The banning fever seems to be raging in the land. Various state governments have placed a ban on commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada in the southern part of the country. These restrictions range from partial to total ban, depending on the state and locality in question. Various reasons ranging from security concerns, to recklessness of riders and endangering of the lives of others, as well as okada not being an acceptable mode of transport in any organized society (forgetting that we are not an organised society), have been bandied. What are the likely consequences of such an action and how do we find an enduring solution to the transportation problem in the country? To the first query, the most germane to my mind is the issue of the attendant unemployment such a policy will engender. Okada riding provides employment for thousands of Nigerians and this should not be taken lightly. In an economy that does not provide social welfare, where unemployment is in the in the high heavens and Ph.D. holders have become truck drivers, nothing should be done to worsen the situation.
The way to go is to properly regulate and control the activities of the sector in question, rather than throwing people into the uncertainty of a grim existence. With proper regulations and enforcement of rules, as well as training and advocacy by officials of the ministry of transport (not touts), sanity can be brought into the sector. Furthermore, incentives to create jobs which are sustainable should be put in place. Investors in productive activities like agriculture, manufacturing and building construction, should be encouraged, businessmen who are in it for the long term, not speculators, jobbers and contractors, who add no value. On the issue of finding a lasting solution to the transport problem, the key to is to treat transport infrastructure as critical to the economy of the state and to have an aggressive plan for its development. This will in itself also help to alleviate the unemployment problem currently being experienced. Investments in roads and railway (e.g. the Lagos light rail project) must be undertaken with utmost urgency. The agrarian and food producing areas of the states must be accessible, to ease evacuation of agricultural products to the towns and cities, which will tend to have a salutary effect on prices.
It will also open up the interior and promote the flow of business across the state. To overcome potential problems with funding, public private partnerships (PPPs) should be encouraged. This will free up funds and allow government concentrate on other sectors. Proper planning and prioritization of projects must be carried out, with more funding going to areas with higher possibility of spin-offs. Borrowings tied to specific projects and investments can also be done, with effective monitoring to ensure judicious use of funds. Politicians must also learn to eschew greed and undue politicisation of projects. Funds frittered away through corruption and white elephants can thus be channelled to these selected critical areas. With proper planning and implementation, things will naturally fall into place and others will die a natural death. In the meantime, government has no business taking jobs from people, when it does not provide alternatives.
Piece written by Oke Okpomo
Okpomoy2k@yahoo.com Follow him on twitter@kpomskerio