LAGOS — In recent years many African urban centers have banned commercial motorcycle taxis, citing danger for the drivers and the passengers. But some drivers in Lagos say the danger of driving a motorcycle is much less than the danger of starving without a job.
In many parts of the world, a young man, or occasionally a woman, with a little money can buy a motorcycle and work as a commercial driver.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s financial capital and largest city, riders have been banned from the city center and work only in the suburbs. Drivers say since the ban took effect last year, most of their ranks have quit or left town.
Ken John drives a motorcycle, known locally as an “okada.” He says he is still in business on the outskirts of town but his income has been cut in half to about $10 a day.
"Sometimes I can’t have money to pay the school fees, sometimes the house rent. So that is the problem it is causing for my family,” he said.
Analysts say the streets of Lagos are markedly safer now but estimate tens of thousands of drivers are still out of work.
At his Lagos home, media strategist Gbenga Olorunpomi showed VOA documents he obtained from the Ministry of Transportation that show a 70 percent drop in motorcycle accidents this year, adding the ban has also improved security.
“There would be burglaries in estates or in areas, and the preferred mode of escape for the robbers was okada, was bikes, so that was an issue,” said Olorunpomi.
But other countries in Africa have faced similar problems and found different solutions.
Kigali, Rwanda never really enforced its ban on motorcycle taxis in city centers in response to outrage from drivers and passengers. And while there are still motorcycle accidents in Kigali, the government has curbed the problem with licensing requirements and strict traffic and helmet laws.
But Nigerian driver Christian Isaac says Lagos is far more lawless and hectic than Kigali and it would be much harder to enforce regulations here. Even in the suburbs, he says, driving is dangerous and he would quit if he could.
“Unless I get work, I will stop. If I want to leave that work, then I won’t have anything doing. That is why I’m still driving down to Ogun State,” he said.
Isaac says he would quit if he could, but he can’t find work in his field. He used to be an auto mechanic but his shop closed. To him, the ban feels like a punishment for bad driving in the past, but he blames poorly maintained roads, not the drivers.
“We don’t drive rough. We drive normally. Do you understand?” he asked.
On the streets in areas where the bikes are banned, former passengers say they do a lot more walking these days but appreciate the government’s safety concerns.
Lagos is developing rapidly, they say, and it’s not surprising that some of its poorest are getting pushed out.