BOLA BADMUS and SEGUN KASALI dug inside the information trough to present residents of Lagos with the thinking in government circle on the coming war against the ubiquitous commercial motorcycle operation, otherwise known as okada.
AS residents of Lagos State wait eagerly on the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration on the promised new law on commercial motorcycle operation in the state, Saturday Tribune has exclusively learnt that about four major options are being considered.
One of the options is a total ban, as confirmed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso.
Despite operating on restricted and regulated basis, the operators of the commercial motorcycle, popular known as okada, have become a major traffic issue for the state government to tackle in recent time and the renewed efforts to keep their operations within the existing regulations have led to clashes between law enforcers and the okada riders.
On Monday, a commercial motorcyclist was killed while operatives of the Special Task Force attempted enforcing the law banning motorcycle at a location in Ikeja, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. The death of the yet-to-be identified okada rider sparked instant violence as his colleagues accused the task force officials of killing him while enforcing the restriction law.
The image maker of the task force, Taofeek Adebayo, however, denied that operatives of the agency killed the motorcyclist, saying that he was trying to escape when he was hit by an oncoming vehicle. Adebayo, who described the activities of okada riders along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway as an “eyesore,” said the agency impounded 21 motorbikes during the operation.
The angry motorcyclists created panic as they barricaded part of the road with bonfire, creating a long stretch of gridlock on the ever-busy road.
It was gathered that trouble began when the task force officials invaded Ikeja on Monday morning to enforce the restriction of motorcycle movement on the road. As the okada riders were trying to escape from the policemen attached to the task force, it was learnt, one of them was hit by a vehicle and he reportedly died in the process. Some of his colleagues escaped from the scene, while the task force impounded motorcycles of some unlucky riders. The policemen were about leaving, according to reports, when the motorcyclists reinforced and blocked part of the expressway with their motorcycles, accusing the task force officials of killing one of them and protesting with bonfire on the road, causing a serious traffic jam.
The task force spokesperson, in further defence of his agency’s involvement in the crisis, stated that “it was after we had left that they started their protest and by then, we had already impounded 21 motorcycles. The Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and other roads have become eyesores as a result of the activities of okada riders. No responsible government will fold its arms and allow that to continue. We will continue to enforce compliance on that place and other places.”
It appears that the state government has now had okada up to its neck and is now gearing up to take more decisive actions on what has become a necessary evil in the state’s transport sector. Sanwo-Olu, a few days ago while speaking at the Blue Roof on the premises of LTV8, Alausa, Ikeja, in celebration of his government’s 100 days in office, disclosed that his administration was putting in place a new policy on the operation of okada on the state’s roads. The new policy, which he didn’t spell out, is coming against the backdrop of the perception that the operators of okada have in recent time turned their business into a major threat on the road, forcing the state government to take a second look at how sanity could be brought back into their operation in the state.
The number of okada now in Lagos has grown tremendously in spite of the fact that agencies such as the Lagos State Task Force under the control of Mr Yinka Egbeyemi has kept impounding them nearly on a daily basis from those who contravene the traffic laws originally put in place by the administration of a former governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola. Findings showed that there is no reliable data on the number of okada operating in the state and as witnessed recently with the controversial case of the 123 Jigawa boys who came into the state with 48 motorcycles for the same okada business. Many new operators cite joblessness, tough economic environment, among others, as reasons for taking to commercial motorcycle business.
A divided city?
Since Sanwo-Olu hinted at a new regime of operational law, residents of the state have been expressing mixed views about their expectations. While some are expecting a total ban, others are looking to see a strict enforcement of the law limiting the okada business. For instance, a responder who works in one of the agencies involved in the enforcement of laws in the state said he was for a total ban on okada business in the state. He maintained that from observation, the operators were not prepared to obey the law, while the number of okada in the state kept growing at an alarming rate despite their impoundment almost on a daily basis and their operators punished according to the law.
The responder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also expressed worries about the level of criminality that was being traced to those who are into the okada business: “I want outright ban of okada in the state because there is no way they can be properly controlled to bring sanity to our roads in the state.”
Another source in the state’s Ministry of Transport disclosed that the government was looking at properly regulating the activities of the okada operators and ensuring that they operate much like the elite O’Pay and Gokada, through which it could enforce the laws and generate revenue. “Right now, they are unorganised and don’t pay taxes. They only pay various dues to their unions which do not get to the government’s purse,” the source said.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Omotoso, who spoke by telephone with Saturday Tribune, said his boss made his intention known about the new policy on okada operation in the state but never elaborated on it because he was still going to consult with stakeholders and debate what they bring to the table before rolling out the new policy.
According to the commissioner, residents are equally divided on what should apply with some in support of an outright ban and some others expressing comfort with a better regulation that would bring about sanity on the state’s roads. “That is why he said it was new and never elaborated because we are going to debate it. Everything he does is debated. He said that he was going to consult stakeholders; he would ask everybody.
“Some Lagosians (residents) don’t want okada at all. There are others who want them but want to see them regulated. Those who don’t want to see them just feel that they are involved in crime and so many other negative things and that there are accidents on the roads. If you get to Igbobi (National Orthopaedic Hospital), you will find so many people dying all because they rode on okada. So, they want okada banned.
“There are others who feel that nobody else can do the kind of logistics job that these guys are doing, considering the traffic situation in Lagos. They say that if you put a vehicle on the road to go and deliver a small parcel, it doesn’t make sense. They say what the government should do is to regulate their (okada operators’) activities, enforce the law. They should not ride on the highways. They should not overload their okada. They should ensure that the laws are enforced. So, the thing is being debated.
“There are others who feel that to stop them from crimes, they should be registered; that every okada rider operating in Lagos must be registered and come under a formal association. So, there are so many issues that are going to be considered. He said the policy is coming. It is going to be debated,” he said.
Our thoughts –Residents, riders
Obasanjo Madiba feels a more stringent regulation would not do it for him. “I feel it is not a good one, considering the nature of the state when it comes to traffic congestion. I have a car but I resort to okada when the traffic seems to be nothing to write home about. So, I think banning okada will not help solve the problem of traffic in the state but compound it,” the resident said.
Another resident, Tunde Jimoh, sees it from another angle. He said. “It is so annoying and irritating that people’s livelihood will be taken away from them all in the name of a mega-city that doesn’t exist. In advanced countries, adequate provisions are made for things that affect people’s lives such as this okada issue. Everyone hops on okada to arrive at important events, interviews and the likes in time. So, why do this and not attend to the real issue?”
Habeeb Sanni isn’t a fan of the regular okada: “Well, change must happen for us to experience development. They are really causing nuisance in the streets of Lagos and it has to stop. There should be order in a mega-city and as such, companies like Gokada, O’pay still make more sense on our highways, while the local ones should be restricted to inner roads or banned completely.”
There are also residents like Bode Ojewande with ambivalent opinions. Ojewande said: “It (coming policy, particularly possible outright ban) has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it will reduce crime but a disadvantage is that many people will lose their livelihood.”
Ojewande’s sympathetic concern for the operators is hitting home with Ade Ishola, popularly known as Baba’beji, an okada rider in the Somolu axis. An angry Ishola said: “If they want to ban it, they must ban others, too. Partiality should not be a factor in the policy. If they do not ban the others, too, we will still be doing it and be settling policemen. It is nonsense because there are no jobs anywhere. For instance, I am a painter but job doesn’t come often. I had to resort to riding okada so that I can fend for my children.”
Rasheed Imam, an okada operator within the same Somolu axis, expressed doubt about the readiness of the government to proscribe their operation. According to him, the authorities would rather further restrict okada operation to certain areas. “They have been saying it (outright ban) but there has been no concrete action taken. Even if they want to place such a ban on okada, they will only restrict us to some areas. That has been the narrative from government to government,” Imam said.
A motorcyclist in the Bariga area, Aminu Shehu, stated that a proscription was not expected to be carried out because there were no job opportunities for youths. “This is what we have been using to help ourselves and families. This is what has been helping us to shun all forms of criminality,” Shehu said.
Chukwudi Eze, who claimed to ply the Surulere axis, was convinced that the problem was all about lack of focus on the part of the government. “For me, it is called lack of focus on the part of the government. Impacting policies are expected to be churned out, not proscription of okada. Is that what their focus should be on when there are so many issues to be dealt with in the state? It is annoying that they are thinking of this without thinking of how they can help the masses to come out of penury, suffering, discrimination, neglect, rejection and all manner of social crises,” Eze said.
Chukwudi’s colleague in the area, Ekezie, urged the state governor to come to their aid as there would be no means of sustenance once okada was taken away from them. He said any possible ban must not be total.
Solomon Disu, operating from the Ojota end, said the government should proscribe the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) for indiscriminate collection of dues rather than think of banning those who are working hard by riding okada. “I am sure that I am speaking the minds of every okada rider in the state. Our expectation from the government is to help us stop unnecessary collection of levies by the NURTW, not banning of our operation. We expect the governor to toe the path of his Oyo State counterpart by proscribing NURTW in Lagos State. I know the amount of money I would have been taking home daily if not for the NURTW dues we pay at our parks,” Disu lamented.
Attempts at speaking with the leadership of the okada riders in the state did not yield much fruit, given the current leadership crisis rocking the NURTW. Because of the affiliation, the okada leadership said it would wait on the central body in the state to officially speak on the controversy and the likely coming policy. Saturday Tribune was, however, informed in confidence that the state government was yet to consult with the okada riders’ leaders on the options being considered on their operations and their inputs also not yet sought.
The caretaker agreement leading to the acting NURTW chairmanship of Mr Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as Oluomo, is still causing ripples in the state transport sector, particularly among the unions’ stakeholders.
Based on the extant transport laws in the state, okada is partially banned. Restriction was placed on the operators, alongside their tricycle counterparts, not to operate on 520 roads in the state, including Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, Lago-Abeokuta Expressway, Babangida Bouleverde, Eti-Osa-Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor road and Eti-Osa-Lekki Coastal Road.
Bridges not open to them include Iyana-Ipaja, Dopemu, Airport-Ikeja, Agege Motor Road/Oshodi loop, Mushin/Isolo link bridge, Third Mainland, among others.
Saturday Tribune, however, observed that most of the arrests made by the task force so far have been on the restricted roads, while okada riders have also been seen taking a one way and plying restricted areas in full glare of enforcement agents like the police.
Alhaji Inuwa Abdullahi, the chairman of the dry cargo section of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners, declined comment when contacted by Saturday Tribune.