Pulse Editorial: Who is right between the NPP and the NDC on the legalization of Okada?

For many political pundits, the 2020 general elections will go down in history as the ‘okada’ or the legalization of commercial motorcycles election. This is due to the fact that legalization of ‘okada’, as it is known in local parlances has dominated the policy debates going into the elections.

Okada Riders Association welcomes Mahama’s promise to legalise business

Both the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) have outdoored their manifestoes for the elections and they have two separate policies on the legalization or otherwise of okada.

NDC’s position

While on a campaign tour in the Volta Region, the flagbearer of the NDC, John Dramani Mahama started the okada debate. He told a youth group in the region that should he win power in December, he will legalize and regulate the operations of okada operators.

He said: “Why behave like the turkey and bury your head in the sand? This pragyas, Aboboyaa, okadas have created more jobs in this economy than any government job-related policy. It has created more jobs than NaBCo, YEA and all those artificial job creation programs.“

“These young people live under harassment because it’s illegal and so the police stop them, they take money from them and so my suggestion is that why do we behave like the ostrich? Let us legalise it and let us regulate it, let’s make it safer”.

The NDC bolstered this promise by adding it to their ‘People’s Manifesto’ which was launched in Accra on September 5th.

NPP’s position

Communicators and some top personalities of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) have shared different views on the okada legalization since John Mahama made it a promise. However, the position of the NPP was made clear when the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, at a VW event in Accra said the government will never legalize okada.

Describing it as risky, Dr. Bawumia said the government has alternative plans for making Ghana a credit society where most of the riders can buy cars on credit.

The Vice President argued that with the right structures in place, ‘Okada’ operators will be able to buy or lease cars to run much ‘safer’ businesses as part of governments automobile development drive.

“Their [Okada riders] problem will be the lack of capital but if they [Transport Sector Recapitalisation Project] bring in new leasing policies and we have our national ID card with our digital addresses and so on, we can have a credit system working and give you an option other than this risky venture,” he added.

The general debate

With both parties having a contrasting stance on the topic, the question then arise on who has the best and most proactive policy? According to the NPP, the country is at a stage where we should be thinking of using rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to solve our transport challenges.

The Deputy Minister of Information, Pius Hadzide reiterated this stance by calling the proposal of the NDC as backward thinking. He argued that most advance countries don’t operate okada in its major cities therefore if Ghana is looking at developing, there should be safer and technological ways to bolster the transport industry than okada.

The ruling government also makes the argument that okada legalization will lead to a steep increase in road accidents in the country. Backed by statistics from the National Road Safety Commission, they make the point that okada is too risky a business.

But the question many people on the other side have asked is that, which transport business isn’t risky? Citing similar figures on road accidents in Ghana, they critics also say should vehicle transportation be banned because of incessant road accidents?

For the NDC, despite the law banning okada which was enacted by them in 2012, the business has failed to ‘die’ and its now a source of livelihood for the teeming youth in the country. Therefore, it is important not to play the ostrich and accept it as it is. And this they plan to do by legalizing and regulating it to make it safer.

President Mahama in his first promise to legalize made the argument of job creation from okada. He said it has employed more people than the ruling government’s much touted ‘NABCO’ scheme. For him, it is more about making it safer for people to get their daily bread in a business that is already thriving.

The opposition also argues that, though in the statutory books okada is illegal, their operations can be found everywhere across the country without being arrested by law enforcers. Based on this, why not regulate them in order to make it safer for Ghanaians?

John Mahama and the NDC have been accused by the government and other independent bodies of pledging to legalize okada just to win political power. These critics say that the NDC flagbearer knows the danger in the trade yet he is trying to embolden them.

The Minority Spokesperson on Transport, Kwame Agbodza, in justification of the policy said the argument of it being unsafe would be reduced by regulating it. He said the regulation will allow for the enforcement of insurance policies, licensing and wearing protective gears.

But the Ghana Medical Association and the National Road Safety Commission have all warned against an attempt to legalize okada. Describing it as very dangerous, they said legalizing it will overwhelm the country’s health facilities with accident cases.

For the NPP, legalization of okada is just a populist attempt by John Mahama to return to power. The NDC says it is to fix a massive youth unemployment gap in the country. Who do you think is right?

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