There was a bit of trouble recently at one of the more recognisable companies competing in the bubbly micro-logistics scene in Nigeria’s undisputed commercial nerve, Lagos.
“The pilots all came to the office, more than 600 of them, and caused a scene at the office, ranting on the streets up to the point that outsiders and neighbours had to wade in.”
The statement quoted above came from an individual familiar with the recent disturbance that transpired at the Lagos-based bike-hailing startup-turned-last mile courier delivery service, Gokada.
The said individual spoke to WeeTracker on condition of anonymity, and that statement has been corroborated by several other sources who are close to the company, who say that the “quarrel” between Gokada and its pilots happened on Thursday, 18th February 2021.
When contacted, Gokada Operations Manager, Victor Daminabo, did not admit to any kind of disturbance sparked by disgruntled riders (which Gokada calls “pilots”) at the company’s offices recently. But he did reveal the following to WeeTracker:
“We had some tech issues from our payment partners recently that resulted in riders coming up to our office to get these payment issues resolved.”
But the view from sources who witnessed the incident and are familiar with the matter is quite different.
So, really, what happened at Gokada on Thursday, February 18? Well, there seems to be a unanimous view from everyone else but the company’s officials that there was quite a ruckus at the company on that day.
Sources say a large number of pilots stormed the premises in “angry mode,” determined to make a scene big enough to get Gokada’s management to listen and walk back a new payment structure which they find unfavourable.
“The remittance was increased. Then, later on, Gokada started charging customers commission and the pilots receive the commission which is different from the payment for the trip. Gokada then requested a share of that commission. The riders wanted all of the commission without sharing,” said one source.
“So now, many of them are owing commissions and some of them are owing remittances and what happened was these owing pilots had their app blocked by the management,” the source added.
This is believed to have sparked outrage among the pilots who came together in their numbers, showed up at Gokada offices on that Thursday, and unleashed some pandemonium.
When Gokada President, Nikhil Goel, spoke to WeeTracker last year in an exclusive interview that offered a first look into the company in the first 3 months after the tragic demise of Gokada co-founder, the amiable Fahim Saleh, he revealed that the company had made great in-roads in deliveries since the infamous “Lagos Okada ban” crippled passenger bike-hailing.
“At least, one of three delivery guys in Lagos is a Gokada delivery,” Goel had claimed at the time. He also said the company had around 500 pilots doing thousands of deliveries daily and was looking to add an online food delivery vertical to its offerings. GShop, as it calls its food business, is now operational in parts of Lagos.
For the purpose of information, Gokada has since abandoned the hire-purchase model it had adopted during the bike-hailing period – when pilots would remit a fixed amount of NGN 4 K (USD 10.47 at current rates) daily and eventually own the bike they work with.
As of when Goel shared his thoughts in October last year, Gokada was essentially renting its motorcycles to pilots for around NGN 2 K (USD 5.24) per day, with some of its pilots assigned to its numerous partners while others simply attend to incoming orders.
However, Gokada increased the daily remittance to NGN 3.5 K (USD 9.18) one month later.
“The last increase in remittance was in November 2020, after ensuring our rider earnings have increased with no further increases since then,” Daminabo says.
Then On February 1, 2021, Gokada implemented some changes such that the company added a commission of NGN 100.00 to every trip.
“For trips that are supposed to cost NGN 900.00, for instance, Gokada charges the customer NGN 1 K. The pilots are to remit a commission of NGN 100.00 on each trip in addition to the standard NGN 3.5 K that every pilot has to pay as daily remittance for the gigs that the Gokada platform makes possible, as well as for using its bikes and maintenance facilities,” said another source.
“Many of the pilots refused to remit the NGN 100.00 commission on each trip while choosing to only pay the NGN 3.5 K fee. So management took action by blocking those who had refused to pay the commission from using the platform. This affected up to 80 percent of the Gokada pilots and that was why they stormed the office on that day,” the source claims.
Even though the pilots may have constituted quite a nuisance on that day, Daminabo maintains that no damage was done and the whole episode was a misunderstanding that could have been avoided if not for communication gaps.
“We implemented some changes on 1st February which our riders asked us to review, while we sit and plan a longer-term solution. We couldn’t call all our riders together for a meeting due to COVID restrictions and for safety reasons, so we spoke to a few long-term riders and asked them to share the information with all. We also sent messages to all riders throughout that week (through WhatsApp, in-app messages, push notifications), but not everyone seemed to get this message. This led to a small gap in communication which has now been resolved,” says Gokada’s Operations Chief.
Daminabo also maintained that Gokada didn’t move to block any of its pilots who, as the company says, are its “key priority with whom it has established a strong working relationship over the years,” and has supported through tough periods like the bike-hailing ban and the Covid situation.
“Our system runs daily checks and if pilots owe above a certain threshold, the app is blocked. As soon as a rider clears any outstanding payments, the app is automatically reinstated. This system has always been in place and all our riders are fully aware of it,” says Daminabo.
“We had some tech issues from our payment partners recently that resulted in riders coming up to our office to get these payment issues resolved. All the payment issues have been resolved with those that were affected and our system has been fully restored,” he reiterates.
By all accounts, it appears operations are going on as normal at Gokada after the recent unease. Gokada says it remains committed to maintaining an atmosphere where “team members and riders strive to operate as a cohesive unit,” and that the matter has been quelled.
As Daminabo puts it, “We always sit down to discuss any arising differences in opinions so we can work on finding a solution together. That’s one of the major reasons why our pilots have been with us since 2018, because they are more than riders and part of the Gokada family.”
As things stand, the company seems to have shelved the commission remittance that was at the heart of the recent brouhaha while seeking an alternative approach that works better.
“We have always believed in our riders keeping 100 percent of their earnings and don’t take a commission. The remittances we charge are part of the contract, which goes towards running costs. We are currently testing some new options on the app which don’t burden pilots or increase remittance at all while allowing Gokada to generate alternate revenue streams,” Daminabo notes.