Sunday, March 22, 2009

Okada power!

Unlike street hawkers and traders in Lagos, who have no union or association to speak of, the okada (motorcycle taxi) riders here are well-organized. To understand how they got to be so strong, I met with the local branch of the Okada Riders' Welfare Association (one of 4 similar organizations in Lagos) today. It was fascinating.

The Ojota branch, part of a national association, has about 200 active members, each of whom pays $1 in daily dues to the organization and 35 cents (by purchasing a daily "ticket") to the local government. The organization represents the riders in dealings with the government, resolves disputes between riders and customers, and staffs members to manage the queues, where the okadas line up to wait for fares at busy corners. It's quite impressive.

The key to the union's power is that it is sanctioned by the local government (much like street vendor associations are in Mexico City) so it has the force of law behind it. If a non-member poaches into their territory, union members can arrest him on the spot and take him to the police precinct! Sounds effective. And all that time we spend coaxing SVP members into paying their dues...

But the drivers get their money's worth, as the government seems to appreciate dealing with an organized group. Recently, when an okada was snatching purses in the area, the police came to the union, who promptly found the thief and turned him in. If KAI has a concern, they bring it to the association, which calls an emergnecy meeting to notify the drivers. In return, the okadas get to operate from designated pick-up areas in prime public space.

What's the lesson here? You ride the back of my okada, I'll ride the back of yours?

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