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‘We’ll keep plying restricted roads, bridges’
By Job Osazuwa
It was about midday on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. In spite of the scorching sun, a sea of human heads moved here and there at Ile-Epo Bus Stop in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, seeking transportation to different destinations.
On the expressway and by the bus stop, scores of commercial motorcycle operators, better known as okada, rode their bikes against oncoming traffic, honking like possessed beings, speeding like men running late on an appointment with death.
In Lagos, the menace of okada riders has remained untamed. Efforts by various administrations to instil discipline in them and achieve decorum have been largely unsuccessful. Their total disregard for traffic rules would bewilder anyone.
Commercial motorbikes have been prohibited from plying some major highways and bridges in Lagos State, but that has not deterred the riders. On every road and bridge, they still operate with utter recklessness.
Lawlessness seems the general creed for okada riders. Whenever there is a dispute between a commercial motorcyclist and a motorist, other riders quickly queue up behind their colleague. And they, most times, assault the motorist.
Recently, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State seemed to have taken a renewed step to enforce the ban on commercial motorbikes on restricted roads and areas in Lagos. It is a move that has received wide applause as well as criticism in some quarters. While some saw the decision as anti-people, others saw it as very positive.
In 2012, former Governor Babatunde Fashola signed the Lagos Road Traffic Law, 2012, which bans okada on at least 492 of the 9,200 roads across the metropolis.
The ban was not unconnected with the series of crime and accidents that had occurred in the past. Several armed robbery cases were indisputably carried out effortlessly with the aid of motorcycles.
Unfortunately, today, the okada riders are yet to stay off the restricted roads, even as their ferocious impunity stares all in the face.
Some have argued that banning commercial motorbikes would render thousands of youths jobless. They pointed out that the okada business has provided many with jobs, serving as the only means of livelihood for many families, helping them to tackle the biting hardship in the country.
Others have, however, countered such arguments. Such people maintain that, before the emergence of okada for commercial purposes about two decades ago, youths were gainfully engaged in more productive economic ventures. They further argue that okada, as a profession, has done more harm than good, because most of the youths just hire a bike and burst onto the roads without any training. Many have lost their lives in such instances.
Fashola had emphasised that the measures were taken to protect Lagosians. He reminded the operators that the laws were not new as such but had been in existence without enforcement. He said government was ready to embark on full implementation.
Some of the prohibited routes on Lagos Island include the entire Lagos Central Business District, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, Awolowo Road, Bourdillon Road, Gerard Avenue, Alexander, Osborne, Alfred Rewane roads and CMS.
In Lagos Mainland the no-go areas are the entire stretch of Funsho Williams Avenue, Eko Bridge, Apongbon, Murtala Muhammed Way, from Jibowu to Yaba, Oyingbo, Iddo, Idumota and Ikorodu Road up to Ikorodu Town roundabout.
Others are the entire stretch of the Third Mainland Bridge from the Toll Gate, Badagry Road, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the entire network of roads around the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Awolowo Road, Mobolaji Bank Anthony Road down to Maryland junction, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway/Agege Motor Road, the stretch from Moshalashi to Oshodi, and Abule Egba, and practically all bridges in Lagos.
It is worrisome that virtually all the rules and regulations guiding their operations in the permitted areas have also been flouted by the riders.
For example, riding with valid rider’s licence; wearing standard crash helmets; not carrying more than a passenger; not carrying pregnant women, school children and women with babies strapped on their backs and not riding against traffic have totally been shunned by motorcycle riders.
Due to the recklessness of okadamen, records show that within five months in 2016, Lagos witnessed more than 3,000 road crashes, out of which okada accounted for 75 per cent. It was gathered that the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, has a special ward dedicated to okada accident victims.
A Lagos resident, Mr. Ogunbi Adepoju, commended the efforts of government in trying to tame the unruly riders. He related how he narrowly escaped death last year while the rider of the okada conveying him was trying escape police arrest.
Many believe that, since Ambode came into power, motorcyclists have returned to the restricted roads, wreaking havoc, without much resistance from security operatives.
Worried by their activities, the Lagos State government recently announced plans to crush and recycle over 4,000 commercial motorcycles that it has impounded.
Briefing journalists at the Olusosun refuse site in Ojota, the Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said the clampdown on okada across the state was part of government’s resolve to address the security concerns posed by their operations.
He said Ambode had directed that the police and other security agencies should redouble efforts to ensure the law was strictly complied with, assuring that the clampdown would be sustained vigorously on a daily basis.
“We now have a total of about 4,000 bikes ready to be crushed. The law made provisions on how those motorcycles should be handled and the law also made provision on how to handle those that have flouted the law itself,” Owoseni said.
The commissioner added that, apart from impounding the motorcycles and tricycles, the enforcement would also crack down on the operators and their passengers, adding that mobile courts would be instituted to try offenders.
A worker at the Olusosun dump site, in his late 40s, told the reporter that it wasn’t the first time the motorcycles were being recycled.
“The motorcycles were brought here and the government has decided what to do with them. It is simply a factory process. This is not the first time such will be taking place, especially when the motorcycles are many. They have to separate the parts for different purposes. For example, the seat and tyres are detached, and aluminium is not expected to be melted together with iron,” he said.
Why we won’t leave prohibited roads
Mr. Chris Odunze, a motorcycle rider operating from the Motorways Avenue axis in Ojota, said the only step that could convince him that the governor of the state was serious with the restriction law would be when there was full enforcement on everybody, in spite of the rider’s position in society. He said the task force officials had been carrying out selective ‘persecution’ in their enforcement.
Odunze said: “Soldiers and policemen use their motorcycles for commercial purposes, but nobody arrests them. Security agents are supposed to be the first sets of people to take the law seriously, but the opposite is what we witness in Lagos. Then the same task force officer will be happy to seize the okada of a jobless Nigerians. This jobless rider could also be a graduate. I consider it an act of wickedness and a ploy to make the poor poorer and the rich richer. They will seize the motorcycle and the next thing you hear is that it is taken to Alausa.”
Another rider, Ekong Bisong, said he had spent 10 years in Lagos, working first as a security officer at a biscuit company before opting for the okada business when he lost his job five years ago.
He said the task force had seized two motorcycles from him in the last three years but that would not deter him from buying another one to continue the trade.
“I enjoy riding on the expressway because it pays better. During rush hours, I charge between N400 and N500 from Toll Gate to Oshodi. If I do four trips in the morning, I’m okay till evening. There is no part of the mainland that I don’t ply, particularly when my customers pay well. I will be the last person to stop it because it is the source of livelihood for my family.
“However, if I secure a decent job that can pay my bills, I will quit because, as a degree holder, I’m not proud of the trade,” Bisong said.
A young man who identified himself simply as Ope, said he usually bribes his way through, as he plies the prohibited Lagos-Abeokuta Road. He claimed that he had been lucky since the task force men renewed their war against motorcycle riders on restricted roads.
Said he: “Anytime they arrest my okada, I give them N200, but most of them refuse it, claiming it’s too small. There was a time I paid N1,500 close to Ikeja Along. They made sure they retrieved all the money I had in my pockets. I thank God that I had up to that on that fateful day, or they would have taken my okada to Alausa.
“So, if they continue to accept bribes, I might remain in the business. I learned how to repair motorcycles, but since the arrests started, my customers began to look for something else to do, which is bad business for me. That is how I started riding okada some years back.”
When another rider at Ile-Epo was asked why he was flouting the law, he became very upset: “Why can’t you go to Oshodi and ask a soldier the same question and see if he will not flog you thoroughly. Rubbish! It is only people like us you would be asking different senseless questions.”
The angry okada rider zoomed off to continue “business,” as usual.