-hailing firm, Gokada, Fahim Saleh, captured the despair and hopelessness many riders are experiencing when they suddenly found out they are without jobs: “the ban has rendered several employees jobless and led to financial loss for investors. The drivers here at Gokada, were not there to make money, they were here because they had families, they have children, they have dreams.
The ban on bike-hailing startups also came after a checkered relationship with state authorities amid regulatory uncertainty. Last July, the state government proposed regulation which would see each startup pay annual licensing fees of 25 million naira ($70,000) per 1,000 bikes and then 30,000 naira ($83) per bike after the first set of 1,000. In addition, the startups were also faced with paying 500 naira per bike ($1.38) daily in state-sanctioned levies to local transport unions after months of harassment.
The ban had taken almost everyone by surprise as the notice for the restriction was given barely five days before the deadline of February 1, being a Saturday. The first two days of the restriction were not felt so much because it was a weekend. By Monday rush hour however, commuters in Lagos were thrown into despair as the to-ing and fro-ing to work became something of a nightmare.
Expectedly, the Lagos State government has been receiving backclash from Lagosians over this even as Okada riders commenced protests with some becoming violent; a recent one being in Iyana-Ipaja where a school girl got killed by a stray bullet.
For the Musas, Emekas, Solas and countless other riders, it was indeed a bitter pill to swallow considering that many of them bought their Okadas/Marwas on hired purchase, which they need to pay back on instalment. This is asides the many responsibilities they have towards their familes and the bills they have to take care of.
Government’s Reasons For Ban/Restriction
Information and Strategy Commissioner Gbenga Omotosho for Lagos State had asserted in a statement that the ban followed a “robust assessment” by the State government and the State Security Council which showed that the use of motorcycles is unsafe, and the casualty figures from their use are “scary”. “From 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone,” Omotosho said. “This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as at date.”
Security is another consideration. According to Omotosho, “The rate of crimes aided by motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke) keeps rising. Motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke) are also used as getaway means by criminals.” Unfortunately, there are no figures here from the robust assessment.
Interestingly, many feel that there is more to the ban/restriction than the Sanwo-Olu-led government is letting the discerning public to know. For instance, Lolu Akinwunmi, GMD of Prima Garnet shared post on his Facebook wall to that effect. The shared post holds that security concerns that members of the Shiite group from other African countries are coming into Lagos under the guise of Okada business and also a fallout in between the government and operators of the bike hailing services may have been responsible for the ban. The former sentiment is shared by Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charley Boy, the much- touted father of okada riders.
However, commenting on the post, Nkiru Olumide-Ojo, Regional Executive Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Standard Bank Group believes with proper communication the public would have been made to understand the reasons for its actions. “I think part of the grumble is the manner in which things are done. The FAQ for one, left me quiet it had sweeping statements devoid of numbers. I doubt, with the security issues we have had that we would not have reasoned with the govt. The manner of communicating is so disturbing plus, there didn’t appear to be sustainable replacements. Without prejudice, communication is so critical that it must be a priority focus during change management.” This comment was made before the government rolled out its alternatives to the dilapidating transport system.
The very short deadline given and the manner of communication from the Lagos State government is leaving so much to be desired. While the understanding is that the activities of these riders have been restricted to only 12 LGAs in Lagos, the communication emerging from Alausa, the seat of government says it is an outright ban. This is best described as an example of a public policy that was unsuccessfully communicated to key stakeholders. Public policies are guidelines given by a government body to the public on an issue of public importance. They affect the public directly and therefore public input is necessary.
Public participation cannot be effective unless the public understand clearly the policy being presented to them. There is a need therefore for effective communication of public policies so that the public can deeply comprehend a policy and consequently be able to offer well-informed suggestions. In addition, as part of effective communication, a feedback mechanism needs to be developed to allow for feedback from the public on public policies.
This is according to the sample of opinion got from some seasoned experts in the integrated marketing community. For seasoned IMC professional and scholar at the Lagos Business School, Chido Nwakanma, the Lagos Okada Ban deserves all the knock it is getting for its multiple failures.
“It failed in policy making process, in change management and in communication.
No progressive society throws its masses under the bus, as Sanwo-Olu’s Lagos has done. Change Management is deliberate and carefully planned. It is not commando-style. Other societies effect change by interacting with and securing the buy-in of stakeholders.
“That way, there is no uproar when change happens. That way, there is no upturning of their lives because they had notice and time to plan. There is communication before and after. Feedback continues to inform the process and guide the process. Lagos is running public policy as ‘’Bolekaja.’
“It gets a backlash for the inept handling and Gov. Sanwo-Olu throws tantrums. He then puts his ego on the line asserting that the policy is irreversible. Huh? The only irreversible policy is death.
Significantly, LASG should listen to the many stakeholders of the Okada economy. The Okada value chain is long and includes many citizens in various roles who depend on it for sustainability and mobility. They should rethink because the many loopholes in the ban. It is not about Sanwo-Olu posing as a strongman. Governance should be about the people.”
Chido had earlier, in his opinion article published in BusinessDay newspaper titled, ‘Lagos, Okada and public policy challenge in Nigeria’ captured where the government has erred with his well-placed rhetoric questions: “In human capital management, organisations usually give reasonable notice of at least 30 days and up to 90 days when disengaging labour. Lagos has given four days. From what HR manual did Lagos get this approach?
“Have we thrown up to 500, 000 people into the unemployment market? A Wikipedia entry claims 1 million bikes operate in Lagos! Is it because they are poor, not unionised and probably cannot afford a good lawyer?
“Could Lagos State have devised another means of tackling the dangerous aspect of Okada riding in Lagos? Doing so would require rigour in thinking, research and execution. It would mean finding out the numbers. It would entail registration and tagging. It would mean monitoring and enforcement. It would mean work, above all.”
Another seasoned professional in the industry, the Convener of Brandish Meeting of Minds, Ikem Okuhu, brings his thoughts to bare on the issue. “Because of the mixture of political and security issues in the crises, I sincerely think that constructive engagement as we know it would have served well given the peculiar circumstance.
“First, the Lagos State Government has been notorious for not properly communicating its policies and actions to the people. For this reason, any effort at engagement would have met with suspicion, cynicism and possibly resistance. The situation we found ourselves in Lagos, though a failure of successive administrations at city planning and urban renewal was a difficult one and required military approach. It is true Lagos residents are going through harrowing time commuting because of the restriction of movement however, the overriding health and security implications far outweighs the harsh experiences. Do you know that motorcycle accident victims occupied over 70 percent bed spaces in public hospitals? The government has the stats and so is acting in the interest of the people.
“Again, more than 90 percent of motorcycle riders in this city who are recaptured have no identifiable address and so disappears into air once they commit crime. I have had a sad experience where a Bateman employed to guard my apartment block nearly lynched me in collaboration with motorcycle riders that loiter around my area. I later heard the man, after I had used police to evict him was among those arrested in Chad boko Haram activities. The fellow is not even a Nigerian and so are many of these riders. Nearly all these boys are armed; at least with a knife; any time you see them and the freely use these during the frequent scuffles that arise from their bad driving and poor traffic adherence.
“Lagos was becoming encumbered by criminals that cannot be profiled because they don’t have identities, that’s the worst security nightmare any city can face.
I therefore agree with the method adopted by the government. The arson and riots at some parts of the city by these boys have more than justified government’s position and should strengthen their resolve to continue the ban.
“What should have been done would have been to have alternatives in place so they are immediately deployed to take the place of the ones being discarded. Believe me I like the surprise element. It’s the only two days it could have worked without giving too much room for political maneuvering that could have defeated the entire scheme.”
Hopefully other state governments and even the federal government will borrow a leaf from the Lagos State government on how not to communicate public policies from this experience. Failure to learn from this will amount to what Chido had called the ‘curse of Sisyphus. In his article, Chido had said, “More significantly, it seems to me that on the matter of Okada, the Lagos State Government has condemned itself to the curse of Sisyphus because of the failure of rigour in tackling this challenge. Sisyphus was a legendary king of Corinth condemned eternally to repeatedly roll a heavy rock up a hill in Hades only to have it roll down again as it nears the top. Lagos has frequently banned Okada. It should be clear now that the problem is more profound than what a mere pronouncement of a ban would solve. Deep thinking required.”