Thursday, January 15, 2009

Okada helmet and the Nigerian spirit

NIGERIA is a country where laws are made to be broken.

Perhaps, reasons for this may vary from lack of enforcement to lack of faith in the system due to years of dashed hopes and the undermining of people's power. Hence, the people have left their fate in the hands of the government - the powerful. At times, the government, which is meant to make and enforce the law, is the one that breaks it, contorts it and confuses the people all the more.

Late into the end of the year 2008, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) set out safety laws regarding commercial motorcyclists. They were told to use crash helmets whenever operating an okada as it is popularly known in major cities of the country. The enforcement of the use of safety helmets in itself is one of the ways a responsible government looks out for her citizenry because the responsibility of government is to make healthy decisions for the civil populace.

The commercial motorcyclists have been told to procure helmets; most of them have gotten the helmets - albeit some of them must have dug up the helmet from God-knows-where - and appear ready for action. We Nigerians, however, never cease to amuse ourselves. There have been stories of okada riders and pumpkin helmets in Kano. For the purpose of clarity, a pumpkin helmet is made from the shell of a pumpkin (Can you dig that?).

And here in Lagos, there are improvised helmets made from plastic buckets. Nigerians and humour are truly synonymous. Little wonder in 2003 we were declared the world's happiest people. FRSC, over to you. It has also been observed that the police have been arresting these commercial motorcyclists and their passengers and extorting money from them. In some cases, they collect as much as N2,000 from the passengers thereby preying on their ignorance. This is highly unacceptable, as those who are meant to enforce the laws and enlighten the people should not be the ones to violate the law and confuse the people.

According to the FRSC, only erring motorcyclists are to be charged the fine of N2,000 if they or their passengers do not have their helmets on when cruising on a motorcycle. It is the responsibility of the motorcyclist to insist on the use of the helmet by his passenger. If the passenger chooses not to, the commercial motorcyclist may not pick the passenger. A situation where the passenger and the motorcyclist are forced to cough out money, which does not go to the government's coffers, should be discouraged.

Stories also abound about the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) officials "arresting" the so-called offenders and collecting money from them. The activities of the Nigeria Police and LASTMA have always been under the searchlight. These bodies should not allow these fresh accusations to spread in addition to existing accusations and the poor PR image, which they are still battling with.

This is where the operation of the police and the state monitoring teams come into play. Dishonest police officers should be identified and sanctioned. People should not be dispossessed of their hard-earned money due to the greed of some public officials. In Lagos State, especially, the efforts of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola in turning Lagos into a world-class state should not be negated by the everyday people we see around us.

There should be enlightenment, enlightenment and more enlightenment of both the civil populace and the unconscionable members of the police and LASTMA as well as any other set of individuals involved in the enforcement of the helmet regulation. As stated earlier, nipping the exploitation of the okada riders in the bud can go a long way in helping matters and putting things in the right perspective. Nigerians should also be made to realise that they cannot be hoodwinked all of the time by people who are meant to serve them.

Furthermore, the prices of safety helmets should be monitored as it has been observed that some unscrupulous capitalists have seized this helmet-rush period to inflate prices of the safety helmets by as much as nine-fold the normal rate. It is no news that helmets which used to cost N1,500 could now go for as much as N9,000. Nigerians should try and learn to be kind to fellow Nigerians. If we do not help ourselves in our own country, there is no way outsiders can help us. Granted, capitalism is about profit maximisation, but this should be done in moderation. The "me-first" syndrome should be done away with and it will be surprising how situations will improve.

Nigerians only need to be told what to do. With proper enforcement of laid-down regulations, Nigeria will, no doubt, be a better place. In essence, Nigerians are actually law-abiding people who are not asking for too much and would actually conform if an enabling environment is provided.