Elisha Stephen is from Chibok town in Borno State. Chibok became a household name in 2014 after insurgents invaded an all-girls secondary school in the town and kidnapped over 200 girls.

Stephen was in Chibok on that fateful day in April 2014 when that incident occurred.

“The insurgents came by midnight of 14th of April and that was the day they kidnapped the girls in their school. That was the first time the insurgents visited Chibok,” recalled Stephen in an interview with Bounce News in Lagos.

Narrating what happened, he said: “After the kidnap incident, everybody became scared. From then, by nightfall, we would all run into the bush and hide for fear that the insurgents might return.

“But after a while, when they didn’t come back, everyone relaxed. But after 2 months, they came again. This time, they besieged the Chibok town for about 6 hours and burnt so many houses, killing several people.”

It was this second incident that forced Stephen and several others out of Chibok town. He went to stay in a nearby village called Kwarangilim, about 20 Kilometres from Chibok town.

Also Read: Lagos Govt Impounds 196 Okadas, Arrests 72 Riders

But after about two weeks, the insurgents also attacked Kwarangilim, where Stephen had escaped to and killed 15 people.

*Elisha Stephen shares his story with Bounce News Correspondent

It was after that, that he decided to flee Northeast and come to Lagos.

On August 2014, Stephen landed in Lagos with just the cloth on his back. Luckily, he had a friend in Lagos, who accommodated him while he looked for what to do.

After about three months without a job, succour came his way when someone offered him a motorcycle to use for transportation business, popularly known as Okada.

But at that time, the Lagos State government under the then governor, Babatunde Fashola had restricted motorcycle operations in the state to just a few routes.

In fact, Fashola’s government prohibited motorcycle operators from plying about 400 roads in Lagos. So, it was almost impossible to drive motorcycle in the state without falling into the hands of the task force enforcing the Okada ban.

That was the situation when Stephen started his Okada business. So, it was a matter of time before he got arrested by the task force and taken to the government secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja where his motorcycle was confiscated outright.

After he lost his Okada, he left Lagos and moved to Abeokuta where he got another motorcycle to continue his Okada business. Unfortunately, after about two years, armed robbers attacked him and snatched the Okada from him.

Read More: Why 'Okada' Riders, Police Clashed In Lagos

That was how, he returned to Lagos again in 2017, in search of another job.

This was the time he got to know about Max.ng, Nigeria’s first app for motorcycle transportation.

Max.ng launched in Nigeria in June 2017, as a hailing service focusing on motorcycle transportation. Like all hailing services, Max, through its Max Go service, connects motorcycle drivers with passengers through their web and mobile applications, in exchange for a 25% commission of all completed trips.

It also has the delivery option exclusive for logistics purposes.

Elisha Stephen said he had been advised to quit Okada business outright, and he considered it, after the second motorcycle was stolen.

But another friend who is also from northeast and already worked with Max, suggested he seek a job at the hailing service.

He took Stephen to the company and the rest, as they say was history.

When Bounce visited the company’s head office in Lagos, stories of people like Elisha Stephen was all too common.

There was Adamu Bulus from Pulka, Gworza local government area of Borno State, who escaped from the insurgents since 2007, fled through Jalingo to Cameroon before seeking refugee in Lagos.

*Adamu Bulus poses in his Max Go Okada

He told me, he would gladly give me his father’s land for free if I wanted it, when I asked him if he had any plans of returning to Pulka.

Bulu’s story was even more pathetic because he had once tried returning to his village in Pulka in 2014 but the insurgents attacked again, drove everyone out of the village and occupied the house he rebuilt from the money he made from Lagos.

Also Read: Okada Registration: Riders In Ondo Given Jan 19 Deadline Or Risk Impoundment

But during a crossfire with the insurgents, the Nigerian Air Force bombed and destroyed the house early last year.

There was also the harrowing story of 32-year-old Ibrahim Shuaibu who rejected the insurgent’s gun and dibiuno fruit and fled his home in Mubi North local government in Adamawa state since 2007.

His sister was also kidnapped by the insurgents and he last saw his mother on the night of the attack. Only him and his father are left alive. He had returned to Mubi in 2010 but had to return to Lagos in 2011 because of persistent attacks by the insurgents.

*Ibrahim Shuaibu posing with his Max Go Okada

Lagos now hosts thousands of those displaced by the insurgency in the Northeast. Although there are no official internally displaced people, IDP’s camps hosting them, their presence on the streets of Lagos hasn’t gone unnoticed.

And to this Lagos startup, Max.ng, these IDPs provide an abundant source of human capital, which it has decided to tap from its pool to boost its workforce.

Chinedu Azodoh who is the co-founder/Chief Technology Officer, CTO of Max.ng confirmed to Bounce News in an interview that 7 out of 10, of the over 300 drivers in Max were people displaced by the insurgency in the northeast.

“It is very unfortunate that the insurgency has happened (and is still happening). I think as a country and individuals in this country, we have a responsibility to make sure that the insurgency does not damn people for life. And that means helping to rehabilitate the displaced persons,” he said.

Read More: Okada Riders, Police Clash In Ile-Ife, Osun

Max.ng, he said “is a social impact business as it focuses on driver empowerment. This is because for our nation and continent to grow and for the economy to do better, that growth has to be across board”.

On the average, motorcycle operators in Lagos earn about 30,000 naira, ($83) daily. But on the Max.ng platform, champions (as Max Go drivers are called) such as Elisha Stephen, Adamu Bulus and Ibrahim Shuaibu earn about 80,000 naira, ($222), about 150% more than the average, according to Azodoh.

“I think about 60 – 70% of drivers who join us are homeless when they join us. Homeless can be because of the insurgency and all. And some are not homeless, but they are as good as homeless. And within the first three months of joining us, they typically become housed, because they earn enough to pay for a roof over their heads. That is fulfilling our purpose as a business,” he said.

Motorcycle taxi business is huge across Africa. According to recent statistics, over 300 million motorcycle rides valued at about $150 billion (54 billion naira) take place daily across West Africa alone.

Yet, the authorities in Nigeria, especially in the commercial city of Lagos, remain bullish about keeping motorcycles off the roads, citing environmental and safety concerns.

So, how does max.ng intend to navigate its way around the harsh regulations to build a sustainable business?

“We have to continually engage and negotiate. For now, we stick with the laws. For instance, there are kinds of motorcycles that cannot go to certain areas. And there are kinds of motorcycles that can go to those areas. So, we need to know those laws and stick to them.

*Co-founder/CTO, Chinedu Azodoh poses in a Max Go Motorbike

“Because we know that the government is restricting some motorcycles to certain areas, we also make sure that we are not actively breaking any laws. And if we are not sure about any laws, we reach out to the right people to ask,” said Azodoh.

Read More: Lagos To Re-Enforce Fashola’s Okada Law

The 100CC grade motorcycles are the type the Lagos authorities do not want. So, MAX Go offers the 200CC which the Lagos state’ ban does not apply to.

To buy peace mind for its champions and passengers, Max has now acquired fleets of this 200CC motorcycle and continuously educate their champions on the laws while training them on safety regulations.

This is imperative because the IDPs flocking to MAX Go are not attracted only by prospect of earning a livelihood but by the peace of mind they enjoy as the platform is devoid of any harassment by the authorities.

“For me the best thing about Max is that I have rest of mind. When I was driving my own Okada, I faced serious challenges on the road with touts, police and Lagos government’s task force. But now, with MAX Go, no one disturbs me on the road. I have peace of mind doing my job and earning my daily bread,” said Elisha Stephen.

Whether motos in Rwanda, boda-bodas in Kenya and Uganda or Okadas in Nigeria, motorcycle taxis are popular in Africa, and estimated at several billion dollars’ worth.

However, in Nigeria for instance, the government continues to fight and attack its existence instead of looking for a way to standardize its operations.

“If I were to sit with the Minister of Environment or Transportation, I will be telling them 2 things: One, we can increase significantly your internally generated revenue. Two, we can make motorcycle transportation in Lagos much safer.

“A lot of Okadas are still breaking the rules and they do it aggressively because if they get caught, they know the implications, so they take all sorts of risks that lead to accidents trying to escape being caught. So, we can make this mode of transportation safe and professional,” said Azodoh.

Okada seems to have come to stay especially with this type of technology application offered by Max.ng. Perhaps, MAX Go could offer the authorities the blueprint to put a structure around motorcycle transportation business in Nigeria.

This could be far better than hounding the operators off the roads and suppressing an industry capable of creating thousands of much needed jobs.

Also Watch: How Start Ups Can Break Into The Nigerian Market