Until about 10 years ago, motorcycles in Nigeria were exclusively Japanese makes, mainly Suzuki and Kawasaki. And then, only those earning above the average per capita income could afford to own one.
However the situation has changed considerably since the arrival of Chinese motorcycle brands in Nigeria, especially Jincheng.
This motorbike is so cheap that almost every family can afford to own one, and most of them do.
Jincheng motorbikes are not only cheaper, but are also durable and easily maintained. It seems there are now almost as many Jincheng motorbikes in Nigeria as there are bicycles in China.
This development contributes a great deal to easing the transportation problem in the country.
It is not unusual to see people travel between towns separated by more than 100 km on motorbikes.
In most towns and cities motorcycles are used for commercial transport and are the preferred means of transportation in areas with bad roads or heavy traffic.
Through this means of transportation millions of unemployed youths in the country have been gainfully employed.
In fact, some established transporters have several Jincheng motorbikes, which they hire out to drivers on a daily basis.
The returns for both the owner and driver are fairly good, such that after a few months the driver can afford to buy his own motorbike. This has led a general improvement in the standard of living.
Accompanying the influx of Jincheng motorbikes into the country are the motorcycle mechanics and spare-parts dealers.
However, the rapid surge in the number of motorbikes in Nigeria is not without its disadvantages.
The most obvious is the astronomical increase in the rate of road accidents and the number of people with body deformities due to motorcycle accidents.
The emergency and orthopedic wards of many hospitals are filled with motorcycle accident victims.
This increased number of road accidents is aided by the fact the roads have not been expanded to cope with the increased number of users. In addition, some commercial riders are known for being rather reckless.
The most serious consequence of the increased use of motorbikes in Nigeria is the toll it is having on the interest of youths in artisan work.
Many school dropouts often seek jobs as commercial motorbike riders because it is easy money, rather than learning a skill, which would provide them with an income for life.
More worrisome is the fact that many previously established artisans have also left their skilled jobs to join the commercial motorbike business.
The situation is so bad that it is now fairly difficult to get an artisan to do a job of good quality at reasonable price and delivered on time.
If not controlled urgently, the country runs the risk of a serious shortage of skilled manpower in the very near future.
Clearly concerned about the situation, Nigerian governments at local, state and federal levels are moving against commercial motorcycling.
It was banned in the federal capital city of Abujia in 2006, and the government in partnership with private investors introduced several luxury buses and taxis to ease the transportation problem in the city.
Last month, the legislative assembly of the Edo State in the mid-western region of the country moved a motion to ban commercial motorcycling in its capital city, Benin.
The motion was adopted by the house but was followed by violent protests by the concerned motorcyclists who feared they would be left jobless.
In Lagos, the commercial nerve center of Nigeria, commercial motorcycling is banned in certain parts of the city and between 7 pm and 6 am throughout the city.
The signs are that in the near future commercial motorcycling will be restricted to only very remote areas inaccessible to other vehicles. This would drastically reduce the number and use of the motorcycles in the country.
This should send a signal to Jincheng and other motorcycle manufacturers in China to start researching the production of other vehicles to better suit the situation in Nigeria.
The design should catch to the state of roads, weather condition, transportation pattern, family structure and basic requirements for vehicles in Nigeria. On this basis Chinese companies and investors can employ more Nigerian engineers and other professionals.
The author is with the Department of Animal Science in the Faculty of Agriculture at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria
(China Daily August 17, 2007)