Lagos State government has replaced the regular okada with technology-driven Gokada. But there is a controversy that won’t go away. SEGUN KASALI got all sides telling their stories.
Lagos is God’s experiment of the impossible, said Dele Giwa, a renowned Nigerian journalist, in one of his articles, decades ago. Interestingly, years after, the late media professional’s description of the city of aquatic splendour remains incontrovertible.
Perhaps nothing validates Dele Giwa’s comments on the city better than its chaotic traffic system which seems to be defying every solution thrown at it by stakeholders – the state government, residents and even operators of the system.
The immediate past Babatunde Fashola-led administration, in trying to find a solution to the city’s traffic snarl, came up with the idea of restricting commercial motorcycle operators, popularly known as okada, to designated roads in the city. But more than three years after Fashola exited Alausa, the state’s seat of power, it is obvious that the nightmare on Lagos roads is far from over.
“I think the Lagos traffic situation is beyond the physical. It is obvious some gods needed to be appeased otherwise how do we explain a situation where despite the continued presence of different traffic management officials on the city’s roads, moving around the city is still an horrendous experience for the residents,” said Laolu, a resident of Iyana Ipaja.
But some individuals and corporate organisations would not share Laolu’s sentiment, as evidenced in various innovations going on in the sector to enhance residents’ transportation experiences. For them, instead of pouring libation to some unseen gods and relying on invisible forces to ease traffic in the city, innovation is the way.
But it appears that the issue of motorbike transportation in the state, popularly known as okada, will always be controversial, regardless of government policies and innovations. When the regular okada were banned from major routes and roads in the state, there was uproar. The coming of an innovative replacement known as Gokada, an on-demand motorbike hailing service, which leverages on technology to connect users to the nearest motorbikes within their areas, is also with its own controversies and challenges which may end up making the so-called alternative a mockery of the government policy despite the obvious improvement in safety issues.
How does Gokada work?
Unlike the conventional 100 cc motorbikes used for business by regular okada/aboki drivers, Gokada uses 200 cc motorbikes that are allowed to move on major roads in Lagos. It has been operating within the Yaba/Mainland axis and recently started operations within Victoria Island/Lekki axis of the state.
Gokada works just like Uber, the smart technology-powered urban transportation which involves you selecting your pickup location and a driver shows up to take you to your destination. All fares are calculated by the Gokada app.
The process of requesting a Gokada ride involves opening the app, entering your pick-up location and tapping request ride. Your verified Gokada driver will call you to confirm your request and destination. Your driver arrives, gives you your hair net and helmet and you hop on the bike. Your driver gets you to your destination safely and ends the trip. You pay cash and asked to rate your driver to help the operator improve the Gokada experience.
Drivers and partners
According to the website of the e-hailing service company, you are either a partner or a driver and each of the categories has its requirements to be adhered to in the matters of operations and entitlement to derivable benefits.
For someone desirous of becoming a rider, details are required on full name, phone number, location as well as the most important question, “Do you have a bike?” and you are requested to state if the bike is a 200cc or not. The derivable benefits, as listed by Godaka website, include an opportunity to earn more, get insured, develop yourself and sharpen your driving skills.
The column reads, “Earn more – Amidst your daily schedule, you can ride for Gokada and still earn extra cash. Get insured – we provide insurance cover for all our drivers. Develop yourself – our drivers undergo scheduled trainings for free. Gear up – we also provide protective gears and kits for every driver.”
Dangling the same insurance carrot before would-be partners, Gokada says it guarantees safety of partners’ investments by claiming on its website that “a comprehensive insurance powered by Sovereign Trust Insurance, covering their sponsorship against theft, accident or damages” is in place.
Other requirements like each driver/partner having to provide two qualified and traceable contractors and verified profile, drivers permit and valid ID, for the tracking of the bikes are also included.
Perhaps what passes as the greatest selling point of the modern okada business, which is alleged provision of comprehensive insurance cover for all who are involved in the daily trips, is now its major albatross. The regular okada was literally taken out of business by the Fashola administration due to the public outcry against the incidence of everyday accidents with no one taking up the responsibility of compensating affected passengers and even the riders. With Gokada’s claim on insurance policy on its website, residents, especially those with unpleasant histories with the regular okada, might give patronising motorbike a second chance with the belief that the ride this time is better covered.
Insurance, which should be a common standard in any transport business, is an arrangement by which a company or a state undertakes to provide a guarantee for a specified loss in return for payment of specified premium, with both the driver and the means of transportation insured, because of unforeseen contingencies.
However, most of the Gokada riders interviewed by Saturday Tribune said the company insured the bikes but not the riders. This means that in the case of an unexpected occurrence, the company (Gokada) which owns the bike will be compensated while the riders, who might be badly injured or lose his life, will not be compensated.
Tobi (other name withheld), a Gokada rider, said joblessness after graduation caused him to join Gokada and the platform had liberated him from the army of unemployed youths.
“When I graduated from the university and there was no job forthcoming, a friend of mine introduced me to Gokada. When I was left with nothing, was it not better to start doing something even if it was not what I wanted? I can be doing this and when what I want comes along, I will leave this for it,” he said.
Tobi disclosed that he was not aware of any insurance cover for the riders; he was aware of same for the bikes, however. “I am not aware of any insurance cover on us, the riders, but I know that of the bikes. I was not asked to fill anything regarding an insurance policy that will cover me in case anything happens,” he said
The rider said he was ashamed when he started the business but got over the shame after about three months. “Of course, I was ashamed when I started. As time went by, I felt there was no point feeling that way. So, I came out of my shell. I told you I was a graduate, and I run into my friends very often. I felt ashamed but I let it go and justified what I do with the fact that it is a legitimate job and I will accomplish my goals one day,” he added. Tobi could not remember any embarrassing moments while on the job because whatever the passenger wants to do is on the platform, which gives proper direction.
Sola is another Gokada rider who spoke about the controversial insurance coverage. He said there was no form of insurance for drivers, unlike the bikes. “Let me be honest with you, Gokada has an insurance cover on the bikes but they don’t have any insurance cover for us, the drivers. While registering at their office, when I wanted to become a driver, I never filled a form that clearly depicted an insurance cover against any mishaps that might happen to me in the course of the business. I think this is not good. So, let’s imagine something bad that could lead to death happens, the company will be ready to dissociate itself from me,” he lamented.
Like Tobi, it was lack of employment that pushed him into the business. “I have my handwork but I can’t solely depend on one stream of income and that is the reason why I am on this. For me, there have been no regrets. The work is good and there is tendency for me to be the owner later on.
Throwing more light on how Gokada works, another rider who claimed he bought the bike for N450,000 said the platform had been very good and he was enjoying it.
He said you are either a driver or a partner, noting that drivers would eventually become owners if they meet the requirement of daily payment of N3,000 except for Saturday and Sunday, adding that there is always an agreement between the administrator and intending rider or partner regarding the duration of payment, before the latter takes full ownership of the bike.
For Sola, there is nothing to be ashamed of as long as there is something to take back home to my family.
“Will the people I am running from give me money? So, if they won’t give me money, why should I be running from them? I don’t do that and I can never do that. I believe that whatever you do with interest and hard-work pays. So, I believe in hard-work and that has kept me going,” he said.
In a conversation, the Head of Partnership, Business Development and Offline Marketing, Gokada, Mr Afolabi Akinwale, who said he might not be able to answer the questions put forward by Saturday Tribune, denied the allegation of the insurance coverage being phony. Akinwale explained that there was a comprehensive insurance cover with the Sovereign Trust Insurance Company which takes care of bikes, riders and passengers.
“I may not be able to answer these questions but I can say for sure that we have comprehensive insurance on our bikes, riders and passengers. The riders have Health Maintenance Insurance (HMO). Once you sit on the bikes, you are insured. It is not the riders signing it. If any of them has an accident, they will be duly compensated,” he explained.
Akinwale, who also gave clarification on the hire purchase agreement between the riders and the company, said the riders would automatically become the owners of the bikes after a year, provided no money is owed.
“After 12 months, bikes become the property of the riders provided they are not owing the business,” Akinwale said. He added that “the company has an institute for riders’ training and re-training on health, safety and environment. Our drivers also have health insurance.”
The health insurance claim was also pooh-poohed by the Gokada riders.
Insurance firm’s defence
Speaking on the controversy trailing Gokada and its insurance policy, Head, Corporate Communications and Brands Management, Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc, Mr Segun Bankole, said the e-hailing service platform truly had a comprehensive insurance policy. “Yes, they truly have an insurance cover called comprehensive insurance policy for the bikes, riders and passengers.”
Explaining the nature of the policy, Bankole said it covers damage, fire, theft, third party property damage, bodily injury to the third party and death to the third party or death as a result of bodily injury.
Giving an insight into how claims are made at the occurrence of an unforeseen circumstance, he said “If the case is crime or a fatal accident, we request for police report. Once all the required documents are submitted, people in the claim department will ask loss adjusters to have an objective overview of it. Once that is ascertained, claims are made in a day or 72 hours, depending on the magnitude or quantum of money involved and thereafter determine the paycheck.”
Bankole told Saturday Tribune that there were about three cases of damage reported to the company and they were of similar nature, saying that vehicles hit the bikes and the bikes were damaged.
He explained that the riders had not reported any case of hospitalisation or theft because they undergo rigorous trainings, adding that in the case of accident that leads to permanent disability of the rider, the cover ensures that N500,000 is paid, while in the case of death of the rider, the next of kin is entitled to N620,000, which is broken down as N500,000 for well-being, N100,000 for burial expenses and N20,000 for transport expenses during the burial ceremony.
He disclosed further that in the event of an unexpected occurrence, the rider would be compensated by giving his next of kin what is due to him. According to him, the insurer (Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc) will request for the rider’s profile (containing his name, next of kin, home address etc) from the Gokada company.
“In such an instance, we will revert to the employer. We will definitely go back to the employer that employed him. There are some basic information they would have taken from the employees like age, s3x, next of kin, home address and so many others.”
Explaining the reason the riders are not told of the coverage, Mr Bankole said, “If you tell them, they might get reckless. If you tell them that there is an insurance on the bikes, the might go away with the bikes. So, I believe it is just wise of the company not to have told them in order to prevent the happenings of the aforementioned instances.”
A regular client of Gokada, Tunde Jimoh, said even a first-timer in Lagos would know that the system was, for now, the best means of transportation in Lagos due to traffic. He noted that the riders are well dressed and necessary kits are given to passengers to make sure they are safe in case of any mishaps.
“There is an obvious reason why I would want to take the Gokada bikes instead of the regular bikes or commercial buses. Everyone knows Lagos is overpopulated and you need to get to where you are going to in time. As a matter of fact, they are well-kitted and even the passengers are given helmets to protect them from mishaps,” he stated.
Jimoh, who has been using the platform since its inception, said the thought of any insurance cover for the passengers had never crossed his mind. He, however, said that he was not oblivious that there was an insurance cover on passengers on commercial buses travelling long distances but was not sure of that of Gokada.
“Immediately I heard something of such has started in Lagos after the subtle ban placed on the regular okada riders, I have been using the platform so well. But I never for once thought of any insurance cover on me by the company of the bikers but I know that there is a cover when you are travelling a long distance with commercial vehicles,” he said.
Another Gokada passenger, Tobiloba Awujade, said it had not come to his knowledge that there was an insurance cover for the passengers.
“It has never for once occurred to me that the passengers of Gokada have been covered by any insurance firm by the company. But if they can do it and make it known to the public that there is a package for all in terms of insurance, it will increase their patronage,” Awujade said. He said he liked the platform because of its prompt arrival, saying “once you call it, the rider gets to you promptly and there is assurance of safety with the helmet.”
Gokada operationno threat to us –Banned riders
A regular okada rider along Shomolu axis, Femi Sowemimo, said the Gokada riders were not, in any way, a threat to his business. “We still make the kind of money we were making prior to their emergence,” Sowemimo said, adding that it was difficult for the Gokada riders to run short distances many times as they do.
“I can carry someone from Fadeyi to Maroko countless times without any disturbance like calls to pick someone at a particular location different from where I operate. The Gokada rider cannot do that. Even if he tries, he will only do so for a short time because the business is internet-based that anyone can call for service at anytime from different locations,” he said.
“When you buy a Gokada bike, it is then that you can pass through the highway and, in fact it comes with helmet, which is a show that the passenger will be safeguarded unlike ours where we have to buy the helmet separately,” he added.
Another rider, Adamu Abdulahi, who plies the Obalende route, said there was no competition between them and the Gokada. “We are not in competition with Gokada riders because we still make our own money. I make my money as usual. Once I come out in the morning for my business, I never regret it and I thank Almighty Allah for this. Gokada are doing their thing and we are doing ours. No one is affecting the other,” Abdulahi said. He said he believed that there was a political hand in the Gokada business as they ply different routes in the state, from where they are barred.
Gokada, Uber competition?
A Uber driver, Adeola Joseph, said the existence of Gokada posed no threat to his business due to the client base that the company had built for itself, adding that not everybody also likes bikes.
“The existence of Gokada poses no threat to my business because Uber has built its client base and as a matter of fact, not everyone likes taking bikes. Some people have phobia for bike, saying it is risky, especially when plying Third Mainland Bridge where the wave will be too much to embrace.
“For me, there is no competition between us. They make their money and we make ours, too, without any collision. It was just once that I was taking a man to the island and there was serious traffic and in the process, he had no choice but to take Gokada. And that was just one experience ever since I started Uber,” he said.
Another rider, Kayode Kolawole, said he did not feel that there was a competition between them and that, in fact, passengers preferred to go by Uber rather than Gokada for comfort and security.
“You don’t enjoy the comfort you enjoy taking Uber compared to that of Gokada. The air-conditioner is there. You are more relaxed and secure. I feel we maintain our customers, just as Gokada does,” he stated.
An insurance broker’s perspective
The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Multiple Bond Trust Insurance Brokers Limited, Mr Abiodun Durodola, told Saturday Tribune that: “Personal data of insurance policy holders could be required, depending on the class of insurance the individual or group wants to take. If a group has taken accident insurance on behalf of their members, it has to be in the name of the group, maybe Transport Association of Nigeria or National Union of Motorcycle Operators, for instance.
“In this case, it is their officers who are going to be signatory to it. And what that group policy is seeking to do is to protect the passenger and the rider himself.
“When it is life policy, individual data are required, that is, the data of those whom the insurance seeks to cover. But when it is group policy, whether life or accident policy, the law demands that the policy be displayed in public so that everybody could have access to see it. In fact, whatever you do on behalf of a group, the law demands that it has to be displayed in public for everyone to see it. The reason why they are issued with a certificate of insurance is that they are supposed to display it in a public place where everybody will have access to it. That is the position of the law in this case, especially group life insurance.”
On whether it is operated in Lagos or Ogun State, Durodola said it had not been successful in both states. “Group life insurance has been highly unsuccessful in Lagos and Ogun states. I have been talking to the Ogun State government for quite some time now but the state has not been able to do anything,” said the insurance broker.
He added: “Lagos State has also promised to do something collectively on group life insurance for okada operators. But the state has not taken off on this. So, both Lagos and Ogun don’t have anything on group policy insurance.”
As to why it had been difficult, he explained that the problem with commercial motorcycle operators is that they are too fragmented such that they don’t have a single body anyone can work with.
“Government needs to organise them to be in one orderly organisation for the sake of the public who are exposed to the hazards of their transport services. In most cases of accident, it is the passenger that sustains more injuries than the rider. And when the passengers are two in number, that means more hazards,” said Durodola.
As to how much premium is required for group insurance policy covering the motorcycle operator, passenger, and the bike, Durodola explained that the cost would be difficult to aggregate if one factors damage to the rider, passenger(s), and the bike.
“For the bike, it is a different ball game. It is like motor insurance which requires a minimum of third party insurance. But for the rider and passenger, because the operators are in group and are too many, it could cost them N3,000 in premium on an annual basis. At most, it can cost them N5,000 per annum.
“And the policy will cover disability, injury per head, both the operator and the passenger. But where they carry two passengers, it won’t be less than N5,000 per operator on an annual basis,” Durodola stated.
However, he pointed out that on a special arrangement, a policy could be worked out covering the operator, passenger and the bike even though the motorcycle ought to be covered by a third party insurance.