The fear of okada (Nigeria’s version of our boda-bodas) is the beginning of wisdom, a Nigerian friend told me in Uganda recently after observing the behaviour of commercial motorcyclists.
Introduced as a desperate measure to deal with the problem of unemployment, they are becoming a serious threat to safety and security while its intended purpose is largely incomprehensible.
Although there was an entrepreneurial opportunity for first movers, replication of this enterprise model has eroded the practicality of the boda boda business. Some who sold land to invest in the business have nothing to celebrate as the much needed returns keep eluding them.
From Kenya to Nigeria, motorcycle sales have blossomed. Sales agents care little about the safety of their customers. Often, training takes 30 minutes and they are certified as fit to ride.
Traffic rules are not part of their syllabus. More than 60 per cent of the riders have no licence to ride.
They ride as though it is the other road users’ responsibility to ensure their safety.
Were we to keep data on the boda-boda menace, they are probably the leading cause of death amongst the youth in Africa today. Virtually all public hospitals in eastern Africa have special wards for treating motorcycle accident victims and the cost is piling up.
Yet, they are part of the increasing productivity in most parts of Africa. Their agility to beat the mounting traffic jams in African cities makes them indispensable.
In Nigeria, the Governor of Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, banned the use of the commercial motorcycles in the state capital, Minna, and replaced them with tricycles for intra-city transportation.
Most security breaches are mostly done using the motorcycles. A closed circuit television recently showed a criminal using a boda-boda to shoot and kill a Muslim leader in Malindi.
Some of the grenade attacks in Kenya are thrown off a fast moving motor cycle.
A study by the World Health Organisation, ‘‘Motorcycle-Related Road Traffic Crashes in Kenya, Facts and Figures,’’ says road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths involving motorcycles has increased noticeably and is putting a heavy burden on families, communities and the health system in general.
The number of registered motorcycles rose from 20,000 in 2005 to 150,000 in 2011. There has been a five -fold increase in motorcycle-related deaths reported by police between 2005 and 2010.
In terms of safety, the study says that 36 per cent of patients who were presented to the emergency department because of a road traffic crash were motorcyclists; and 75 per cent of these patients admitted to not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
Helmet wearing among motorcycle passengers is as low as three per cent.
The Guardian’s Global Safety focus on Uganda motorbike deaths says, “Boda-bodas the country’s ubiquitous motorbike taxis, snake through gridlocked traffic, navigate potholed roads and provide much-needed employment for young people. They are also maiming and killing thousands every year, monopolising hospital budgets and wiping out livelihoods.”
This obvious problem is largely ignored with no serious thoughts as to how the situation can be improved especially when we know that some riders speed with the hope of making more money considering the fact that there is cut throat completion.
There is need to regulate the supply and use of motorcycles, emphasising on road use training by a competent authority before they are allowed to carry any passengers. Their conditions must be constantly be monitored by some agency and must carry liability insurance at all times.
Parliament should develop motorcycle specific legislation to cover among other things the use of the helmet for both the rider and the passenger; the number of passengers that can be safely carried by a motorcycle etc. And of course the enforcement.
It cannot be always that we leave it to God when we should correct the smallest of risk to our lives. One way or another we end up paying the cost for our irresponsibility.
Lee Strobel, an American Christian author, once said: “So much of the world’s suffering results from the sinful action or inaction of ourselves and others. For example, people look at a famine and wonder where God is, but the world produces enough food for each person to have 3,000 calories a day. It’s our own irresponsibility and self-centeredness that prevents people from getting fed.”
We can prevent the senseless killing and maiming of people on our roads.
The writer is a senior lecturer, University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.