In November 2009, the Cross River State government banned the use of commercial motorcycles, or okadas, in Calabar, a city of 300,000 people, located in southeastern Nigeria. Gab Okulaja, Special Advisor to the Governor of Cross River State and head of the Department of Public Transportation (DOPT), sat down with TheCityFix special correspondent Drew Alt and his co-worker Vicky Chin from the IBM Corporate Service Corps to discuss the strategy behind the ban.
TheCityFix: Why did the Department of Public Transportation feel it was necessary to ban motorcycles?
Gab Okulaja: I look at the issue of commercial motorcycles by asking myself what type of transportation I would want for the citizens of Cross River State. From a safety perspective, commercial motorcycles expose commuters to all manners of risk. Reports from the casualty wing of the hospitals in Calabar showed that on a daily basis the doctors were overloaded with accidents and deaths coming from the operations of these okadas.
In terms of mass movement, motorcycles are not the best because they only pick one person, creating a lot of congestion. For example, if you had a bus that seats 50 people, one bus would move 50 people as opposed to 50 bikes moving 50 people. You can also imagine the amount of carbon monoxide that will be coming from 50 exhaust pipes and engines. All these are things that don’t sit well with a city that wants to be a livable city.
Crime and social dislocations were other issues that came with commercial motorcycles. Because it was difficult to regulate commercial operators, before you knew it, just anybody was on a bike and the crime rate increased. People also saw riding a motorbike as an easy form of earning. People were dropping out of school and skilled trades to get a bike and thought that was the end of it. So you had a stagnated work force which was content with just riding bikes and making some quick earnings. It was creating dislocations in the social structure of the city.
Lastly, we had in the back of our minds that here we were positioning Calabar and Cross River as a tourist destination in Nigeria and there was a need for us to at least provide transportation that meets international best practices. All these issues informed for us the need to put a ban to commercial motorcycles.
TCF: Was there any resistance to the ban?
GO: Back in 2007, the government first proposed regulating the commercial motorcycles. This was vehemently opposed by the operators. They bombed down a police station and things like that. So the government had to come down hard on them and provide an alternative solution to show them that government was serious about what they wanted to do at the time.
Before we banned the motorcycles in 2009, we tried to find out what the issues would be with the operators to prevent a similar reaction. The number one concern among operators was the immediate loss of income. As a government we needed to find a way out of this because it is our responsibility to provide jobs for our citizens. So we allowed the operators to break themselves into cooperative units and created associations. The government provided the necessary backing for them to be able to acquire new forms of transportation – taxis and buses – and left them under their cooperative structure, and allowed them to share ownership of taxis and buses through weekly and monthly contributions. By so doing we did not distort their earnings, we did not distort these groupings they had, and we did not throw them out of work. We provided them with an alternative within what they were already used to doing.
TCF: Has Calabar changed since the ban?
Gab Okulaja: Four months after the ban, which took place on November 22, 2009, the events have shown that this was the right decision. I can gladly tell you that we’ve had two taxi companies come in and between them they’ve injected almost 100 brand new taxis into the city – fully private sector-driven this time. We’ve had inquiries for bus opportunities. There are private companies that have come in and are willing to provide buses on our bus routes on a franchise basis. We’ve had commercial drivers coming back and subjecting themselves to training for the purpose of obtaining a commercial driver’s license. So these are some of the benefits we’ve seen from the position we took and sending the okadas away. The crime rate has dropped significantly. Reports from the police show that it was near zero in December , the same for January . So it has played out better for the city.
Author’s Note: As a reminder, comments are most welcome. And to kick off the conversation, take a look at the results of a similar ban on motorcycles in Guangzhou, China, which resulted in a positive outcome. Is anyone aware of motorcycle bans that have not lived up to their billings?
Until next time,
Drew Alt is a Senior Consultant within IBM Global Business Services in Washington, DC. He is currently on assignment for IBM in Calabar, Nigeria with the Department of Public Transportation. Follow Drew on his blog at https://www.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/blog/1950 or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/drewfalt