Despite ban, okada mobs kill, maim in Lagos

•Police, union leader trade accusations, Gani Adams fires warning

OLALEKAN OLABULO and SUBAIR MOHAMMED examine the growing menace of okada riders whose operations are supposedly outlawed.

DESPITE the total ban placed on the operations of commercial motorcycles, popularly known as okada, by the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as the coronavirus pandemic ravages Lagos State, the operators are not only indiscriminately operating everywhere, including major highways, they also maim and kill at will and it appears they are getting away with multiple crimes.

The recent mob attack and eventual killing of Edo State-born and Lagos-based businessman, Yamah Usman in Elepe, Ikorodu, has once again brought to the fore series of violent attacks on innocent citizens and passengers being perpetrated by motorcyclists in the state. The killer-riders who disappeared into thin air immediately the broad daylight crime was perpetrated are reportedly wanted by the state police command, with the spokesperson, Bala Elkana telling Saturday Tribune in an interview that arrests have been made, not only for the Ikorodu murder but for some other crimes allegedly committed by the banned riders.

“Investigations have commenced. We have made some arrests. I cannot disclose everything to you so as not to jeopardise our investigations but what I can tell you is that investigations are ongoing and we have arrested some suspects,” Elkana said.

Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, was also quoted to have ordered a full-scale manhunt for the killer-motorcyclists who stoned Yamah to death for allegedly hitting someone with his car and trying to flee the okada mob that eventually took laws into their hands and ended his life.

Elkana further told Saturday Tribune that it is illegal for any okada to operate in any part of the state, let alone organise mob actions and exact jungle justice. Although Saturday Tribune findings showed that in areas where policemen are not collaborating with the operators to circumvent the ban, the riders have found ways to beat checkpoints, including the backstreets where they were initially confined to before COVID-19 spread in the state forced a total ban on their operations. “Their (okada riders’) actions are illegal and unacceptable,” Elkana said. He disclosed that a massive clampdown had been declared on commercial motorcycle operations in all parts of the state. He also said the police in the state had made some arrests in connection with some recent mob actions by okada riders. The police image maker said: “Already, there is a massive clampdown on commercial motorcyclists in all parts of the state as a result of the directive from the state government to curb the spread of COVID-19. Their operation is illegal and unacceptable. The commissioner of police in the state, Hakeem Odumosu, has deployed adequate personnel to some of the places, where these people still operate. Okada is not allowed in any part of the state, according to the directive of the state government.”

 

Union tackles police

Apart from crimes associated with commercial motorcycle operations, Saturday Tribune identified absence of any kind of database for motorcyclists operating in the state, as hindrance to prompt crime busting by the police and other security agents, when the riders go on the rampage.

Chairman of the Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State (MOALS), Alhaji Kazeem Hassan, didn’t deny that his members are still on the road despite ban but dissociated them from the suspected killer-motorcyclists, noting that every member of MOALS has a valid means of identification. Describing the Ikorodu mob attack which led to the death of the businessman as inhuman and unfortunate, he said: “It is so sad and inhuman. Many of these riders from the North are full of senseless behaviours. They exhibit attitudes similar to animals’ when on the road riding. How on earth can an innocent citizen be stoned to death? Yes, the man accidentally hit someone with his car but the man he hit survived, while he was killed. Our members are not killers. They don’t engage in dastardly and criminal acts. Lagos State is a very large city where economic activities thrive and this is responsible for the increasing number of visitors to the state on a daily basis.

“But as okada riders’ population is on the rise, we know and identify our members. Our members have identity cards with which the public can easily identify them. We not only know our members, we have also instructed them on how to behave and interact with other road users and passengers. Therefore, they cannot take laws into their hands.”

He added: “All MOALS members have identity cards. They are all registered with a motor park and a unit and branch so as to know where they belong. In case of an accident or commission of crime, we can easily trace perpetrator to the unit. There are other people like the military, police and other law enforcement agents and residents that work and use okada for both business and personal reasons. This set of people constitutes a large number of okada riders in Lagos State. And okada riders whose owners are military or police personnel are prone to flouting the laws because they believe that they are covered with the status of their bosses. The mob that killed the businessman in Ikorodu is not MOALS members. They are not card-carrying members of our association. As I said earlier, our members are law-abiding citizens and if they have any grievances or scores to settle with anyone, they report such to our secretariat and we take them up. They don’t have such powers to take laws into their hands. As of today, I am the state chairman of the okada riders’ association. We have zonal, branch and unit heads. The state sells the identity cards to the zone which in turn sells to the branch for transmission to riders at the unit level. This identity card is renewable every year.”

Incredibly, the state chairman, who coordinates the registration of the riders, doesn’t know the actual number of his members. He said: “We don’t know the exact membership strength of MOALS in Lagos State. This is because the number keeps increasing every day. More people are joining the okada-riding trade daily. However, on the zonal level, it is possible to know the population of okada riders in each zone.”

 

Our ID cards are useless –NURTW member

Contrary to claims made by Hassan, a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Jakande Estate, Isolo, who pleaded for anonymity said crimes are easily perpetrated with okada because riders operating in the state are not properly profiled. He stated that okada riders in the state operate using rider’s permit which is issued by local government authorities of the environments where they operate.

He said: “No okada rider has personal identity card with which to identify him in case of crime commission or accident, except those among them that work as ‘agbero’ and at the same time operate okada. MOALS issues its identity cards to its toll collectors and not okada riders. This is partly responsible for the confusion over identifying who does what. Hausa okada riders are more in number than other tribes in Lagos State. They are crude in their behaviours toward passengers. In fact, they unleash terror at the slightest provocation. Although their number is reducing due to the restriction on okada operations, they are nonetheless responsible for many of the crisis on Lagos roads.”

Responding to the allegation of kidnapping and armed robbery along the axis, he said: “We have not seen or heard cases of kidnapping or armed robbery in Jakande Estate for a very long time. My neighbour’s daughter was waylaid on an okada and taken away to their hideout where she was dispossessed of her valuables and even instructed her to go home and bring her parents’ belongings. The trend is fasting growing along Jakande Estate and Iyana Ejigbo.”

 

A victim’s story

okadaA lady who almost suffered similar fate as relayed above shared her experience on social media. She says: “Today I was about to board a keke headed to Ilasa from Jakande Estate, Isolo. Suddenly, a guy tapped me from behind and I shunned him. He left but immediately he did, another came. I thought he was a passenger just like me only for him to threaten me, saying if I didn’t want to die I should go and apologise to the guy, that I was flying their colour. Being rude while trying to understand what was happening, he lifted his shirt and showed me something that looked like a gun. I froze. This was about 1pm in broad daylight but I was scared stiff. I went to apologise but then a third guy appeared, saying he was the number one of the cult and that didn’t I know there was a cult war going on in that area; that I was an informant. He accused me of calling someone. He asked me to walk with him. I made sure to stay close and in sight where people could still see me. I was shaking at this point. Confused and helpless, I unlocked my phone, showed him my call log and messages.

“While all this was happening, he was signaling the other two guys who started everything, then I realised they were about six, positioned in different places but close. I got even more scared at this point, begging and crying that I was sorry, that he should let me go. He said I shouldn’t cry or panic that I was safe with him. He was making phone calls asking them not to shoot me that I wasn’t the one. While all this was happening, people were passing, going about their businesses. I felt helpless.

“Then he made a statement that made me realise that they weren’t cultists but kidnappers. He said that I was going to see a keke drive by and park; that I should enter it (and) that I would be safe. That was when I realised I was in even more danger than I thought.

“After he said that, something woke up in me and I realised I had only a few minutes to either save myself or that was the end. The supposed number one guy turned to signal the guys and I made a run for it. I crossed the road without looking. I ran as fast as I could, crying. I was too scared to stop or tell anyone. I kept running until I got to my friend’s shop at Jakande gate, told her and her boss what just happened and they tried to comfort me. I was scared and in shock. I am still in shock. I’m sharing this so ladies can be aware. I have never experienced such. Ladies, please, be careful, especially when you are alone, whether day or night. Lagos isn’t safe. May God continue to keep us safe. I’m grateful to be here to tell this story. It could have been something different.”

 

We recovered weapons, ammunition from impounded okada –Task force

Head, Lagos State Task Force, Taofeek Adebayo, said most of the armed robbery attacks and other forms of criminalities in the state are carried out on okada. Speaking with Saturday Tribune, Adebayo said that that realisation was the major reason the state government imposed a total ban on their operations.

Reacting to the illegal operations and allegation of armed robbery attacks along Jakande Estate in Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, he said: “With the situation on the ground as regards the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lagos State government has placed a total ban on the activities of okada riders across the state. So, those okada riders you see riding and dropping passengers along the road are operating illegally. We are closely monitoring their illegal activities. I want to state that we impound nothing less than 60 to 70 motorcycles on a daily basis across the state. A study conducted by our team revealed that many of the robbery activities, both day and night, are perpetrated by okada riders.

“Recently, around Second Rainbow, along Oshodi-Isolo Expressway, we went for a raid. You won’t believe that in some of motorcycles we impounded, we found weapons and ammunition. This is why we are appealing to members of the public to desist from patronising okada riders. When we received report such as this from the public, we go after them. We raid them from one local government to another. Let me send a note of warning to the dispatch riders who have turned their motorcycles to commercial. We are tailing them. They should desist from such an illegal act because if they are caught, their motorcycles will be impounded as well.”

 

Aare’s warning

The Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams, while reacting to recent increase in mob attacks by motorcyclists, described it as “unacceptable and illegal.” He called on law enforcement agencies to rise to the occasion, noting that such actions are capable of igniting ethnic clashes and loss of lives and properties. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) boss also called on residents of areas where the incidents took place to follow them up legally and ensure that the culprits are brought to book.

Adams said: “Actions like that are illegal and unlawful. They are mob actions which must not be encouraged by the law enforcement agencies and anybody. People must not be encouraged to take law into their own hands. Actions like that are capable of causing ethnic crisis that may lead to loss of lives and destruction of property, especially when the people feel that law enforcement agencies are not up and doing. It is not fair to be in another person’s land and still treat the person unfairly. Anybody who commits any offence, criminal or traffic, should be handed over to the police for proper investigation and interrogation. People should not take laws into their own hands.”

Also lending his voice, a trader at Jakande Estate, Chigozie, said apart from a robbery attack on a customer who came out of a commercial bank located in the estate, he was yet to hear of any other crimes in recent time. The reason for this, he said, was because the entire environment is secured by members of the OPC. “Therefore, there have not been cases of armed robbery attack and kidnapping. But one issue that residents are battling with is that of okada riders who disobey government rules by operating and riding against traffic and causing accidents in the process. Most times, reckless riding by these okada riders is due to policemen who insist on arresting them for violating the restriction rules,” Chigozie said.

When Saturday Tribune visited the area, it was observed that apart from an army of stranded commuters who endlessly await commercial buses to their various destinations and an intense traffic gridlock, synonymous with the T-junction road in Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, Isolo, in Ejigbo, okada riders were seen doing their usual dangerous meandering to beat the traffic bottleneck. Another common feature of the axis is the sight of street hawkers who scramble to sell various items such as car accessories, snacks, bottled water and other domestic items to passengers who are trapped in the traffic build-up. For this category of hustlers, traffic congestion is a blessing as it translates into huge trading activities for them. At the heart of this, however, are traffic officers, LASTMA, who are stationed daily by the pathway to ensure sanity is restored to the road.

 

They have proved to be above the law –Security expert

Top security expert and crime reporter, Juliana Francis, while speaking on the menace, described the riders as a gang of powerful people who most times are above the law. The top security expert said: “The truth is that these cyclists operate like gangs and most gang members are bullies and because of their numbers, they attack, maim and even kill, believing they would get away with it. Many of them are armed. Operating as a mob makes them fearless and a force to reckon with. I have spoken with policemen who admitted to being afraid of them. In their parks, the ticket collectors are also scared of them. The power is in their ability to mobilise once any cyclist from the north is perceived or imagined to have been hurt. They are also so organised that they have a community leader, usually a seriki who is always ready and willing to be at any police station to take their bail.”

She added: “They are mostly bailed without reprimand, naturally making them to feel invincible. I have also been told most times that if a police station or command is proving difficult, a call would come from Abuja. That’s something to chew on. What is the connection between a powerful faceless entity in Abuja and a cyclist? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps, the saddest aspect in their modus operandi is that if you are the offender, you’re doomed. If they are the offenders, you are still doomed. It is a no-win situation for the target or prey, but a win-win situation for them. No motorist can win when confronted by a mob. The slaps, kicks, stones and sticks come from different angles and they are blinding and paralysing. Tragically, it is easier to kill under the umbrella of a mob and then tell yourself that you were not the person that killed but the truth is that you are a murderer because you were part of those that attacked.”

 

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