In an act that has graphically exposed the ugly, intolerant and violent behaviour of commercial motorcycle operators, otherwise known as Okada riders, commercial activities were disrupted in some parts of Lagos State recently. Property, including commercial buses belonging to the Lagos State Government were vandalized in the orgy of violence unleashed by the Okada riders.
At least two persons were reportedly killed in the rampage. The Okada riders were protesting the enforcement of the State’s Traffic Law banning their operation in about 475 roads in the state. The banned routes include expressways and bridges and all dual carriage ways in the state. The Traffic bill which was passed by the State House of Assembly was officially signed into law by the State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, on August 12, 2012. Contravention of the Traffic Law attracts penalties such as heavy fines, impounding of the affected vehicle or motorcycle.
The culprit faces the risk of prosecution and imprisonment on conviction. But the Okada operators have joined issues with the state government regarding certain provisions of the traffic law. They have claimed, among other things, that the Law as it concerns their operation is harsh and deliberately targeted to put them out of business. Meanwhile, the operators under the aegis of All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA) have filed a suit before a Lagos High Court against their restriction.
But the government has toughened its stand on the restriction order, as the governor insists there is no going back on it. He defended the need to regulate the operation of the Okada riders. He cited the high and troubling accident statistics in the hospitals which he says attests to the menace of the activities of the operators. The restriction, the governor said, was for public good. In a somewhat tougher tone, the state House of Assembly has threatened an outright ban on the Okada riders throughout the state if its members continue to be lawless.
According to the Speaker of the House, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, if the destruction of government property by the Okada riders continues, the legislature would have no option but to outlaw their operation completely throughout the state. There is no doubt that Okada as a business venture has, for some years now, become an integral part of our transport system in both urban and rural areas across the country. Even though it has become a means of livelihood, there is no denying the fact that the Okada riders have become a menace to the society.
A lot of people have been killed, many others maimed due to reckless driving. Besides, a good number of them have assisted armed robbery operations or indeed are armed robbers disguised as Okada riders. Notwithstanding their services to the society, the reckless manner of some of them and their alleged complicity in crimes have prompted many states to ban their operations. Lagos however, is just few of the states in the country where their activities still flourish despite the risk they pose to those that patronize their services.
Taking the law into their own hands as the members did recently in Lagos, vandalising property and aggravating the traffic situation in the state, clearly show how far the operators can go to put the lives of innocent people in harm’s way. We are therefore in support of the current measures to regulate their activities and bring some sanity in their operations. All over the world, government exists primarily to protect lives and property and ensure that no member of the society or group flagrantly flouts the law.
We are in agreement with Governor Fashola that “the only way to stop the business of Okada riders from flourishing is by not patronizing them”. No doubt, some measures might appear harsh and even unpopular. Such may be the case with the current action of the Lagos state government to regulate the operation of the Okada riders. As a matter of fact, some tough decisions are known to have, in the end, benefited the society. Therefore, the law must be enforced to make that happen.
Nonetheless, we urge the Lagos state law enforcement officers to demonstrate a high sense of responsibility in the implementation of the traffic law. Beyond that, we also advise the state government to fix the roads and make them motorable. It is largely because most roads in the state are inaccessible by vehicles that many are now forced to patronize Okada riders.
This is the time for the Okada riders to look for alternative ways to earn a living.