19th July 2024

By Kofi Boateng

Last Friday, I was shocked when I was crossing the road in front of the Police Headquarters at Cantonments. When the traffic light turned red and all the cars stopped, I saw a motorbike approaching. I was already three steps in the road so I was lost, whether to return or continue crossing the road. But to my surprise, the motor rider stopped. At this time, I was in the middle of the road but the temptation of turning to look at the rider to make sure he had really stopped was too high. He had stopped, but my amazement had doused when I realised he was wearing a white skin.

In that instant, all my experiences with Okada drivers were flashing in my mind. I have never boarded one so I have no experience of the convenience this form of transportation brings. But I don’t doubt it.

On numerous occasions, I have met Okada drivers on the pavement of roads where pedestrians and cyclists are supposed to use. More frightening is that the motorists could be coming from your back or meandering through people towards you from the front on top speed.

Avoidable deaths

I’m always scared when I find myself in that situation, whether at Kwame Nkrumah Interchange (Circle) or Kaneshie. Whenever I have to cross the road through halted cars, because of traffic, I am always alert for an unannounced Okada driver who thinks the traffic lights are a waste of resources. Sometimes you see police personnel at the back of these motorbikes. Other times the police personnel show absolute contempt to the traffic lights when on these motorbikes. Who then is to check the Okada driver?

No wonder, the head of Accident, Emergency and Orthopedic Department at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Frederick Kwarteng, was vehemently calling for the ban of Okada in January this year.

His call was premised on the fact that 58 motorcycle accident victims were recorded in the hospital from December 21 2019, to January 1 2020. He added that this is “causing the victims to lose their lives, legs and arms, brains, wealth and entire social life.”

On the January 15, this year, the Daily Graphic in an editorial indicated that 732 people died through Okada accidents in 2019.

Before I even continue, Okada is banned in Ghana. Section 128 (1) of the Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 states: “The licensing authority shall not register a motorcycle to carry a fare-paying passenger.”

Politics

However, regardless of the growing menace that these motorbikes pose, some Members of Parliament- Muntaka Mubarak leading the pack – have been opposing the ban because, according to them, the Okada business is putting “food on the table” of the riders.

This is a genuine reason enough, but the negligence of the same people who are supposed to create jobs for the people are now pushing for the legalisation of a menace because it favours their parliamentary ambitions.

I make this claim because of the assertion that the legalisation of Okada will help our effort to “industrialise” by assembling motorbikes and export them to the West African sub-region.

Imagine how we are going to assemble motorbikes for the sub-region when we have folded our arms for Neoplan Ghana Limited to fold up. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) absolutely neglected a company that had the potential to employ thousands of youths and also solve our transportation problem. The current government confuses me. Neoplan needs to be saved but the government is pushing for a so-called industrialisation agenda that doesn’t seem to recognise how important saving the company is.

The MP for Asawase, in his spirited defence for the legalisation of Okada in March 2019, indicated that most people use these motorbikes because they want “to get through the thick traffic of the cities to get to their destinations in good time.” Is that the best way we can solve the problem of traffic congestion?

Emulate Nigeria

He also advocated that Accra should emulate Lagos, which can be described as the market leader in Okada in West Africa. Lagos, it must be said, had made Okada illegal the same year Ghana had also decided to criminalise it- 2012.

But political expedience had prevented the city of not less than 20 million people from enforcing the law. On February 1 2020, Lagos started enforcing the ban to “immediately address the chaos and disorderliness created by illegal operations of Okada…”

I think we must rather emulate Lagos, in this vein. Even though the process through which the ban is being enforced in Lagos is fraught with mistakes, as some have described it as a “rushed decision,” we can learn from their mistakes and phase this illegality and nuisance out gradually.

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