Lagos, Nigeria – Holding a white placard above her head and surrounded by a group of young people, Sally had a clear message.
“All we want is for the government to lift the ban until an alternative is made ready,” she said.
Sally was referring to a recent decision by authorities in Nigeria‘s commercial capital, Lagos, to outlaw commercial motorcycles and tricycles from most of the crowded city’s residential and business areas.
She was not alone. Dozens of other mostly young people on Saturday joined protests in the megacity of more than 20 million people, angry by the state government’s recent decision to outlaw the two- and three-wheeled vehicles, which are a popular transportation choice for commuters seeking to beat heavy congestion.
“I am jobless and I am confused,” Innocent Udoka, one of the motorcycle drivers hit by the ban, told Al Jazeera.
“I am a graduate. I have no job and my only means of survival is taken away – how would I start again?”
Introduced on February 1, the ban is aimed at decongesting Lagos’s roads and reducing accidents and overcrowding. Citing the two- and three-wheeled vehicles’ “chaos and disorderliness”, as well as the “scary figures” of deadly accidents, the government said the ban was central in its efforts to achieve its goals.
One week on, the effect of the ban has been widespread, with long queues forming at bus stops, car drivers facing gridlocked traffic and others sometimes having to walk to avoid hours in traffic. Meanwhile, scuffles between some drivers and the police were reported in some parts of Lagos state over the past week.
“This ban doesn’t solve any of the problems attached to it,” Sally argued. “More people are suffering to get to work … and school. And several thousand [of people] have just lost their livelihood.”
But protesters also warned that the effect of the ban could be felt by all sectors of the economy.
“The [number of] people who would suffer [is] vast, including investors,” says Lagos based writer Timileyin Ogunleye, “Why? Because [a] few months back, several investors threw in several millions of dollars into the transport business, only for this abrupt ban to follow. Things are not done that way.”
Believed to be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city, Lagos has long faced a number of infrastructure problems, which have been exacerbated by its growing population.
Over the years, authorities have undertaken a number of measures to tackle the city’s worsening road crisis, including the launch of a state-sponsored public transport service the establishment of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), an agency under the Ministry of Transportation, charged with reducing traffic and road accidents.
The government has also promised to provide a number of new busses to address the needs – but the challenges are still enormous, protesters said.
“There are so many things wrong with Lagos. The touts on the roads; the terrible state of the roads; those should be fixed first,” Sally said.
While many Lagosians appear to be angry at the ban, Fahim Saleh, the founder of Gokada, one of the biggest motorcycle hailing start-ups affected by the move, tried to see it differently.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to see the bright side,” Saleh said. “I think when you come into an emerging economy, you have to expect this.”
Saleh admitted there were setbacks, such as job losses, but was quick to add that his company was pivoting into new opportunities including water transportation.
“Moves like this also push us to focus on other parts of the business,” he said.
“Many people who would never dream [of] riding on a motorcycle, gave it a chance because of Gokada. We will follow a similar strategy with boats and convince the masses that with proper execution, boat transport can be incredibly safe.”