“I will advise that they should think outside the box. Most of them are not educated and must learn a trade. Okada business is not the best for the educated ones who have formal education like me. They have better ways of making it in life, because okada is very risky.”
This is how a former okada rider, Alhassan Hamza Koligu, now the winner of the first season of the McDan Entrepreneurship Challenge, sums up his thoughts on the raging debate about the commercialisation of motorcycle riding in Ghana, popularly known as “okada”.
Koligu is now the owner of Alkoh Shea Butter in Gambaga in the North-East Region, a business idea he conceived after quitting his previous job as an okada rider in 2006. He is now building an ultra-modern shea butter factory with the $100,000 he won from competing in the maiden edition of the McDan Entrepreneurship Challenge.
On 2 October, he appeared on The Asaase Breakfast Show and told Kojo Mensah about his long journey from okada rider to business owner. (You can see a recording of his interview here).
Financial pressures hold sway
Besides establishing the factory, Koligu is using part of the cash as capital to run his business. He is being mentored by the organisers of the competition.
The young entrepreneur’s story shows his determination to find an alternative to a life with no prospects and to make life better for himself as he works hard to give back to society.
Even before completing his factory, the one-time okada rider can boast 20 rural female workers employed by his shea butter business. With the establishment of the processing facility, he hopes to employ hundreds.
Koligu told Asaaseradio.com that if many young people venture into entrepreneurship, this can help address the challenge of unemployment and minimise the head porter (kayayoo) phenomenon in Ghana.
“The reason many people don’t want to stop the okada business is because it is profitable. They are making money. You come out and by close of the day you could make between GHC100 or GHC200. But then, it is not about the money for now: it is about thinking outside the box,’’ he said.
He believes, providing the youth with a better alternative to the okada business could make the trade less attractive to them.
“Find them an alternative if you are banning it. Put in place alternative jobs.”
Lawrence Yaw Gikunoo, a delivery rider for a company (name withheld) in Accra, was involved in an accident in 2017 on the Tema Motorway en route from Accra to Tema.
Reports say he slammed into a car as the vehicle was making an unauthorised U-turn. He somersaulted many times, was dragged along the road and incurred multiple fractures to his right leg.
Lawrence narrowly escaped death because he was wearing a helmet that was strapped securely.
After the crash, the 43-year-old father-of-seven remained in the hospital for a few weeks, during which he had his right leg amputated.
During these challenging times, Gikunoo’s eldest daughter, who is now a teenager, was writing her Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). His youngest was almost seven years old.
After his leg was amputated, life became tough because he could not continue the delivery business, being unable to ride with just one leg. He turned to a new career and became a mechanic, as he had gathered some experience of the trade.
Lawrence sits in front of his house every day in the hope of attracting owners of cars, motorcycles and tricycles to repair their vehicles. He must still make a living to support his seven children.
His was just one of hundreds of motorcycle accidents which occur across the country.
Data on road crash statistics in Ghana from the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) shows that the proportion of road deaths involving motorcycle and tricycle users rose from 21% in 2016 to 28% in 2018. This was the highest percentage increase of all road user types.
Another road safety report released by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), which covers ten metropolitan areas within the assembly’s boundaries, shows that deaths among motorcycle users rose from 6% of all road deaths in 2016 to 22% in 2018. In a two-year period, deaths among motorcycle/tricycle users in Accra increased by 16 percentage points, making it the highest increase relative to other road user types.
The figures are buttressed by a report on road traffic deaths and serious injuries based on research carried out at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) and the Greater Accra Regional Hospital (“Ridge Hospital”). The findings show that 55% of road crash victims who died in 2017 suffered severe head or neck injuries. The majority of these victims were motorcycle users.
Data from the emergency and orthopaedic department of KBTH also shows that, between 20 December 2019 to 1 January 2020, 58 out of the 79 casualties from road crashes were okada users. This equates with almost three-quarters of all road crash victims during the period.
A recent multi-country survey also that, compared to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Ghana has the highest proportion of motorcycle taxi users who have suffered from a health problem that can be attributed directly to their use of motorcycles, and who still suffer some physical, economic or financial impact from their injuries.
Another concern is the recklessness and general indiscipline of many motorcycle users in Accra. A study in April 2019 showed that 86% of motorcycle users in Accra were riding above the legal speed limits.
It has been established that speeding increases both the risk of becoming involved in a crash and the severity of the consequences of a crash. In Ghana, more than half of all fatal road crashes stem from speeding.
Other reports highlight motorcycle users riding against the traffic flow and making illegal U-turns in an attempt to avoid encounters with the police, or an effort to quickly arrive at their destination. Such actions frequently lead to road accidents.
Okada users who do not obey traffic signals but ride dangerously on the roads pose a threat to pedestrians and other road users, including motorbike riders who respect traffic regulations.
This is among the many reasons why it is important to hold a dispassionate debate about whether or not to legalise the commercial use of motorcycles.
The Transport Minister, Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, told Asaaseradio.com that the government intends to go ahead with consultations on commercialising motorcycles in six regions of the country.
He argued that recent remarks about the subject by Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia have been misconstrued by the media.
The vice-president is reported to have said that the Akufo-Addo government will never legalise the okada trade at an event to launch Volkswagen’s new car assembly plant in Accra.
Dr Bawumia said that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government will stick to its decision to provide a better alternative to riding okadas.
However, the Transport Minister believes wider consultation on the matter is needed before any definite decision: hence his ministry’s resumption of consultations on the proposal.
Asiamah also said the ministry is considering broadening the consultations beyond Ghana by exploring best practice in Nigeria and Togo. This will help enrich the outcome of the report to be submitted to Parliament after the entire consultation process, he said.
Until a definite decision is taken, it will be important for the media and other critical stakeholders to join the conversation in shaping the government’s decision on the okada debate. What is needed is a solution that will ensure a decent livelihood for young Ghanaians and others engaged in the okada business.
In the meantime, prominent personalities’ attempts to politicise the topic are holding the country back from reaching a consensus on the issue and taking a decision that will benefit all Ghanaians.