Recently, a novel idea was introduced to revolutionize the commercial motorcycling business in Lagos. Virtually all strategic corners of the state are now dotted with astronaut-style kitted riders in green on specially designed motorcycles with screaming name ‘Gokada’. Many residents are still asking questions about who they are, what concept do they represent, and how safe are they to be patronised?
In order to throw light on all of these, the company’s Director of Government Relations, Kayode Adegbola visited our Press House headquarters on Acme road, Agidingbi, Ikeja-Lagos on Tuesday 30 July 2019.
In this interview with P.M.NEWS/TheNEWS team comprising the Executive Editor & Director, Kunle Ajibade; TheNEWS Editor, Ademola Adegbamigbe; Advert Manager, Yomi Osoba; Photo Journalist, Ayodele Efunla; and Admin Mgr/ P.M.NEWS Journalist Isa Isawade, the unassuming Adegbola provides eloquent answers to all questions agitating the mind of many in the state.
Q: What is Gokada?
A: Gokada is an on-demand transportation company currently operating commercial motorcycles in Lagos State, Nigeria in a safe and corporate manner.
Q: What is your concept?
A: As a matter of fact, safety and provision of convenient mobility for the public are the major motives behind our concept, and it is on the back of that we are communicating to the government and all stakeholders that look, the solution isn’t to ban okada. It is not okada that causes accident. It is bad riders that cause accidents. There are motorcycles in other countries and people are not dying as a result of that. It’s just really about being careful, getting the right kind of training. We partner with a company, the biggest defensive driving training Institute. They are based in Indonesia. They’ve trained over half a million motorcycle riders. We make sure that our riders get the best training possible. So, those are some of the things that we do. We’ve had to recover maybe two or so of our bikes from Ogun State. The idea is you can shut the bike down remotely. So, from the security point of view, if you as a member of the public and you see a criminal activity happening and you call us, from our control room we can actually shut down such bike from wherever it is. So, we are telling the government people that, look with technology, a lot of your problems can actually be solved. The solution isn’t actually just to ban outright. There were cases where okada had been banned, but we see that time and time again they come back. You really can’t do anything, because one, it is a source of livelihood. Also, beyond that people have to move around and the economics of our country, unless we are deceiving ourselves, don’t allow the luxury of everybody riding in car or any other means of transportation. We also have an initiative called Gboat. We have just piloted it whereby we are now saying look, we are opening up new routes on the water ways, and so we are incredibly glad about yesterday (Monday)’s landmark between NIWA (National Inland Waterways Authority) and LASWA (Lagos State Waterways Authority) because they’ve now ended a ten-year old feud over the Lagos waterways and with agreement signed by Olorunibe Mamora and Damilola Emmanuel, Managing Directors of NIWA and LASWA respectively. So, now we can actually open up more routes to the public and bring in boats and say look the waterways are underutilised, how do we use the waterways more. And then, by the time we’ve done that we are also now offering another modern means of transportation because you get off at a jetty and then you can get on a bike using a single pass. So, at the jetty, the pilots of the Gokada bikes there know that a Gboat is arriving at so so time and the Gboat is carrying x number of passengers. A minimum of x number of bikes will be waiting to carry them. So, you can see, we are thinking about transportation as a whole not just okada transportation. We started with okada transportation but there is also a lot more that we are planning to do.
Q: What are the economic benefits of Gokada services to the people?
A: In terms of economic benefits, we have some of our pilots earning up to five times what they were earning before. Some of them are graduates who were doing other things before and are now earning about N150, 000 a month from being on our platform. And going forward as well, we are going to start thinking more around financial inclusion and thinking of a world where our pilots then become cash-in cash-out agents. So, when you pay on our platform, you can then say look, I need N200 cash I pay you as a gokada pilot N210, because pilot has to make money from it as well, and then, the pilot gives you N200 that will be cash in his hand. But that cash in his hand that he has given away has reduced the chances of him being robbed because he no longer hold much cash, everything is electronic at the end of the day. So, there are a lot of things that can be associated to the mobility business that not many people think about. Also, from the investment point of view, over 5.3 million dollars has gone into Gokada enterprise from Silicon Valley investors mostly. Therefore, it sends a wrong signal if government does not encourage this kind of business in Nigeria because, tomorrow after series A investment of $3.5M, you may be talking about another investment of maybe 10 million or 15 million dollars and this is money that is coming into Nigeria which is directly impacting on the lives Nigerians. So, the idea is generally to help the public, the government and stakeholders to see it from the way we are seeing it. We have over a thousand pilots which means that we’ve created, at least, a thousand direct jobs. This is not to talk about the people who handle maintenance, the people who supply tyres and so on. We do preventive maintenance as well. The moment it reaches certain milestones, your motorcycle intentionally begins to give you signs that tell you to bring it to the workshop and if you don’t bring it, we would just stop it remotely, because the cost of maintaining preventively is a lot lower than repairing when there is a problem. So, those are some of the things we do. We are an efficient business and also to ensure that it’s working for everybody, we are not passing cost too high to the customers.
Q: Can you explain more on what you meant by defensive driving training?
A: Yes, like I mentioned earlier, defensive driving is professionally within the mobility space. It’s quite popular. Some organisations even send their car drivers to do defensive driving. Even Lagos State Drivers’ Institute does some form of training in the area of defensive driving. It’s a term used for driving when you carefully observe your environment. It’s a style of training for driving. So, defensive driving is common.
Q: Now which of the roads in Lagos are you allowed to ply by regulations? Because all manners of riders are flouting the rules that people are already complaining, saying that government should sanction violators. In the past, those who violated the rules had their bikes impounded. So, which of these routes are you allowed to ply?
A: We are allowed to ply all routes because all our bikes are above 200CC. The whole idea is about safety, and all our bikes are above 200 CC. Like I said we have speed limiting devices and pilots are penalised when they attempt to go above the speed limit consistently. But, the speed limit device intentionally decelerates the bike to below 60 speed. The idea is that it’s also not going to give the bike a hard stop because that can cause an accident. So, it gradually decelerates the bike at that point and the penal system operates. We also provide regular training. We talk to them frequently. We have what we call town halls with the pilots. We speak to them, re-orientate them, because really if they think about it deeply, the difference between having an accident and not having an accident, very bad accident and a mild accident is often occasioned by the speed. So, we just communicate this, we remind them about their families. And we also integrate their families into what we do. We are now thinking a lot about spousal empowerment, where we can start saying look, wives can get loan on the back of their husbands’ expected earnings from Gokada. On the Children Day in May, we had a Children Day party for all their kids in our office. We set up a playground and all of that for them. So that, also, the children can see where their fathers work and have a sense of pride around it, and that’s why we call them pilots.
Q: Are you planning to extend it to other states?
A: In terms of other states, we are in conversation with quite a number of states. We have paid visits to Ondo and Ekiti. We are in some level of conversation with states like Cross River, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kano, and there are few capitals within those states where okadas are actually banned, but because of the things that we are doing, there is actually some interest there, regulating in such a way that we can operate.
Q: Do you have insurance policy on both the riders and passengers?
A: As of today, we have insurance policy on our pilots, but I think gradually we are going to move to the point where we will also take insurance for our customers. But as of today, all our pilots have comprehensive insurance.
Q: What is the life span of your bike?
A: The life span of bike varies. A normal bike may last two years, but with preventive maintenance, it can last more. What we also do is to ensure that whenever we bring bike in we are also bringing a corresponding proportion of parts. So, maybe a quarter or 30% of every shipment has part with it. So, if we are bringing 1,000 bikes, parts for about 300 are coming with it. So, that way we can really increase the life span of the bikes. So, minimum 2 years, sometimes over two years. We also have a hire purchase. As of today all our pilots are on the way to owning the bikes that they operate. They pay us a daily rate and everything above that is for them. So, any pilot that does not pay his daily remittance for certain number of days will have his bike withdrawn from him. And we only charge them for 5 days a week, so if they work on Saturday or Sunday they are not remitting that to us. It is an additional benefit for them. So, for the 5 days of the week, they are giving us a minimum part of their earnings on the path to eventually owning their bikes. Some of them are on 12 months contract, some are on 18 months. Some of our earliest pilots now own their bikes. But, interestingly they are still staying on the platform, in spite of the fact that they already own the bike. So, what then happens is that what they pay us now is reduced. They can then also decide that they want to present another pilot to us, hand over their old bike to him and then now start another hire purchase for a new bike. So, with that we establish who the super pilot is. And for a super pilot we know you are trust worthy, so we then now start turning you to super-agent for our financial inclusion programmes. A lot can be tracked.
Q: Now, talking about tracking, if someone owns his bike now, he’s paid you up, does he still stay on your platform in such a way that you are able to track him?
A: Oh yes, because to be booked, you have to be on the platform. You can be flagged down but majority of the bookings happen on the platform. So, that’s the major attraction. So, once their contract ends, they can decide to leave and take their bike with them, but what then happens is they then begin to lose the benefits, so automatically they have no life insurance anymore, automatically, they don’t have a place where they can take a loan on the back of their future earnings. So, security is a lot lower for them, and so because it’s still attractive, they always want to stay. Majority of our earliest pilots are still on the platform.
Q: Do you employ female pilots?
A: We have a few actually, there are few female pilots. We are looking towards pushing for more, first from the idea of gender inclusiveness, but beyond that as well, at least 50% of our customers are women, and there are a number of women who, either for religious reason or just for their own preference, would rather be ridden by a woman. We are also thinking about entering the tricycle business. So that women who feel more comfortable for their school runs to be done by female pilots, there will be a space for that. So, we are very gender sensitive. We are intentional about our plans for gender inclusion. We are working on some of those things quite seriously.
Q: Is your ride cheaper than the normal okada ride?
A: It is certainly not cheaper, because the economics of it don’t allow it to be cheaper. However, the regular okada is unlikely to be able to take you from Lekki all the way to the airport when you are almost late for your flight. We can. So, for the fact that we’ve had to invest in over 200CC bikes in normal okada while the Bajaj is 500CC. Also, our service is safer. So, we charge a little higher, it’s not substantially higher. Our average fare is around N900 or so. The average fare out of the over one million runs we’ve done is N900. The average distance that our passengers take, the cost of it is about N900.
A lot of our initiatives revolve around safety. Our helmets are United States certified. So, in terms of helmet certification globally there is no higher certification than the U.S own. We talk about it that okay, if the Nigerian government is going to regulate the use of helmet, we have confidence that it is very unlikely that what we have will not be satisfactory for the Nigerian market if it is satisfactory for the United States’. So, we ensure that both our pilots and passengers have access to that kind of helmet. And I don’t think that you will ever see a Gokada pilot without having two helmets with him. Also for hygiene purposes in use of the helmet, there is inner cover which you dispose after use.
Q: These conventional riders at times carry two, three passengers. Do you encourage that too?
A: No, and we have device on our bikes that allows us to know that a bike is carrying more than one passenger.
Q: I am particularly impressed with the extension of this to the water ways, especially in Lagos, Port Harcourt,
A: (cut in) If you really look at Lagos own, the people who live in Ikorodu and work in C.M.S. A journey from Ikorodu to C.M.S through the waterways will not take more than twenty minutes. But the existing boats, I try not to run down people who are doing this, those are pako. They are made of fibre and it’s a single engine, so what happens when there is any issue with the engine is that it’s going to capsize. Now we are coming in to say look, we are going to put slightly bigger boat on the water, but not ferry size. That’s our thinking now because, by the time you are putting a ferry size on the water, maybe 60 or 80 passengers what you find is that three pako boats would have gone within that time. So, we are saying look we can bring in ones with double engines that can make a trip with 20, 25 passengers, whereas pako one is filling with 16, 18 people the bigger one can do 20 or more passengers. But, with their unions on the road, there are a lot of cabals in the waterways. But, we are going to really aggressively push for the waterways service, especially, because we have a lot of customers. We have over 500 new down loads of our App every day. So, you can imagine how quickly our customer base is growing. If we say we have additional one and you can, in the future, include the option of having a single ticket that will be monthly pass where you are entitled to x number of rides on a motorcycle and daily boat rides. For someone that lives in Ikorodu, for example, we can say to you that digitally you can hold a pass for 30 days, you just need to show it when you get to the jetty, people will jump at it. So, that’s the level that we are trying to operate now.
Q: It’s interesting. Now you just talked about the union. How are you coping with the fear of the regular okada riders’ union? How are you responding to it?
A: In fairness, there have been very limited altercations, very limited in frequency, but there have been some altercations. But, the idea is look, we are all working together. As the unions are currently structured, they operate from motor parks, and so an okada operating in certain area will buy a ticket for that area because legally they can’t even move out of that area anyway. However, because we operate across the state you end up buying, even just from Lekki to Victoria Island, you probably end up buying like three tickets. So, we are currently engaging them.