Okada (commercial motorcycle)
In its time, Okada Air was the most popular Nigerian local airline, but was not known for its comfort. The airline itself was named after the Okada town near Benin City, the hometown of its owner, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. The motorcycle transports were nicknamed after the airline, because they could manoeuvre through the heavy traffic of Lagos, and take passengers to their destinations in a timely manner, in the same way as the airline. The ironic humour of an airline's name being used for commercial motorcyclists, as well as the local familiarity with Okada Air, caused the nickname of okada to outlive the airline from which it originated, which many Nigerians no longer even remember.
Okadas appeared in the late 1980s, during an economic downturn in Nigeria. Jobless youths began to use motorcycles to earn money by transporting passengers on narrow or poorly maintained roads to faraway cities and villages. This type of transportation quickly became popular, and acceptance of it has increased steadily. Okadas are now one of the primary modes of transportation in Nigeria, and comprise a cheap and adaptable transportation system, the most popular informal one in the country by far. Even in remote villages, they arrive at regular intervals. It has become a means of transportation regularly used by the young and the old, and men and women. Unfortunately, the rise in okada usage has been accompanied by increased occurrences of risky driving, and accidents, on Nigerian roads; as a result, okadas have come under heavy criticism, resulting in legislation intended to restrict or prohibit their operation in some Nigerian cities.
Okadas in Nigerian society
Taxicab and bus service in Nigeria is inadequate, and congestion and poorly maintained roads are widespread. Okadas are used in cities such as Lagos by businessmen, government workers, and students to overcome traffic congestion, and are able to navigate roads that are inaccessible to automobiles and buses, particularly in villages and urban slums. Contributing to the flourishing of okadas is their low purchase price for operators, and their superior fuel efficiency, which is particularly important during petrol shortages in Nigeria.
Okada fares are usually higher than those of public transit. Riding on an okada has been described as "a unique experience" by both tourists and local users.
Demographics of okada drivers and passengers
A study carried out in 1993 in Yola, a medium-sized city in the northeastern state of Adamawa, Nigeria, provides additional insight into the okada business. The study showed that about 88% of the okada riders[clarification needed] were between 18 and 30 years old, and only 47% had received any type of formal education. The survey also elicited information from 106 motorcycle users.[clarification needed] Customers generally: were male (65%); were young adults between 18 and 30 years of age (57%); had completed at least secondary school (83%); were unemployed but in the job market (59%); and had low to moderate incomes (45%). They valued okadas mainly because they were fast and readily available. Reasons that customers disliked them were that they considered them to be unsafe (this was stated by 67% of the respondents) and expensive (stated by 43% of the respondents). A survey of okada customers in Akure also revealed customer concerns over safety—61% felt operators drove too fast, and 31% said that they drove too recklessly.
Left with few transportation options, however, many continue to patronize okadas despite knowing well the significant risks involved.
Okadas, like motorcycles elsewhere, have a higher rate of crippling and fatal accidents per unit of distance travelled than automobiles. A study conducted in the United States in 2004 showed that while about 15.0 cars out of 100,000 ended up in fatal crashes, the rate for motorcycles was 69.3 per 100,000.[verification needed] A 1998 study at the Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, showed that injuries to limbs occurred in 79.3% of patients who reported at the emergency department of that hospital.[clarification needed] The same study also stated the male to female ratio of accident victims to be around 2.8:1, and identified the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be practically nonexistent among okada riders.[verification needed]
Given the common incidence and serious consequences of motorcycle accidents, there has been surprisingly little study of their causes. The only major work that has been done on this subject in the United States is the Hurt Report, performed around 1980 in the Los Angeles area. One of the central conclusions of the report was:
The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.
However, in Nigeria, the reverse may in fact be true—the vast majority of okada drivers do not pay attention to road signs and other motorists.
Other causes of motorcycle accidents:
- Unlicensed and untrained drivers. In some parts of Nigeria, okada drivers begin working after only a few hours of training sessions. Underage okada drivers are not uncommon on Nigerian roads.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- Shared rides involving two or more passengers.
- The poor state of Nigerian roads, which are typically riddled with pot-holes.
- Graft and corruption among the road safety officials and the Nigeria Police Force, both of whom are easily induced into disregarding traffic misdemeanors when given bribes.
Okadas and crime
The influx of okadas has been linked[by whom?] to an increase in crime in cities throughout Nigeria, particularly in city centres, urban slums, and red light districts. The criminal activities range from theft of purses and mobile phones to abduction, grand larceny, and even politically motivated murder.
Okadas have been criticized[by whom?] for causing or exacerbating traffic congestion in the cities where they operate. There have also been incidents involving gang beatings, in which okada drivers have attacked motorists after traffic accidents. Fights have been known to escalate into riots and vehicles being set on fire.
- "The impact of Inaga ban on students". www.thenationonlineng.com. The Nation (Lagos), Thursday, 18 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
- Cervero, R: "Informal Transport in the Developing World", 2005
- US Highway Safety Authority, 2004
- Oluwadiya et al., "Motorcycle limb injuries in a developing country", "West African Journal of Medicine", 2004
- Solagberu et al., 2006, Motorcycle injuries in a developing country and the vulnerability of riders, passengers, and pedestrians, Journal of Injury Prevention.
- Daan Beekers, 2008, Motorcycle fellowships: security, solidarity and subjectivity among okada riders, chapter 4 of 'Children of a "Fallen House": Lives and Livelihoods of Youth in Nigeria'. MPhil Thesis. Oxford. 
- The WHO newsletter on road safety, 2004, Road Safety Is No Accident.
- The UK Department for Transport, 2004, In-Depth Study of Motorcycle Accidents.
- US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2001, Fatal Single Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes.
- US National Technical Information Service, 1981, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures (The Hurt Report).