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Here's why we refer to motorcycles as 'okada' in Nigeria

Motorcycles might be going through a rebrand and status update but to us, it is still good old okada

In the line above, Baba Dee attests to the power of the commercial motorcycle popularly known as okada.

Okadas are a natural phenomenon on Nigerian roads. They are bikes imported from Asia for Nigerian roads. With what started as an anomaly to get people to their destinations fast, okadas have become important in Nigeria's transportation system, especially in urban areas.

The name 'okada' has little to do with speed. Here is how the name okada came to be.

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Origin of Okadas

While these bikes are also a primary means of transportation in countries like Cameroon, Togo, Benin Republic, they started gaining notoriety in Nigeria, circa 1988 in Benin City. Youths, who struggled with the troubling fate of being broke and a need to make money engaged in the mass importation and purchase of bikes for commercial transportation.

Despite the dangers they occasion on people as a very unsafe means of transportation, they soared in usage to their flexibility to ply any inroad and being cheap as an alternative to the more expensive taxi.

History says that we call it ‘okada’ today because in Benin - where it first gained prominence, was situate the now defunct, Okada Air, representing the hometown of its founder, Okada, Edo State.

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It was established in 1983 and at the height of its operations it had 18 BAC One-Elevens planes in its fleet, and rights to fly international routes. In 1997 Okada Air was in ruins and was destablished. However, its legacy already had a tangible manifestation.

It is said that the name 'Okada' began as a joke to stylize its usage as a playful form of air transportation due to its ability to be unhindered by holdups and maneuver through anything just like someone, somewhere will probably jokingly call his Volkswagen Beetle a Bentley for pure jokes.

Interestingly, the creative name stuck and it is not beyond belief that the location of an abstract concept, needing a relatable description for the average mind found itself in something familiar and began as a joke. Everything that gets used often and with a popularly accepted name, began from something familiar.

The rise of okadas

In a concrete jungle like Lagos with poor road networks, traffic and bad roads, Okadas have become indispensable. To beat the everyday hustle, Lagosians rely on daredevil drivers on okadas to help them get from one point to another.

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On the transportation food chain, okadas rank last. They are dangerous - most riders do not have helmets for themselves and their passengers. They do not have licenses and have passed no driving tests.

For many, okada is a hustle. Okada drivers is predominantly a male workforce made up of men who belong to Nigeria's lower class. It's a rugged job and one of the few ways to make money daily when you are stuck at the bottom of Nigeria's economic ladder.

Since okadas became a major source of transport, state governments have tried to eradicate them. The Fashola administration was particularly tough on okadas with frequent crackdowns. However, during the election period in 2015, okadas were back on the streets of Lagos again.

The popular theory is that politicians need okada riders for grassroots mobilization.

Like cockroaches, okadas are very hard to kill. Lagos state government has tried to regulate it by ensuring helmets are worn at all times by both passengers and riders. It worked for a while but we are back to the status quo ante.

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The state government has however found success in establishing a curfew for okadas. After 8 pm, okada riders are expected to be off the streets. This is because okadas have been used to commit robberies (snatching of bags and purses) at nighttime. Any okada driver who operates after 8 pm is at the mercy of policemen who are eager to make anyone go through hell and pay large sums of money.

In popular culture, okada men are depicted as rough, vulgar, and dirty. The best depiction of this is Terror Muda, a petty crime solving, badass, swashbuckling, okada rider.

The name of okada has stuck and become a fixture of our everyday lives.

The idea of okada might be short of validity, but considering Nigeria’s history with naming things, it does not seem far-fetched at all. Also called, ‘Achaba’ by our Northern brothers, it is not just a source of cheaper transportation costs alongside the Tricycle, currently called, the ‘Keke (Maruwa/Napep)’ to signify the eras which they represent, okada has also drastically reduced unemployment and is livelihood for a lot of people.

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It is however not without its disadvantages, but on this article, we only highlight the plus points as they are the only relevant points.

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