President Goodluck Jonathan calls his administration a transformational one. That, in itself, suggests an administration that is quite capable of taking decisions which even when not popular at the onset, have beneficial consequences for the nation.
Not least because of its overwhelming importance to our lives and economy, the public transportation system is one area in which the administration of Goodluck Jonatha as well as the state governments must be prepared to make an impact of transformational significance. A European friend of mine once saw on television the state of public transportation in a Nigerian city and wondered aloud how our people were able to cope in such a chaotic situation. He had probably never seen a situation where vehicles "fight" for control of the lanes and drivers scramble for passengers! How, for instance, can our universities attain world-class status when because of factors like the public transportation culture, foreign scholars are scared of living in our country?
The advantages of an efficient and orderly transportation system that eliminates the nuisance of touts and the extortionist practices of middlemen and the police, cannot be over-emphasised. Sometime in 2003, I sent a memorandum to the Minister of Transport suggesting that the time had come for public transportation in our cities to be managed by companies rather than by individuals. This is one hard decision which the federal and state governments must now make, even when one is under no illusions that the task of persuading those who engage in the business of public transportation would not be an easy one.
Of course we must persuade them that the time has come for Nigeria to transform into a modern society. We can do this - not with the military style of "with immediate effect" - by admonishing them that erstwhile transporters can indeed become shareholders in a new transportation culture. The erstwhile transporters and those who would want to invest in the business of public transportation can organise themselves into companies or co-operatives, as is the case in modern nations of the world.
The advantages of an organised transportation culture cannot be over-emphasised. The first advantage is the financial resources that would be available to companies, not least because of the bargaining power they would have with the banks. This would mean that "safe" and decent vehicles can replace the museum-inviting assemblages that currently terrorise our roads. The second advantage is that governments would be able to implement transportation policies and regulations more effectively than in the current situation. Finally, governments will have access to the profits of these companies and tax them appropriately. Such taxes will contribute immensely to the funds needed for the maintenance of public roads as well as opening up new ones.
In addition to the advantages outlined above, an organised public transportation culture will provide job opportunities. First and foremost, we are talking of drivers who are now company employees and are entitled to holidays and benefits. They would work on a shift basis; one cause of accidents on our roads is because drivers are overworked by transporters.
Because we are now talking of companies rather than individuals, the involvement of company lawyers and accountants becomes inevitable. While the former help the various companies to redress legal issues, the latter take charge of remunerations accruing to shareholders as well as determining how much tax is paid to the government. Of course companies also provide jobs for administrative staff, mechanical engineers and cleaners. The mechanical engineers in particular will ensure that only vehicles in good working condition can be on the roads.
The "Okada" culture, a culture of transporting humans and goods on motorcycles, does not belong in the future. A transformational government must find alternative jobs for these "commercial" motorcyclists. The Jonathan administration would have qualified as a transformational one if the suggestion re-stated here is accommodated in the larger agenda of improving public transportation in our society. Suffice it to say it requires imagination, boldness and determination to transform a public transportation culture that is as chaotic as ours. Transform, of course, we must!
Note For Reflection – by Patrick Iroegbu
This author has argued that Okada Culture does not belong in the future of Nigerian transportation and development system. One wonders what will, given the fact that Okada transportation system is wide spread, adopted and regularly used. Okada culture replaced the bicycle culture that came with colonial Nigeria and afterwards. Beginning in the late 1970 and early 1980s, across Nigeria, Okada transportation found a critical business niche to respond to human need and it quickly transformed itself into a state of dominance in moving people and goods around. Unemployed school leavers and retired people found the opportunity to become self-employed by engaging in the business of Okada and therefore Okada culture developed more than ever. I remember well how teachers invested their salaries in buying motor cycles and in turn used them when their salaries were not paid to make ends meet. Community and commercial banks developed loan system to support people invest in Okada business. Also companies, local government authorities, unions and communities were involved by investing in Okada transportation to engage people.
Though the urban menace Okada ride poses is clear. But again, one wonders what will happen if it is phased out. Attempts by some state governments and Local Government Area authorities to phase out or relocate Okada transporters have not worked as it should be because of many obvious developmental problems such as poor road networks and lack of sufficient commercial transportation vehicles at any time and place of need to transport people and goods safely and speedily.
Critically viewed, the point is that Nigeria can transform its transportation system as a part of the political and economic transformation agenda of the current political leadership of President Jonathan Goodluck by creatively paying attention to the road networks in local areas and towns. In cities, Okada/bicycle lanes and parks can be created for Okada rides.
Come to think of it, Europe is common with bicycle culture up to this moment. With the need for Okada ride to ease congestion, which it has unfortunately turned around to cause, and reach inner city to help people and goods move from one area to another, Okada lanes should be planned and developed as an integral part of the road network in cities. There is no immediate way I see it that Okada cannot belong in the future. It will, like bicycle ride, does in Europe despite advanced road networks and complex range of automobiles and manoeuvrings. I do not know how you see it yourself but this is what I think can be a way to go and make the already Okada transport culture become responsibly transformed and stay relevant as a culture for inner-city and locales.
Anthony A. Kila Writes!