Okada riders dare Sanwo-Olu, ply prohibited routes

•Govt seeks help on ban enforcement •We make more money on prohibited routes —Riders

BOLA BADMUS, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE, DAYO AYEYEMI and SYLVESTER OKORUWA tracked the audacious return of okada to restricted routes.

OKADA riders in Lagos have returned to routes from where they were previously banned by the government and the authorities appear to be running out of ideas on how to enforce the restriction placed on their operations in the state.

On February 1, 2020, the ban went into force, but more than nine months into it, the law is not only being breached but the ubiquitous riders are growing bolder by the day and calling the bluff of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his enforcers.

Taofiq Adebayo, spokesperson to the state Task Force empowered to implement the restriction law and enforce the ban, confirmed to Saturday Tribune on Wednesday that the riders had returned to routes where their operations are outlawed, adding that the menace they posed to security and safety, was also staring everyone in the face again. He said: “They (okada riders) are not complying at all. We are still raiding them on the restricted routes across the state.”

On the options available to the state government to ensure compliance, he said: “The solution is for members of the public to support us by not patronising them on the restricted routes. If they don’t find passengers, they would not ply their bikes on those restricted routes. That is if members of the public can do that for us. Then let all the unions – both the NAMORA and MOAS – come together as a task force to start raiding them (MOAS is under the Union of Road Transport, while NAMORA is under the Road Transport Employers Association). You know, if they see that the associations themselves are ones coming out to also do the raiding, they would not be able to resist, as they are their members.

“And the restriction is not punitive; it is corrective in nature because it is for their safety. That is why the Lagos State government has to restrict them from plying highways and bridges in the state. It is for their safety and that has reduced drastically okada casualties in government hospitals. So, these are the areas we are looking at.”

 

Helpless government?

Thursday last week, a worried state government convened a stakeholders’ meeting at the seat of power in Alausa, to seek a way out of its helplessness in enforcing its law and just like Adebayo suggested, it still turned to the unions for succour. The meeting was consequent upon a violent faceoff between increasingly courageous, law-breaking okada riders and officers from Adebayo’s office who ran into a storm with the riders while trying to enforce the restriction law.

Before then, a dangerous pattern was already emerging with repeated violent clashes between the Task Force officials and the riders, with the former regularly suffering casualties in form of wounded personnel and damaged operational vehicles.

Reading what he termed Riot Act to the unions’ representatives, the Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladeinde, declared that the game was over for the recalcitrant riders, adding that the partial ban was still in force as well as the sanctions for violating the law, as stipulated in the Transport Sector Reform Law (TSRL) 2018. “I say the game is over because in the last few months, we have witnessed lot of security and safety challenges apparently as a result of the activities of unscrupulous okada riders who do not only violate the provisions of the Transport Sector Reform Law of Lagos State 2018 with respect to restriction to areas of operations but perpetrate crimes using their motorcycles,” he said.

The commissioner expressed displeasure over the flagrant violation of the TSRL 2018, explaining that Governor Sanwo-Olu was committed to ensuring better traffic flow. He added that it was disheartening for people to go against the law.

The restricted routes, according to the state government, are spread across six local governments and nine local council development areas, including Apapa, Lagos Mainland, Surulere, Ikeja, Eti-Osa, Lagos Island, Onigbongbo, Ojodu, Ikoyi-Obalende, Iru-Victoria Island, Lagos Island East LCDA, Apapa Iganmu, Yaba, Itire-Ikate and Coker-Aguda.

In attendance at the meeting were representatives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), RTEAN, Motorcycle Operators Association Lagos State (MOALS) and Nagari Nakowa Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Lagos (NNMORA). From the government’s end were the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr Oluwatoyin Fayinka; General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Mr Olajide Oduyoye and Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Segun Ogungbemile. The Commissioner of Police and the chairman of the state Task Force were represented.

 

Turning a deaf ear?

The okada riders have continued to break the law even after the unions’ leaders had been told of the displeasure of the government.

Speaking on a radio programme, an okada union official in the state, Gboyega Kayode Fasoku, said those found to still be violating the rule were not members of their association, maintaining that those recalcitrant okada riders did not have the identification cards of the union. According to him, members of the union, which he belonged, would not be found plying restricted routes, driving against traffic or breaching the traffic law as they are well-guided on what to and not to do.

But whatever the status of the law-breaking commercial motorcyclists is, the fact remains they have been unyielding in their illegality and even the unions that the state Task Force is relying on to help catch them in the act are only pontificating while distancing themselves from the lawless ones. As corroborated by Adebayo, even after last week’s “Riot Act” from the authorities, many okada riders are still doing their businesses on the restricted routes, with little or no disturbance from law enforcement agents.

They are still plying restricted routes in Ikeja on the popular Obafemi Awolowo Way, Kodesho Street around Ikeja Under Bridge and Nurudeen Olowopopo Street, and they do this in the full glare of security men who simply look the other way.

Saturday Tribune could not establish if police personnel were still disgruntled over the raw treatment they received at the hands of protesters during the EndSARS bloody campaign and refusing to catch culprits breaking the state’s laws or they were simply in cahoots with the lawbreakers.

Saturday Tribune also found that the situation was not different in the Berger and Ojodu areas of the state where okada now occupy the whole stretch, up to BRT Bus Stop along Berger- Ogba Road. It was equally noticed that they usually drive against traffic once they pick their passengers going to Isheri and other places along the same route. Similar situations were also observed on other reserved corridors in the state by Saturday Tribune, with the most surprising being Ikeja, the state capital and seat of power.

 

All fury?

In January, when Gbenga Omotoso, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, was announcing the decision of the state government to implement the partial ban as a precursor to a blanket ban, he was all grit and glee. He was confident of the success of the project and painted a very scary picture of the compromises the presence of the riders was causing the state and her people. He said: “From 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone. This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as at date. The rate of crimes aided by motorcycles (okada) and tricycles (keke) keeps rising.  They are also used as getaway means by criminals. Therefore, after consultations with stakeholders, the State Security Council, in compliance with the extant Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, has decided to commence enforcement of the law.”

In an exclusive interview, he had said of the post-ban discomfort: “You cannot make omelet without breaking egg. There are so many things that the government has seen that it cannot begin to say because security matters are not issues one can begin to talk on the pages of newspapers or on the radio. Don’t forget, this is the first stage of the action which covers six local governments and maybe to test waters so that the people will see that the government is serious about its expectations.

“You see, there is no way you can take this kind of action and it wouldn’t affect people one way or the other. But we see what people are not seeing. It is beyond the traffic nuisance they constitute, or the fact that okada is not part of Lagos journey that we have embarked on, or that some people are using okada to earn a living. It took the government about two months to reach the decision. We had advocacy for them but they won’t obey the law.”

 

Determined to break the law

The riders are really snickering at the governor. Apart from the city-centre, they also operate freely on Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, especially from Oshodi to Sango Toll gate passing through Airport, Ikeja Along, Iyana-Ipaja, Abule Egba, Ijaiye and Alakuko, among other major bus stops, on the axis. While they carry passengers towards the direction mostly in the evening, at about 5.30 p.m., when people are returning home from work, they do same on the opposite direction in the morning when people are going to work.

The corridors, at those periods, often witness heavy vehicular movements with many commuters, not minding going by okada and paying three times the fare charged by bus drivers for same trip. The riders ply mostly the BRT corridors and at times one-way, bearing two passengers at a time with none wearing helmets, contrary to the law.

Saturday Tribune observed that neither the presence of policemen nor that of LASTMA officials who usually station themselves at Iyana Ipaja, Dopemu Under Bridge, Ile Zik Intersection, Ikeja Along and neaby National Filling Station, was deterring them. Before now, many rode on the corridor with fear.

Okada riders and tricyclists also ply Agege to Ikeja Along and Ikeja Inside and also within, up to Alausa Secretariat, which are prohibited routes.

Some of the riders who spoke to Saturday Tribune said they made more money plying prohibited routes. They said what they made per trip and within a short period equaled what they made from numerous trips of many hours within communities. One of them who refused to give his name said he was aware of the fresh onslaught against okada riders after the EndSARS protest but he was careful enough not to be caught. Another who lives in Sango Ota said he worked in Mushin and only carried passengers on his way to work in the morning and while returning in the evening, adding it is a waste to go without carrying passengers during trips. He charged between N800 and N1, 200 per passenger from Alakuko to Oshodi and vice-versa and carried two passengers for an average of N2,000 per trip. He settled local government officials and touts. He said riding okada on highways was a decision between staying hungry and making money in a risky manner.

 

Okada forever?

Saturday Tribune’s survey showed that the popular Obafemi Awolowo Road and other adjoining streets around the state secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja, were not spared by the riders. As of Wednesday, some of them were seen assembling on the popular Olowopopo Road at Secretariat Bus Stop, in flagrant disobedience to the ban. One of them said no one could dare them due to the last EndSARS protest. According to him, everyone knows that the country is in recession with high unemployment rate. “So, we must work. We too have bills to pay. Why must government ban okada from juicy locations and highways where you can get good money at the end of the day?” he said. While he was being interviewed, a couple of policemen passed through the location with the riders betraying no anxiety.

Also, from Yaba to Iddo to Idumota on Lagos Island, okada riders were seen plying their trade unhindered, driving against traffic on the popular Eko Bridge. When approached and asked why okada were allowed to ply major highways despite the ban, two neighbourhood officers with the state government directed Saturday Tribune to the office of the police Task Force, Governor Monitoring Team at Alausa, saying they were in the best position to respond. At the office, an officer named Daniel said the senior officers who could handle such requests had gone out on a special monitoring exercise.

He disclosed that some reporters came to the office on the same issue last Tuesday and were answered. “As you can see, our senior officers have led other teams on monitoring and enforcement tours on this same issue. So we are on top of it,” he said

Also due to the ongoing construction works on Ikorodu Road from Ketu to Ojota to Maryland and the resultant traffic snarl, many commercial motorcycles were on Wednesday seen between Ketu, Ojota and Maryland on the Ikorodu Expressway doing brisk business. They mostly used the BRT corridors and carried two passengers, contrary to the state’s traffic law.

 

To avoid arrest, they speed

They charge N200 per passenger from Ketu to Ojota, making N400 for two. It is N300 per passenger from Maryland to Ketu. Most of the riders claimed they had no certificates to seek employment and had to resort to the risk on the highways to survive. Admitting they were taking a huge risk to make money, some said they planned to quit once they made enough to start a business. “We don’t have rest of mind but we have to survive.” they chorused.

 

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