Motorcycle taxi drivers sit on their bikes, popularly called Okada, in Obalende, Lagos Island, Nigeria, on January 27 2020. Picture: REUTERS/TEMILADE ADELAJA
Motorcycle taxi drivers sit on their bikes, popularly called Okada, in Obalende, Lagos Island, Nigeria, on January 27 2020. Picture: REUTERS/TEMILADE ADELAJA

Lagos — Nigeria’s biggest city has partially banned the use of motorcycle taxis after an escalating number of fatal accidents, dealing a blow to Softbank Group-backed OPay and a potential boost to Uber.

The Lagos state government cracked down on the popular way to dodge traffic congestion in the commercial capital of Africa’s most populous country, calling the bikes and their three-wheel equivalents a “menace” that are responsible for “scary figures” regarding loss of life. Drivers ignore traffic laws and allow criminals to use the ride-hailing services as getaway vehicles, Gbenga Omotoso, commissioner for information and strategy, said in an e-mailed statement.

Between 2016 and 2019, “the total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600”, Omotoso said. “The only motorcycles allowed are the ones used for the delivery of mail services,” he added by phone.

The ruling is a setback for OPay, which is based in Oslo and has shareholders including Softbank and China’s Meituan Dianping. The mobile-payments company started its ORide service in Lagos in June, before raising $120m later in the year to expand its various online services in countries such as Ghana, SA and Kenya. Meanwhile, Uber — which has operated in Nigeria for more than five years — may lose a fierce rival.

A spokesman for OPay declined to comment. Max.ng, a rival motorbike-taxi operator backed by investors including Yamaha Motor of Japan, said the company would contact the state government about how the ban will work.

“The concern for us is how this will be implemented, because we don’t want people getting hurt,” cofounder Chinedu Azodoh said by phone. “We are engaging with the government.”

Lagos has one of the highest car densities in the world, with about 200 per kilometre, leading to notorious traffic problems. Its vast and underutilised waterways are seen as a viable alternative to relieve pressure on the roads, and Uber started to experiment with boats in 2019.

Bloomberg