If you can't afford safety, should the police ticket you?
Nigeria bikers' vegetable helmets
Motorcyclists in Nigeria have been wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads to dodge a new law forcing them to wear helmets. The drivers and passengers are poor, even though the country is very oil-rich. This 2009 article is from the BBC, Jan 6.
by the BBCOfficials in the northern city of Kano said they had stopped several riders with "improvised helmets", following this month's introduction of the law.
Road safety officials said calabash-wearers would be prosecuted.
Thousands of motorbikes have been impounded around the country and taxi motorbike drivers have staged protests.
Calabashes are dried pumpkin shells more commonly used to carry liquid.
According to the new law, all motorbike drivers and motorbike passengers must wear helmets.
Kano Federal Road Safety Commission commander Yusuf Garba told the BBC they were taking a hard line with people found using the improvised helmets.
"We are impounding their bikes and want to take them to court so they can explain why they think wearing a calabash is good enough for their safety," he said.
Fifty motorbikes had been seized so far in Kano city alone, he added.
Often untrained and illiterate, the motorbike drivers are considered a menace by many motorists.
Fatal accidents are common. Road safety authorities say almost every collision in Nigeria's cities involves an "okada".
More than 4,000 people die on Nigeria's roads every year and 20,000 are injured, according to the Federal Road Safety Commission.
Many drivers of the motorcycle taxis are furious over the new law, which came into force on New Year's Day.
In the city of Kaduna, drivers waved palm fronds and rode in convoy to protest at the price of helmets, which can cost up to $29 (£20).
They say passengers often steal the helmets once they reach their destination.
Stories have also appeared in the local papers highlighting passengers' fears that the helmets could be used by motorcyclists to cast spells on their clients, making it easy for them to be robbed.
"Some people can put juju inside the helmets and when they are worn the victim can either lose consciousness or be struck dumb," passenger Kolawole Aremu told the Daily Trust newspaper.
Motorcycle taxis, called "achaba" in the north of the country (from a Hausa phrase for "give me some money") and "okada" in the south (name of an ex-state governor's now defunct airline), are a cheap way for Nigerians to get around congested and chaotic city streets except in one city. Okada bike taxis were banned from the capital Abuja in 2006. The motorbikes cost around $290 (£200). Passengers pay about 70 naira ($0.50; £0.35) for a short trip.
The number of motorcycle taxis in big cities has exploded in recent years, causing concern about road safety.
Local government authorities often give motorbikes to jobless young men, saying it gives them a way to make a living.
It is often an attempt to buy support for elections, the BBC's Andrew Walker in the capital, Abuja, says.
But handing out the vehicles, our correspondent says, does not address the underlying cause of Nigeria's economic problems.
JJS: What would address the underlying cause of Nigeria's economic problems? Geonomics would. Nigeria is blessed with much oil yet suffers (speaking of casting spells) the resource curse. The oil revenue only enriches the elite and leads to constant squabbling and bloodshed. Global oil companies are few enough to have the clout to insist that Nigeriaís government share the value of oil, which belongs to everyone, with everyone.
Even if Nigeria had no oil, it could still develop and prosper with geonomics. This policy would end taxes on efforts, end subsidies for waste, and instead recover and share the value of sites. Even in poor countries, the land, especially in cities, is worth a surprising amount, according to economists like DeSoto. Itís enough to fund some basic honest government plus pay citizens a dividend.
Indeed, government could use urban site values to, among other projects, fund state-of-the-art mass transit. Then urban dwellers would not need the taxis and cars quite so much. Young men could help build the system and pumpkins could be left for the supper table.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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