Okada business drive artisans out of work

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The advent and increasing boom in commercial motorcycle operations in many Nigerian cities, particularly Lagos, the nation’s former capital city and economic hub, is taking a toll on the hitherto thriving artisan business; CityFile investigations have revealed.

Several hundreds of skilled men and youths formerly engaged in different forms of trades and artisan works such as vulcanisers, auto repairs (mechanics), plumbing, tailoring, painting, fabrications of tools, watch repairs, shoe mending, etc, are abandoning their trades and taking to commercial motorcycling popularly called on ‘Okada’ in what is driven by a number of factors including but not limited to under-employment and get-rich-quick syndrome, paying little attention to the risk associated with the business in metropolitan centre like Lagos.

Investigations also showed that the boom in the business in Lagos is largely encouraged by the city’s huge population (currently estimated at over 15 million) and inadequate public transportation facilities, with the ‘okada’ riders filling the obvious gap in public transportation system in the state.

The boom is being further driven by intractable traffic jams in a city that seems to wait for no one, with ‘okada’ providing an alternative means to get out of such traffic snarls. Findings showed that unlearned youths and the under-age from all parts of Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Niger, Togo and Benin in their numbers arrive in Lagos daily to engage in commercial motorcycle operations in the belief that it is a money spinner.

Curiously, while commercial ‘okada’ is experiencing an upward swing and attracting thousands, the once thriving vocational and skilled work- the mainstay of several families in the past, is nose-diving with the old breeds still involved in it complaining of shrinking apprenticeship in their workshops.

Taiwo Oyeniran, a panel beater who operates from a workshop on 21 Road, Festac Town, Lagos, speaking with BusinessDay on Friday, said he has not received any new apprentice in the last three years, while two previously trained under him, have veered into commercial ‘okada’ riding, as against the trade they learned.

Timothy Akinola, an auto mechanic, with a workshop at Bolade Area of Oshodi, Lagos, corroborated Oyeniran. According to Akinola who specialises in Japanese cars, three of his apprentices who actually abandoned learning the trade half-way “are today riding ‘okada’ at Oshodi, because they feel it brings instant money than staying in the workshop.

Bola Sanusi, president, Lagos State Tradesmen and Artisans Association, at a recent event organised by the state Ministry of Commerce and Industry, also expressed concern over the declining interest of youths in acquiring vocational skills.

Although Lagos State government has been adopting measures in recent times to shore up youths’ interest in vocational skills by encouraging artisans to form themselves into cooperatives in order to access funding and free training to update their skills, the trend seems to be on the rise, with Nigeria turning to artisans from other African countries for trade works.

At the opening in Lagos last week, of GC Eko LPP Auto Centre, Public Private Partnership project between Lagos State government and Coscharis Motors Limited, Cosmos Maduka, chairman, Coscharis Group, acknowledged a huge gap of qualified auto technicians in Nigeria, disclosing that over 35 of such personnel in his employed were from Ghana.

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