“Hey okada!” Kehinde beckoned at the motorcyclist rounding the street corner, “do you know ICM? I’m in a rush,” she said as the square faced man pulled over. “Madam ahan, no wori, na my route be that,” he replied confidently as she hopped on the bike.
After what felt like a merry-go-round, the rider unexpectedly asked, “Madam, no vex, you sabi di place?” “Wait, what?! Why the heck did you carry me if you don’t know simple ICM?” Kehinde queried. There was no answer.
In Lagos where public transit networks are ever-evolving, you’ll discover an intriguing array of options including the danfo (which I like to talk about very much), cabu cabu, LAGFERRY, BRT, keke napep, tuke tuke or keke maruwa and of course, today’s center of discussion, okada!
History of the Okada in Lagos
This takes place sometime in 2016. I’m travelling from Lagos to Edo state when I can see a sign which reads, Welcome To Okada Town. At first, it feels kinda odd but a second look affirms that my eyes are playing no tricks on me.
Oh my, so there’s a town named after our okada in Lagos, or could it be the other way around? This was what I thought as we approached Benin – capital city of Edo state at top speed!
Although currently defunct, Okada Air was a fully operational transport company established in 1983 and headquartered in Benin. The airline was founded by Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin who hails from Okada town.
You see where I’m going with this?
Having been a huge success, Okada Air was known for fast flights, easy bookings and affordability. While other airlines at the time would wait for passengers to fill aircrafts, Okada mostly took off on half capacity!
So in late 1980s when motorcycle taxis became increasingly popular in Lagos, locals adopted the airline name, ‘okada’ because of how the two-wheelers breezed through traffic gridlock, accessed remote communities and transported passengers really fast.
Now a new means of income for many unemployed Lagosians, the transportation system continued to flourish until 2012 when lawmakers agreed to restrict operations on certain highways and areas because of the worrisome number of accidents and spike in traffic related offences.
In February of 2020, the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration ordered a further restriction on okada operation in Lagos, and privately owned transport companies like Gokada and Oride have recorded deep losses since the official announcement.
Nowadays, okada riders are often seen in fewer neighbourhoods across the state and many Lagosians have continued to patronise their service in places where they’re allowed to work.
Periodically, the government clamps down on motorcycle taxis but at this rate, okada could never be completely wiped out from Lagos!
Fun Fact: Motorcycle taxis are called 'achaba' in Northern Nigeria
Ahem, now that you know the chronicles of okada in Nigeria’s economic capital, let’s get started on…
7 PRO TIPS FOR DAILY OKADA COMMUTING IN LAGOS
#1. Rate The Motorcycle
Before mounting any okada on the streets of Lagos, have a good look at the shock absorbers, seats, and make sure the headlights are functional.
But why the inspection? You may ask.
Anytime I reminisce on a backbreaking okada experience I had sometime ago, I remember to be super choosy about the riders. So, it’s now a general rule for me to ditch rickety motorcycle taxis for good ones.
If you’re elderly or your back isn’t in the best shape, I think you should also be super choosy like me. Trust me, you don’t want to be on some pain killers just because of ordinary okada.
Everything you ought to know about commuting on motorcycle taxis (okada) in Lagos, Nigeria.Tweet
#2. Avoid Younger Riders
By younger riders, I actually mean those who are not by law, supposed to be in control of the wheel. Like the thirteen, fifteen or seventeen year old boys riding okada in some places.
They’re underage and usually ride recklessly, you sincerely have no business with them.
Fun Fact: In Yoruba language, motorcycle taxi riders are called 'olokada'
#3. Know Where You’re Headed
Seriously speaking, if Kehinde knew where ICM was located, she wouldn’t have been bedazzled by that okada rider.
In today’s world, it’s best to know and be aware of wherever you’re commuting to particularly on the okada because you’re sometimes the only passenger.
#4. Haggle Nicely
More often than not okada riders are out to cheat you!
Let me share something that happened in 2019, so my friend and I had an Alhaji from Kano travel down to Lagos for a business deal. Here’s the main gist, on arriving at our rendezvous, I noticed that the okada rider who carried him was acting funny after seeing us.
On inquiry, I discovered that the gentlemen had been charged three times the normal fare. Ridiculous stuff right?
This occurs when riders suspect that you’re new in the area.
To beat olokadas at their game, always haggle or like Nigerians say, ‘price’ the fare before beginning your journey.
Also, if you have friends around, ask them for the regular fare and pay just that, nothing more, nothing less.
#5. Do Not Overload
This tip shouldn’t be hard enough for anyone to follow right? Well my friend, you’d be surprised.
To begin with, overloading a motorcycle taxi means you’re making it more difficult for the olokada to ride his bike in peace. Again, overloading increases chances of him losing total control.
Okadas have a maximum capacity of two passengers while some can take only one passenger so it should be just that.
Finally, if you’re going to end up with a lot of bags after shopping, maybe you shouldn’t get on a bike. Consider driving yourself or hiring a taxi instead.
#6. Dress For The Season
In Nigeria, we’ve got two seasons – wet and dry. The former is synonymous to rainfall while the latter is basically harmattan.
Coming down to Lagos, you’ll discover that a number of neighbourhoods in the state are easily flooded during heavy rainfall. Now, this problem is more than a decade old and to combat the effects, especially if you’ll be commuting on an okada, you need to wear shorter dresses, skirts, shorts or trousers to prevent flood water or kpoto-kpoto (mud) from ruining your outfit.
Fun Fact: The word okada was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in January 2020
On the other hand, everyone knows how dry and dusty the air gets during harmattan. So, wear a facemask, a pair of glasses, cap (if you don’t want your hair automatically dyed to brown), and avoid wearing whites.
#7. Hang On
The excitement of being the fastest man in traffic can make your olokada more reckless and counterintuitive. Yes, you caution him about overspeeding but then, it seems he’s not really listening.
For the sake of your safety, brace for abrupt stops or jerks caused by braking or hard acceleration. Hold the grab handles on the rear if you must.
Must-Read Bonus Tips
#8. Be Mindful of Co-passengers
Co-passengers come in variety – toddlers, kids, teenagers, men, ladies, obese, physically challenged and the elderly to mention a few.
Frankly speaking, sharing an okada ride with another passenger requires some level of mindfulness.
Nursing mothers must avoid carrying babies on their back when commuting on okada as some have lost their children because of this.
Younger riders have lesser grip than adults so you should ensure they sit in front you in case the ride gets rough. Also, you could be saving a life by doing so.
Fun Fact: Most popular okada brands include Bajaj, Suzuki, Jincheng, Qlink, Honda and Yamaha.
Sharing an okada with male folk means ladies need to be extra mindful because some men may have bad intentions. Click here to read what happens when this lady decides to take a ride from Egbeda with one Mr Handsome.
In conclusion, if the space on the motorcycle isn’t okay enough, I suggest you inform the co-passenger to adjust or simply ditch the ride. Remember, your comfort always comes first.
#9. Alight Correctly
I’ve come across a few persons who have been scarred because they didn’t know how to mount or alight motorcycles.
If you’re new to riding okada or motorcycles in general, the first thing you want to look out for is the exhaust pipe. It’s extremely hot and one misstep can cause a serious burn.
Exhaust pipes are usually located on the right side however, when you see exceptions like double exhausts or other configurations, you have to be even more careful.
Another thing that you should look out for is pegs. They’re like handles for your feet. Keep your feet on the pegs at all times and inform the rider if you’re not comfortable with the placement.
Lastly, when alighting, wait for the rider to balance the okada and stop. Don’t jump off! That can be dangerous.
Covid-19 Update: Okada Commuting Amid a Pandemic
I’m no medical expert on matters about Coronavirus and public transportation. However, here are my recommendations.
- Always wash or sanitize your hands before and after trips.
- Wear your facemask at all times.
- To avoid clustering, take only single rides. No twos.
- If possible, have your personal helmet on you.
- Clean the seat with wipes.
My profound romance with public transit started well before the publishing of my first blogpost in 2018 and it’s been an incredible ride ever since. *wink wink*
I like to think that just as I’ve reviewed popular forms of public transportation in my home country – Nigeria. I’d also get to talk about Bulgaria’s Marshrutka, South Africa’s Kombi, Germany’s Trolleybus, Philippines’s Jeepney, China’s Didi, India’s Tuk-tuk, Singapore’s Trishaw and England’s Red London Bus someday.
But for now, I need you to know that the okada is more than just a way of getting around. It’s a source of income for many Lagosians and this my friend, is what is most important.
Over To You!
On this calming journey, it’s now time you disembarked but before you go, I have to ask questions, hehe.
Have you ever ridden on an okada? If yes, what was your experience like? Also, kindly share with me the special names for public transport in your country? C’mon I’d like to know.
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