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Opinions of Saturday, 29 January 2011

Columnist: Alpha, Shaban Barani

OKADA – An Enemy Of The Law?

The commercial use of motorcycles popularly called “okada,” is gradually
gaining grounds in Ghana to the chagrin of the Ghana Police and allied
agencies in the fight against road accident and safety of motorists.*

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The practice hitherto alien to Ghana but very pervasive in neighbouring
countries especially Nigeria and Togo, is creeping into the country
especially in the border areas of the Volta Region.

The term “Okada” in itself, a very popular Nigerian terminology amongst
others like, *“Igwe,” “Oga,” “Chineke” *and* “Tofiakwa,”* used frequently in
the many Nigerian films, that have become a regular feature on the our TV

Like bush fire in the harmattan season, the practice has gained grounds and
continues to do so especially in areas within the capital city. The use of
motorcycles serves as seen in Nigerian films and others from francophone
Africa serves a myriad of purposes.

From the well known transportation function vis-à-vis surviving the extreme
traffic situations as has become characteristic of growing cities as ours
and the transportation of goods and services in the case of courier and
door-to-door delivery services.

Aside the important uses to which okadas can be put to, comes the demerits
of their operations as is portrayed in movies and in real life, as they have
proven to be catalysts of crime, as phone and item snatchers have over time,
put it to maximum nefarious effect.

The commercial twist is what has all this while been the source of worry as
law enforcement agencies are quick to state that it is only the commercial
use of okadas that are an offence. Their private use is permissible and well
within the remits of the law.

The Northern regions are by far the areas where private use of motorcycles
is most pervasive, where residents use these bikes for transportation of
humans; school children, pregnant women, farm produce, animals and services
from one point to the other.

The commercial twist to the okada tale as I know it, started from Aflao and
other eastern border towns of the Volta Region, apparently having filtered
in from neighbouring Togo. It’s spread further as far as to the central
business district.

Between the Central Business District (Central Post Office area), Palledium
and satellite areas like Mamprobi, Dansoman, Korle-Bu as well as on the
Mallam – Kasoa highway, the use of Okadas have become rampant by each
passing day.

The contention of the law enforcement agencies, especially the Motor Traffic
and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police Service is simply that, the
activities of using motorcycles for commercial purposes is counter

According to the MTTU, even though Okadas may be serving purposes as helping
passengers ease through the traffic burden within the capital and making
movement between two points easier and at minimal cost, the city is
better-off without motorcycles.

On the human safety angle, Okadas have been identified as primary to most
motor accidents as supported by records at the accident centre of the
Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), where motor victims are brought in dead
or with varying levels of amputation.

This is largely the case because, riders of okaka aside picking passengers
at unauthorized spots, also resort to riding on the shoulder of roads and on
pedestrian walk ways, by so doing endangering the lives of road users.

Aside that, most riders are not the real owners as the bikes, usually
unregistered are given out to riders to use for the totally illegal and
commercial venture that so very much endangers the general public.

Another beef of the Police stemming from the fact that, most riders and
patrons hardly have any safety gear on to protect themselves in the
eventuality of an accident. The flagrant flouting of such basic rules has
made okadas very unpopular at least to Police.

Officials of the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC), have at the least
opportunity, time without number on different platforms reemphasized the
urgent need for even private users of motorcycles to use necessary
accoutrements as and when.

Patrons have mostly done so on the back of escaping the unbearable traffic
situation and shuttling between two points with speed.

On the point about patrons being as guilty as the motor riders, patrons
irrespective of age, gender and social status, are willing to risk it than
remain stranded in some part of the capital city for only God knows how


The law is explicit on commercial use of motorcycles outlawing it in no
uncertain terms. Through legislative instrument (LI) 956 of 1974 coupled
with regulation 64 of the Motor Traffic Act, the practice is banned
irrespective of whatever purposes it serves.

Another piece of legislation, LI 704 goes beyond the ban to recommend what
punitive measures to be meted out to perpetrators found guilty of operating
Okadas, amongst others it advocates fines, prison terms, seizure and auction
of motorcycles.

The Police have over time secured conviction for okada riders and almost
always seized their motorcycles, crying out yet again about how these motors
have been released to riders because they know some big man somewhere.

The Police may have employed subterfuge as a means of apprehending
recalcitrant riders and patrons of the act but the big question one is left
to ask is; for how long can a resource constrained entity as theirs


The law may have had reasons to outlaw the use of okadas in a society as
ours but beyond that, for a phenomenon that has if you like surreptitiously
crept into the social fabric of our society, fighting it I am afraid might
not be the way to go.

True though as it may be, that these okadas serve one purpose or the other
but also is the breeding ground to some social vice that we all loathe. The
solution could also be embedded in a deep and dispassionate look at the
phenomenon by relevant stakeholders and if need be, regularize it.

Regularizing it will mean, these riders will have to be certified by the
relevant state authority, and by that an oversight of sorts can be cast on
operation of okadas.

But until such a time, my brotherly advice to riders is that they watch
their backs because the passenger seated behind might just be a Police
constable on a mission to arrest them for an act the law frowns upon.

*© Shaban Barani Alpha *

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