In May 2019, SafeBoda entered the Nigerian market and in December 2019, there were reports that the company would launch in Ibadan and not Lagos. The decision to bypass Nigeria’s commercial capital was surprising.
At the time, the bike hailing wars in Lagos were in full swing. Gokada, MAX and ORide were competing for the attention of millions of motorcycle-hopping Lagosians.
In the end, SafeBoda’s decision to sidestep Lagos has proven to be brilliant in hindsight. In 2020, the Lagos state government’s new regulations on motorcycles crushed the mobility sector.
At the SafeBoda training facility in Ibadan, a bike rider who has come to collect his helmet and jacket is sitting through training. He complains that the training never seems to end.
It has taken SafeBoda three months to launch its operations, two months behind schedule. In December 2019, the company said that operations would start in January 2020.
SafeBoda is treading with caution
In the months before operations started, company officials told me that they were having conversations about where to launch. Ibadan with its population of 3 million and a government which is signalling that it is pro-business was their eventual choice.
Sango, a city in Ogun state, as well as Akure, the capital city of Ondo state were also cities they considered.
It is important to consider that Ibadan already has the presence of OPay’s bike hailing service, ORide. It might have signaled to SafeBoda that Ibadan has an addressable market.
Yet, the company proceeded slowly. It carried out surveys and spoke to focus groups as they continued to train riders who showed interest in joining.
The trained and registered SafeBoda riders pick up their helmets and jackets at the training facility. But they’re concerned about how they will get customers. At the moment, SafeBoda has not started to advertise, relying on word of mouth for the 100 riders they on-board this week.
At the facility, riders report different problems and the country manager, Babajide Duroshola and his team are working out the kinks. But they are optimistic about what SafeBoda can achieve here.
Regulatory certainty in Ibadan
Olumide Akinsola, the company’s head of marketing and customer acquisition told TechCabal: “We are in conversations with the state government and they are clear on what they expect from us. They want us to focus on safety and have records of the riders on our platform.
Some government officials came to some of our training sessions”
Unlike Lagos, the Oyo state government has opened their arms to bike hailing services and there is nothing to suggest that this will change soon.
The government’s stance is giving hope to mobility players, with MAX.ng launching in Ibadan on February 26, promising competition in the industry.
The city lead for MAX.ng in Ibadan, Musibau Lasisi told TechCabal: “For Lagos, the government says motorcycles are not in their original master plan. But in Ibadan, the market allows it and the government is clear”
It is another nod to the fact that favorable regulation will be important to sustaining the mobility sector.
In the end, one thing is clear, with three major mobility players in Ibadan, it is set to be the next front for Nigeria’s bike hailing wars.
Editor’s note: Olumuyiwa Olowogboyega reported from Ibadan, Oyo State in Nigeria.