Transportation business is a very lucrative enterprise for those who choose to venture into it in Lagos basically because of the huge population of almost 20 million in the city. Obviously, there are different types of transport business ranging from the popular commuter buses, yellow cabs, Marwa to the popular okada riders (commercial motorcyclists). While the Lagos State government, supported by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) is doing everything to regulate the activities of the different groups to ensure safety of Lagosians, the authorities may be doing too little regarding the popular okada. SHOLA ADEKOLA, TUNDE DODONDAWA and TUNDE ALAO explain.
A fear currently being nursed by many Lagosians stems from a sudden takeover of okada business in Lagos by minors.
Okada business, like other types of transport business, is a combination of many things ranging from maturity to experience and expertise and the awareness by the operators that human lives are involved.
Therefore, once these components are missing, man-made disasters in the form of accidents and, in the extreme, untimely deaths, may have been unwittingly invited.
Many okada riders in Lagos who fall into this group of the dangerous death mercenaries are the underage ones who have taken over the sensitive trade.
Going round many Lagos communities, okada riders, whose ages range from 14, 15 to 16 are neck-deep in the business at the expense of human lives, a situation which has become worrisome to people living in the city.
Many have blamed the influx of underage persons into okada riding business in Lagos on what they called negligence on the part of the government and law enforcement agencies.
Investigation by Saturday Tribune revealed that the majority of young people that may be classified as “juvenile” okada riders are essentially of the Northern extraction.
Many of the juvenile okada riders are found in places like Mile 12, Sabo in Ikorodu, T-Junction in Epe, Shasha, Egbeda Akowonjo, Ipaja, Aboru, Igando, among others, a situation which suggests that the source of their motorcycles may be their mentors, who are traders in Lagos.
According to Mr Richard Aladesanmi who lives on Ogunlana Street, Egbeda, “the presence of these underage okada riders is an indictment on the state and our laws regarding who should be eligible to ride okada for commercial purposes. The greater part of the blame goes to law enforcement agencies, including the police who collect money from these kid riders and allow them to continue with the dangerous job”.
For Aladesanmi, it is a taboo in his household for any of its members to patronise an okada rider who is not an adult.
Asked why he took the decision, Aladesanmi recalled an incident where one of such underage okada riders, who carried an elderly woman from Egbeda Bus Stop, suddenly lost control and injured the woman after he ran into a ditch, all because of a little distraction which, he said, a mature person would have been able to manage.
A divided association
Many okada riders spoken to about the presence of many underage persons in the business expressed worry, saying they had no power to change the situation.
Asked if the Lagos government regulates their activities, 42-year-old Musa Abubakar, an okada rider around Obanikoro-Gbagada-Pedro axis, simply replied: “We get rider’s permit from the Lagos State government. Although we are not subjected to any form of training before we get permit, we must renew it every year and pay N1,500 for it”.
He blamed the influx of underage persons into the okada business on the economic hardship.
According to him, “many of them have been constituting nuisance in the environment and we hope the government can address it. This is because they are tarnishing our image. People now see us as reckless riders, not considering the fact that these young riders don’t care about their lives.
“If you go to areas like Ajegunle, Apapa and Mile 2, you will observe that most of the okada riders there are teenagers.”
A factional chairman of an okada riders’ association in Shasha, who did not want to be mentioned, blamed lack of coordination among the various okada riders’ associations for the involvement of the kid riders in the business.
According to him, “even if we decide to take the matter to the association of the okada riders at the national level, it will not yield good fruits as the majority of the national executives have sympathy for the underage riders.
“Under this situation, we have decided to mind our own business and leave the matter to the Lagos State government and the law enforcement agencies whose job it is to determine who should use okada for commercial purposes”.
One Mr Moses, who put his age at 52 and claimed to have been in the business for over 15 years said, he was concerned that underage riders were now taking over okada business.
Where is regulatory oversight?
The majority of those who spoke to Saturday Tribune placed the blame at the doorstep of the government who they said should enforce laws guiding the age at which one could engage in okada riding business.
They cited an attempt made by former Governor Babatunde Fashola to make a law that would prohibit persons below 18 years from riding okada in the state. Under the bill then, violators were expected to pay the sum of N20,000 as penalty. Whether that bill is in place or not, many Lagosians agreed that the time had come for the state government and the law enforcement agencies to save the situation by enforcing the law banning underage okada riders from engaging in commercial motorcycling business in Lagos.
Saturday Tribune’s attempts to get the Ministry of Transport to speak on the issue yielded no results. The spokesperson, Mr Abiola Fagunwa, told our correspondent that he needed to get the official position of the ministry on the matter but he did not get back to our correspondent as of press time.