Commercial motorcycling popularly known as Okada riding, is unarguably the fastest means of transit for day to day movement, asides travelling, in Nigeria.
For a long time, I went on with the misconception that the people who plied this trade were foolishly reckless, a concept most Nigerians love to emphasize given the opportunity.
Even with Danfo (the Lagos yellow commercial mini bus often with black stripes) buses and taxis which we prefer to think are safer than Okada, we often times fall back to them when hard pressed for time.
Most Nigerians have taken it a step further by customising most of these workers as their personal drivers, within their home vicinities of cause and majority of the time, when called, they drop everything and rush to the rescue. Some parents who are unable to pick their children from school entrust the safety of their children into the hands of these men.
Well, its about time we had a deeper understanding of the motivation behind their seeming loyalty.
I for one, have one of these men at my beck and call and living in an area surrounded by migrants from Togo to Cotonou, you would be forced to relate with most of them who make a living plying this trade.
Rafeal took the time to explain the gamble behind this trade and it was beyond enlightening.
First of all, most of the riders you see riding at break neck speed are not adrenaline junkies but are stuck in a race against time.
In truth, less than 20% of these men actually bought their bikes themselves when they chose to begin the trade.
Another 30% of these men had to earn their bikes after they were bought by an investor and had to settle payments for close to two years if not more, to be able to claim the bikes for themselves.
As for the remaining 50%, they rotate from one bike owner to another, usually breaking the rules of engagement as per running the bikes, and having them reclaimed by dissatisfied owners or worse still, destroying the bikes.
Rafeal falls into two of these categories. He first bought and ran his own bike then went on to lease out theses bikes for a price.
There are different kinds of arrangements that range from weekly to quarterly settlements even though majority of these owners favour the weekly payments as their minions are hardly ever trustworthy.
Unfortunately for most of these migrants who indulge in running this business, they are unable to afford lawyers and proper documentation which would have legal backing when need be. Most of these arrangements are sealed with a handshake and terms are spelt out orally, possibly in the presence of a third party.
In such cases, the issues that arise are endless, from minions absconding with the bikes, or failure to provide funds over a long period of time, offences which usually go unpunished.
Rafael lamented over the mount of money he has virtually lost but has no proof of, seeing as there were no clearly stated agreements to that effect.
Half the time, when bikes are successfully seized from their unrepentant riders, they are hardly in any shape to be put back on the road without costing the owner a pretty penny.
Even worse is the fact that policemen make a living off these riders, almost always extorting them while agbero or 'Omonile' are on standby to take their share.
When asked just how profitable the business was in the long run, Rafael said, "It is not profitable. They are always giving excuses that police arrested them or that they are owing okada dues. Some will just disappear and you cannot reach them.
"I just seized one of my okada from one of the boys i gave it to. He is owing N100, 000 and i will never be able to get it back so i am forced to let it go.
"This is not the first time it has happened to me. I have lost money that sometimes, i either ride the bike myself or sell it."
Even with the sorry odds that trail this business, many of them are forced to go back into it as there is nothing left for them to do but one thing owners and riders have in common is the drive to make money but in a lot of cases, the costs have been priceless to both parties.
Although this practice is hardly unique to Okada business as Keke Napep and cabs, even buses have been used in the very same way, Okada still has it the worst.
So the next time an Okada rider blasts past you like there are demons chasing him, consider the fact that they might have good cause.