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10 Oct 2016
The okada rider in us all
As a writer, you sometimes happen on something you wrote many years back, based on the happenings then, then you realise that that the same write-up speaks to a current situation. This just occurred to me when I read my July 25, 2005, piece in the now rested NewAge newspaper. So, I am simply touching up the same article and sharing. I called it “The Okada Rider in Us All”.
So much has been said about the contribution of the military to Nigeria’s underdevelopment, to wit, the attitude of incivility and aggression towards others by almost every citizen. But here is another subtle contribution to our underdevelopment that is hardly mentioned or appreciated. It is the contribution of the “okada” riders to our mental frame-up.
Okada, as if you don’t already know, refers to “motorcycle taxi” or “commuter motorcycle”. But that name comes from Okada Town, a previously unknown locality in Edo State, which was brought to national limelight by one of its best known citizens, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Igbinedion floated Okada Airlines which he named after his home town.
With Nigeria’s economy persistently on the downward trend, there came an upsurge in the number of commuter motorcycles across the country, as more and more unemployed youths entered the business. The result of that upsurge was the breakdown in standards and jettisoning of safety rules. The riders, in a bid to increase their profit margin, went overboard by zooming, nay flying, rather than riding their motorcycles, leading to a lot of accidents. That was the genesis of the okada tag, suggesting that these motorcycle riders were flying, like Okada Airlines.
The term, okada, is more popular in usage within the south-western and adjoining areas of Nigeria, as commuter motorcycles come by different names such as “express’, “going”, “ala-olok”, “achaba”, “ina aga”, “aka-uke” etc in other parts of the country. But like many other Lagos expressions that assume national prominence, okada has assumed a fairly universal usage or understanding in Nigeria, based on the fact that it is widely used by Lagosians.
Okada riders all over the country have one common trait – they operate as if they are above the law or the law does not exist at all. They breach traffic rules with impunity. They ride against traffic; ride on sidewalks and run pedestrians into gutters and bushes; ride on expressways and contest right of way with cars, trailers and buses, all against traffic regulations. Their foolish struggle for space on the highways against cars reminds one of the saying that whether the egg crashes on the coconut or the coconut crashes on the egg, it is the egg that breaks. But above all, in the eyes of an okada rider, a fellow okada rider can do no wrong against other citizens. And so whether it is the okada rider who wrongfully and foolishly rides into a car’s lane, brushes the car and gets knocked down, or he knocks down a pedestrian or has a misunderstanding with his passenger (usually over fares), that other fellow, not the okada rider, is at fault!
Once an incident (including accident) occurs between the okada rider and others, the speed with which other okada riders in the area descend upon the scene, pass judgment and move to execute it are legendary. It never matters who is at fault in those situations. Merely being an okada rider makes a person a “saint” among his colleagues. This attitude of always wanting to protect our own has permeated every stratum of society and is a source of worry to some of us. It is the okada rider in us all.
Hardly do Nigerians agree that their kinsmen and women are at fault or should even be investigated or tried for any allegation. Kinsmen or kinswomen, is used loosely in this context to cover people of the same ethnic group, state, geopolitical zone, religious inclination, professional group, political party, social class etc. We often hear of such banalities as “witch hunt”, “victimisation”, “discrimination”, “segregation” and “selective application of the law” (which do exist anyway) when somebody is made to face the legal consequences of his/her alleged wrongdoings. The other expression we hear of is “Is s/he the only one?”, “Is that the only problem with Nigeria?” The question to always ask is whether the above vitiates the criminality of the person being investigated or prosecuted.
Today, the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, is standing trial for alleged corruption and you hear some citizens ask why they are picking on him when there are many others like him who have not been investigated or prosecuted. His local community, some traditional rulers from his geopolitical zone and some ex-IGPs have been reported at different points as putting pressure on or begging the authorities to handle the case with less vigour. Some persons have even solicited forgiveness for the accused person. Yet, as Nigerians, we claim that we want to see the country change. Can the country ever change this way?
After the recent allegation of corruption against certain public officers including ministers and some National Assembly members, many of the complaints of the accused persons and their cohorts were really that the affected officers were being “singled out for punishment”. But like I have always maintained, we really have to start off from somewhere and it shouldn’t matter whose ox is gored. Recently, one of the discredited men was given a grand reception by his community, thus spiting the rest of the country.
It was the same case with the National Identity Card contract scam. Thank God though that the principal accused persons reflected a good mix of different geopolitical zones. But there were still some citizens who suggested that those ones were mere “scapegoats”, meaning that such commentators would rather that the accused persons were left off the hook or never picked up in the first place.
At the political level of protecting one’s own, this government has displayed it in the brightest of colours. Recall the young Salisu Buhari, the master forger who claimed to be older than he was so as to qualify to be in the House of Representatives. He also claimed to have academic certificates from University of Toronto, which he never attended. Having padded his credentials, he eventually became Speaker of the House. When his lies proved too brazen to be ignored and he was made to kiss off the position and afterwards convicted for forgery, he got a slap in the wrist and a presidential pardon. The only reason Buhari got such preferential treatment was because those who saved his neck believed that he was “one of their own”, or to put it aptly, the okada rider in them.
Similarly, the Anambra State shenanigans can best be understood from the same okada rider in us all point of view. Those who should sanction the criminal elements in the attempt to undermine the authority of a state governor and government could only describe the whole sordid situation as “family affair”. It was their own way of protecting their own from being punished.
This attitude has been with us for so long. I recall when Navy Captain Ibim Princewill was replaced as military governor of Cross River State in 1989. His successor, Lt. Col. Ernest Kizito Attah, began what was unheard of at that time by instituting panels to investigate and try alleged corrupt enrichment through award of spurious contracts during Princewill’s administration. The results were eye-popping and indicted the previous administration. At about that same time, Prof. Tam David-West was also being tried for alleged corrupt enrichment during his days as minister of petroleum resources. Soon enough, there were complaints and agitations by Rivers State people that it was only their sons who were “singled out” for the “witch-hunt”. That was the spirit of the okada rider in them speaking up.
So, where do we go from here? Nowhere, as long as we continue to operate the okada rider way. Until we realise a wrong for what it is and treat it as such, even when people of our own ethnic extraction, state, geopolitical zone, religion, profession and social class are involved, we can never go far. Perhaps, that is why our fight against corruption and other vices has failed to succeed because whoever is picked for trial has a long line of “his/her people” to rise up in solidarity and defence of him/her.