Death; that five letter word is perhaps the most dreaded combination of alphabets. Even those who believe in life after death cringe when it takes their family and friends or when they come into close shave with it.
The reality is that, death lives amongst us in many forms. One of them is that it rides on wheels, crisscrossing our streets under the guise of Okada to take away lives and injure those it misses.
The Okada business
Okada is a Yoruba term for commercial motorbikes in Nigeria where the trade is rife.
In Ghana, motorcycles are the most preferred means of transport in rural areas especially in the northern part of the country because they are faster, convenient and cost-effective therein.
However, over the last halfdecade or more, Okada has manoeuvred its way into the transport arena oftowns and cities especially in Accra and surrounding areas.
The desire of commuters to avoid the strenuous gridlock in Accra and its worst version during festive seasons, has given rise to the business.
The riders are swift and could wander through taxis and commercial busses in heavy traffic,to the satisfaction of patrons running late for work or errands.
Depending on one's destination,they can charge as high as Ghc50 for a trip from Circle to Kasoa. Albeit higher than commercial vehicles, for patrons, it is still worth it.
The riders, many of whom have migrated from other parts of the country, are often found waiting at vantage points at Rawlings Park in Accra, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Ashaiman,Korle Bu, Agbogbloshie, Zongo communities.
Despite the fact that the business is a source of livelihood for a significant number of youth in Accra, the law does not give them a green light to operate on our roads.
The Road Traffic Regulation, 2012 (Legislative Instrument LI 2180) prohibits commercial use of motorbikes (Okada) and forbids the Driver, Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA) from licensing motorcycle or tricycle for commercial purposes except for courier and delivery services.
Additionally, it makes it clears that motorcycle or tricycle pick a fare-paying passenger and adds that a person who contravenes the law commits an offence liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than 25 penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than 30 days or to both.
Since the law was passed eight years ago, its enforcement by the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service has been a challenge as the fleet of Okada continue to increase on our roads, despite arrests and prosecution.
The deadly side
Data gathered from various media reports on annual accidents data released by the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), indicate that more than 10,000 motorcycle accidents have occurred in the country over the last five years with several deaths and injuries.
In 2015alone, the cases were 2,289; it moved to 3,487 in 2017 and went higher to about 4,000 last year during which 732 people lost their lives and added to the thousands of lives already lost.
In one of such media publications by the Ghana News Agency,Mr David Osafo Adonteng, the Director, Planning and Programme, NRSA is reported to have said the figures have been increasing since 2010, during which 310 deaths were recorded.
Chilling accounts at Korle Bu
In July last year, the Head of Accident and Emergency (A&E) and Orthopaedics Department of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), Dr Frederick Kwarteng, in an interview with the Ghanaian Times, disclosed that59 people died out of 2,563 Okada accidents between 2017 and part of 2019.
According to him, the victims of the mishaps , which were mostly occurred within the Greater Accra Region, involved young adults from ages 18 to 37, of whom majority were males.
Recounting the chilling scenes, he said many of the deceased suffered severe head injuries, with a few having cervical spine injuries, and polytrauma (multiple injuries resulting from an accident).
"This year alone, I have so far amputated 20 legs because they are brought in with dead limps and to save their lives, we have to amputate the legs. Almost 60 per cent of patients in the trauma wards now are from Okada," he stated.
Similarly, he said this year, the unit had by end of the first quarter recorded a total of 462 people involved in Okada accidents, fairly higher than 425 and 452 in 2018 and 2017 respectively, within the same period.
Out of the figure, seven people between the ages 28 and 43 died as the facility receives averagely 95 Okada cases per month, he added and projected that the figures could go higher.
He was right; about six months later, on December 22 and 23, the hospital recorded 30 road accident victims, out of which 20 involved 'Okada' cases.
In a post social media, it announced that between December 30, 2019 and January 1, this year, the hospital recorded 79 accident victims with 58 of them again, involving motorcycles.
There is only one explanation for this; majority of the Okada riders is reckless and often jump the red light. Some of them do not wear crash helmet nor provide same for their passengers.The open sides of motorbikes increase the risk of fall.
Osman Aminu, a rider, explained that this trait is borne out of the fact that the police often arrest them while waiting for the green light so they jump the red light so escape.
"Sometimes too, we are in a hurry. At other times too, we want to be ahead of the other vehicles because there are no dedicated lanes for us and this makes it risky", he said.
The never ending debate
There is a long standing debate over the Okada business. While some people think that it the law banning the business should be enforced strictly to root out the business, others have made a case for its legalisation and regulation.
Some Members of Parliament (MPs) from both rural and urban areas including that for Asawase in the Ashanti Region, Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka are part of the Okada advocates.
In a statement on the floor of Parliament in March last year, the Asawase lawmaker and the Minority Chief Whip said it was time the country reviewed the law banning the business
This, he said, would generate revenue for the state and create jobs to partly address the unemployment challenge the country in addition to making the business safer for patrons.
On the contrary, the Ghana Medical Association , have reiterated their stance against it on several occasions, stating that if the business is legalised risk to riders and passengers would increase and overwhelmhospitals with accident cases.
According to the doctors, the NRSA and the MTTD should rather strictly enforce laid down traffic regulations to nib the practise in the bud and save lives.
Review of the law
The government is reviewing the law banning Okada, to determine whether to amend the law to regularise its operations or maintain its current form and punish offenders.
The Minister of Transport, Mr Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, who disclosed this earlier this year said the review of the Road Traffic Regulation, 2012 was because its non-enforcement had increased Okada operations in the country.
As the government embarks on this exercise it should consider the deadly nature of the business and take a decision that would not endanger the lives of the citizenry.
It should take into consideration the fact that the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) requires governments to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by the end of this year and that reducing Okada related accidents can help achieve that.
Since the NRSA has been upgraded from commission to authority, it should be allowed to use its new powers to address the issue. The government should also note how pillion riders have the potential of increasing the coronavirus.
There is no doubt that death is inevitable. There is no doubt too that other vehicles are involved in accidents. The question we should ask ourselves is that why an illegal business should be allowed to worsen our accident woes.