The advice by the Federal Government that Nigerians should embrace the use of bicycles as an alternative means of commuting is appropriate and worthy of exploration, not only because of the environmental and health benefits but also as relief to the hard times most Nigerians are currently going through under the yoke of fuel subsidy removal in the country. Governments at all levels in the country should consciously work to provide the enabling environment to make the idea practically feasible.
Across the world, riding a bicycle is considered as an enjoyable way of staying healthy. It is a low impact aerobic exercise that is full of health benefits, including lowering of body fat levels that promote good health, improving overall function in the lower body and strengthening of the leg muscles, lowering of bad cholesterol, boosting of mental health and brain power, helping people with cancer, helping to prevent and manage medical conditions, environmental friendliness, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although government’s advice was made as a commemoration of this year’s World Bicycle Day, bicycle riding can make more meaning in the lives of the people at this economically critical time when the socio-economic life of many Nigerians has been seriously disrupted and the citizens are devising strategies, including reduction in the cost of living, just as businesses are pondering on how to reduce the cost of production, all in a bid to survive the aftermaths of removal of petrol subsidy.
Riding bicycles in some parts of the country, particularly in the cities with heavy vehicular traffic, is currently unsafe in view of cases of cyclists being knocked down by careless or reckless motorists, and lack of bicycle infrastructure, which makes riders vulnerable to accidents. But in other parts, cycling is relatively safe and remains a good and cost-effective mode of transport. If embraced and under the right circumstances, commuting by bicycle will save a lot of people the money for petrol, diesel and engine oil, the prices of which are rising while the purchasing power of the citizens is falling. Indeed, it can help the government in forcing a dip in the prices of such products by going by the rules of demand and supply.
The Federal Ministry of Transportation, at a one-day stakeholders’ sensitisation meeting to commemorate the World Bicycle Day, said it was considering bicycles as alternative means of commuting because it promotes a cleaner environment and healthy lifestyle. The Director, Road Transport and Mass Transit Administration, Musa Ibrahim said the idea was to enhance and heighten the importance of cycling in Nigeria with the belief that it will lead to a decrease in road accidents. A statement by the Director, Press and Public Relations, Henshaw Ogubike, quoted Ibrahim as saying the World Bicycle Day recognised “the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle as a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transport, fostering environmental stewardship and health.”
Ibrahim said the proponents also encouraged the use of bicycles as a means of eradicating poverty; furthering sustainable development; strengthening education, including physical education for children and young people; promoting good health and preventing diseases as well as facilitating social inclusion.
In April 2018, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated June 3rd as the World Bicycle Day to be celebrated yearly to honour the bicycle’s exceptional qualities, durability, and versatility, considering that it has been utilised as a practical mode of transport for over two centuries. The UN recognised bicycles as a straightforward, cost-effective, dependable, eco-friendly, and sustainable means of transportation. The selection of this date is significant as it commemorates the anniversary of the invention of the bicycle by Karl von Drais in 1817. The first time the World Bicycle Day was marked was on June 3, 2018, when the United Nations first adopted a resolution during the 72nd Regular Session of its General Assembly in New York City in April. More than 193 member states adopted the declaration, which encouraged them to include bicycles in regional, international, and subnational development programmes and policies. The theme for this year’s anniversary is “Riding Together for a Sustainable Future.” Essentially, the event is to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling, advocate better infrastructure for cyclists and to promote cycling as a way to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
In Nigeria, particularly in the cities, commuting by bicycle is rather unsafe partly because of lack of bicycle infrastructure to make riders less prone to accidents. The infrastructure includes bikeways, bike paths, bike lanes, cycle tracks, rail trails and, where permitted, sidewalks. Roads used by motorists are also cycling infrastructure, except where cyclists are barred from such roads. Another challenge is the dangerous driving behaviour of many motorists, especially the commercial drivers. There have been cases of hit-and-run accidents that claimed the lives of cyclists and pedestrians; and frightened people from riding bicycles. A prominent case was that of Dr. Olaolu Mudashiru, an investment banker and son of a former Lagos State Military Governor, Group Captain Gbolahan Mudashiru, who was killed on a Sunday morning in a hit-and-run accident while cycling with two other persons on Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi area of Lagos. A former Minister of transport, Ojo Madueke, who chose to ride bicycle to the office in Abuja as a way to encourage other Nigerians to commute by bicycle dropped the idea when he was almost knocked down by a motorist.
However, in the rural areas, particularly at the grassroots where vehicular traffic is relatively low, commuting by bicycle is encouraged, amidst rising transport fares. In many parts of Nigeria, bicycles have always been a popular mode of transport by a lot of people. It was common to see families transport themselves to and from farm in bicycles while engaged in subsistence farming. They also used bicycles to convey farm produce and some semi-processed products to the towns for sale. In the 1960s, the defunct Western Regional Government gave out bicycles (as loans) to facilitate work by officials of farm settlements established by the government across the region. It was also common to see groups of young and middle-aged people transport themselves in bicycles to attend social and cultural events in neighbouring towns and villages.
To reduce vulnerability to accident, AB Drives, a safe and defensive driving trainer, advised that cyclists should, while riding, make themselves visible to other road users, including pedestrians, by wearing bright, fluorescent and reflective clothing, especially at night or whenever it is dark; always protect themselves with a helmet; ensure that their bicycle is in good working condition, among other measures. Certainly, bicycle riding as alternative means of transportation is an idea ripe for implementation, in tandem with current realities in Nigeria, in addition to its environmental and health benefits.