Commercial motorcycling in Nigeria was first started in Benin in 1988. Arising out of the crippling unemployment of the Structural Adjustment Program days, young people turned to commercial motorcycling to make ends meet.
At that time, young people used their motorcycles to transport people from place to place in order to earn money. Soon enough, “Okada” business as it is called, grew in acceptance and became a steady source of revenue for local entrepreneurs who would lease their fleet of motorcycles to riders.
It is widely speculated that the name, “Okada” was derived from the now defunct Okada Air which was located at Okada, near Benin City, as a result of the local familiarity with the airline at that time. Whether it was accidental, or an attempt to brand commercial motorcycling as an efficient transportation alternative, the name stuck well.
The increasing urbanization of Nigerian cities and towns did not help matters as Okadas quickly became the easier resort to meander through the often disparaging vehicular traffic that beset commuters. Coupled with the fact that Okadas have remained the relatively cheaper form of transportation, their ban in certain cities were greeted with public displeasure. Okada transport had simply become imbued into the social life of most Nigerians. And in spite of being the most accident prone form of transportation, convenience rather than its inherent risks suffused the outcry against the ban on commercial motorcycles.
Eventually, justification for government bans on Okadas in forms of route restrictions or outright operational bans weighed out the public due to the increased usage of motorcycles for armed robbery .
Its close relative, known in Lagos as ‘Keke Marwa’ a tarpaulin-covered tricycle with a windshield and dingy upholstery, like the ones shown in Bollywood flicks, has become a more acceptable form of transport, although many have began asking the government to tighten regulation to ensure its operators are safety compliant.
In all, the emergence of Okadas, Keke Marwas and even the traditional Danfos are all tied to our perennial perchance of not planning our towns and cities with our population dynamics.