Connect to share and comment

Nigerians find inventive ways around helmet laws

Passengers reluctantly don safety headgear when riding motorcycle taxis.


Plastic construction helmets, old horse riding hats and even steel colanders have all been used by Lagos okada drivers to appear to be abiding by the legislation. In the northern Nigerian city of Kano, angry riders put dried fruit and calabashes on their head to protest against the new law.

Friday Vivian, 30, drives his okada around Lagos. He has a smart silver helmet decorated with red and orange flames that he’s especially proud of. It cost him $50 — more than he makes in an average week. He couldn’t afford a second, so he’s using a construction helmet given to him by a friend.

“This one is from Julius Berger,” Vivian said, pointing to the label of a major Nigerian construction firm inside the orange plastic hat. “I put black tape on the outside to hide the color and to make it look tough.”

But not all his potential customers have been fooled by this subterfuge, and more than a few have refused to take his okada, opting for a competitor with a superior helmet option. As soon as he can afford to, Vivian is going to invest in a better model.

Other okada drivers have lost several days earnings or paid substantial fines. Thousands of okada drivers that flouted the regulations in the first weeks of the year had their vehicles impounded. Others say they’ve paid fines of as much as $25.

Some regular okada users who have enough money to spare, like electrical engineer Aderemi Bayo, have taken matters into their own hands. “If I want to pick okada, I use my own helmet which I carry in a special bag,” he said.

While most okada passengers in Lagos are generally supportive of the legislation, sensing that, although not ideal, the helmets are a first step in the right direction, others think it’s just another passing whim. In recent years, Lagos State tried to enforce a law that motorists caught driving on the wrong side of the street had to provide psychological exams to show they were not crazy. But the law is rarely implemented.

“Here in Nigeria, after a while people will forget. It will be dumped – that is how it is with new laws,” said Stella, a public relations officer who would not give her last name. “So the best thing is to improve the infrastructure, improve the roads and give us buses and metros — like they have in other big cities in the world. Then we would not need okada.”

More GlobalPost dispatches from Nigeria:

Love helps Nigerian couple  cope with HIV 

Nigeria's "go slow" leader