SINCE the use of commercial motorcycles crept into the intra-city/town commuting space, it has burgeoned to become a significant component of the transport system across the country. The advent of commercial motorcycles, also known as okada in local parlance, and in particular its acquisition of prominence as a means of commercial transport in the country, was occasioned largely by a downturn in the domestic economy, culminating in a mismatch between demand and supply of intra-city transport. In other words, okada riders actually came in to fill what was supposed to be a transient gap or shortfall on the supply side of the transport system. Unfortunately, the challenge has become a permanent one because the country’s successive leaderships and economic managers have failed to institute an appropriate response mechanism as a result of outright incompetence and lack of foresight. And the consequences have been huge and intolerable compromises on safety and security of life and property.
A Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) under the Lagos State Police Command, Kazeem Abonde, was killed recently in Lagos by hoodlums while enforcing the ban on okada by the Lagos State government. The government of Lagos State had placed a ban on the use of commercial motorcycles on certain routes in the state because of the recklessness and lawlessness of the riders. However, the ban was being observed in the breach by the knaves and the law enforcement officer who sought to ensure conformance to the law was brutally murdered! By carrying out such a heinous crime, the okada riders would appear to be sending an unequivocal message to the constituted authorities to stop intervening in their ignoble activities or checking their excesses and lawlessness. Could that be because the cyclists have become a law unto themselves? Perhaps that is their thought, but it is up to the government to demonstrate that they are wrong and that it is willing and able to maintain law and order.
Across the country, okada riders have become a menace, constituting veritable danger to themselves, their passengers, road users and other members of the community. The picture in Lagos is a terrible one: they are everywhere constituting a menace and giving a dangerous indication of a breakdown of law and order. A peek into the hospital admissions, especially in the orthopedic section, will reveal a preponderance of cases of motorcycle accident patients with broken limbs. But ironically, it is customary to see the riders manoeuvre through traffic in extremely dangerous ways that tend to give the erroneous impression that they are immune to any form of error or accident.
A particularly concerning aspect of okada riders’ life that may require the extension of social research is their unparalleled predisposition to violence. They are like tinderboxes waiting for a spark of fire to explode. The riders are, indeed, an angry mob: they don’t give a damn. They behave like a bunch of mindless folk who believe they are already men of very low estate who have nothing further to lose. They almost always operate outside the precinct of rationality, taking the concept of esprit-de-corps to the realm of absurdity and lawlessness. For instance, each time any of their members has an issue with any other road user, the other road user must be the guilty party irrespective of the circumstances that occasioned the issue. Albeit worrisome, it is common knowledge that if a car inadvertently hits a motorcycle or vice versa, the car owner is in veritable danger of being mobbed by okada riders.
The reality is as terrible and preposterous as that. They have embraced the labour union mantra of “an injury to one is an injury to all” hook, line and sinker, without a duty of care to verify how the injury was caused: whether or not such injury was self-inflicted or their member was actually the one that injured the other party. Commercial cyclists are also reputed for loathing car owners with passion, and it is yet difficult to fathom why they hate them with a venom as if every car owner was responsible for their station in life. They have no scintilla of regard for the society and its rules. And like any frustrated crop that can be called upon to do any crime, they are often less than rational in their judgment and actions. But unfortunately, their suboptimal judgment and actions impact the lives and well-being of others outside their members and families and, as such, the society cannot and should not just allow them to continue to have a field day.
The foregoing variants of lawless dispositions of commercial motorcyclists are in addition to other acts of criminality like armed robbery, assassination, banditry, insurgency and terrorism to which motorcycles and their riders are deployed by criminals. And that is because motorcycles tend to come in handy as a means of getting away quickly from the scenes of crime by felons, especially in an environment that is busy or not motorable. It is axiomatic that okada riders have outlived their usefulness as the good they do is by far outweighed by the avoidable menace they constitute to the society. Since okada riders are products of an unproductive economy, official efforts must be accentuated to steer the economy in the direction of productivity. It is important that the absorptive capacity of the economy is such that can accommodate the inevitable influx of the current okada operators sooner or later.
The use of commercial motorcycles for transport is retrogressive and the riders are lawless. It is time, therefore, that the municipal governments across the country began to consider phasing out the use of commercial motorcycles. They should collaborate with private sector investors to bridge the gap which a ban on okada will leave in terms of unease in intra-city transportation and unemployment. Lagos and other states or cities that have phased out the use of commercial motorcycles should strictly enforce the law and ensure that any breach of the law is promptly and adequately punished. The killing of CSP Abonde should be thoroughly investigated, with the killers apprehended and made to face the wrath of the law. The country is already contending with an intolerable level of pervasive lawlessness and it can ill afford the spike in insecurity and reduced safety that the activities of okada riders tend to engender.