… But this okada restriction is killing our business
By DICKSON OKAFOR
There is no end yet to the flurry of reactions trailing the recent restriction of motorcycles aka okada in Lagos. The state government had rolled out a law restricting riding of private and commercial motorcycles along designated roads, bridges and areas in the state. But commercial motorcycles operators and even some beneficiaries of their services have since been kicking against the law.
A motorcycle and tricycle dealer, Mr. Ephraim Ujumadu says the restriction is already taking a heavy toll on other businesses, which indirectly depend on okada to survive. He however commended the state governor Mr. Babatunde Fashola for gradually phasing out the ever-ubiquitous 911 buses aka molue, which before now were common features on the city’s roads. Speaking to Daily Sun Ujumadu, said the law is in bad taste. He believes it will work against the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the next election in the state.
He also believes its introduction is hypocritical as it does not provide an alternative to the services of the okada operators whose means of livelihood have been taken away leaving them with nothing to fall back on. Ujumadu noted that, the transport challenge in Lagos had worsened since then and advised the state government to do something urgent by engaging the ex-okada riders in meaningful ventures to avert an upsurge in crime.
He admitted that some okada riders were reckless and their action in the past had resulted in several accidents, but that was not enough reason to ban okada in the state, contending that there were also reckless drivers on the roads. He believes the state government ought to regulate the operation of okada riders and not to restrict them. Citing the example of developed nations with good transport system, he said those countries still allow private and commercial motorcycles to ply the roads. He blamed transportation problem in state on lack of evenly spread BRT as many areas have no motorable roads and the only means of transport in such areas is okada.
The motorcycle dealer faulted the Commissioner for Transport, Kayode Opeifa’s statement that what the state meant was “restriction” of motorcycles. He said what the state government had in mind was outright ban, insisting that it action was a ploy to get all motorbikes off the roads. He pointed out that the state government knew that outright ban of motorcycles in Lagos was a wrong decision.
And now, that is not going down well with populace. Speaking further, Ujumadu said the state government couldn’t convince Lagosians that restricting motorcycles from plying major routes was not an outright ban. He gave some instance: “Everywhere in the world, even in advanced countries you see motorcycles plying the roads. You will agree with me that even if motorcycles are not used for commercial transport services, people can purchase and use them to commute to work.” He said when government restricts motorcycles to the kitchen how can those who cannot afford a car get to their offices considering the transport challenges commuters face in Lagos?
He insists that “the decision doesn’t go down well with Lagosians particularly those of us in motorcycles business. I don’t know whether they want us motorcycle dealers in the state to engage in illegitimate businesses since the state government has not made any provision for people who are in the trade before enacting the law.” He further admitted that that some okada riders are reckless and irresponsible but stated that many drivers too are worse because they are reckless.
Ujumadu affirmed that the state government shouldn’t have said that only motorcycle accident victims abound in the hospitals, contending that if Lagos state government was sincere that the ban was for safety reasons, it should have provided alternative means of livelihood for the operators.
He cited the example of Benin Republic, where over 70 percent of the people depend on motorcycles and now they have “created a separate lane for motorcycle users. It is different from the lanes used by cars and vehicles. “The state government, before contemplating any ban, ought to have introduced the BRT in major areas to enable commuters get vehicles to their destinations.
If there were dedicated lanes for BRT, motorcycles ought to have their lanes too. “Let Governor Fashola encourage the use of motorcycles as means of transportation. Let him make it safer by dedicating a lane for okada riders and if okada operators refuse to use it, they can be apprehended and penalised. “But from what obtains now, I fear that it’s like they want Lagos to be only for the rich, as they are systematically edging out the poor.
“The number of okada operators in this city is in the region of 1millions. Lagos State Government cannot create one million jobs to absorb these people and now that they have succeeded in forcing them into the labour market, I imagine what is going to happen in this festive month.”
An okada rider Aliu Musa told Daily Sun that “The politicians engaged us during the last electoral campaign and even provided us with branded helmets to make our operation safe. We in turn assisted them to win elections.
At a time, the state government even asked us to buy rider’s card and the money went into government coffer. “We paid through the nose to purchase rider’s card the other time to enable us ply the roads. Was that not an authority to operate? It was like the state government after using us, turned round and banned us from operation.” While appealing to the government to repeal the new law, Ujumadu, said: “We all know that there is no good system of transportation in Lagos State unlike in the Western countries where things are much better – you dress up in the morning and ride your bicycle or motorcycle to the nearest bus station, park the bike at the bus station and join a bus to your office. “Now that okada is banned from plying major roads, how do people get to BRT stations? Of course, we all know that BRT does not cover 10% of Lagos routes.
BRT only plies Ikorodu road to Lagos Island, Mile 2 to CMS, Oshodi to CMS. What then happens to commuters in the other areas of Lagos? How does the state government expect Lagosians to move from their homes to the BRT stations when there are no okada?” However, he praised the governor for his tact in “systematically phasing out the molue buses that once were dominant features on Ikorodu to CMS and other major routes in the state.
He also praised the state government for the good job it did by not banning molue buses and for providing BRTs as alternatives. He said if the government had restricted the molue, their owners could have withdrawn their services from the areas they operate.
He urged state government “to borrow a leave from Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, who summoned all okada operators in the state to a meeting and told them to surrender their motorcycles to the state government and got cash equivalent to start a new life. “But in Lagos, it’s a different kettle of fish. All of a sudden, government began to confiscate all the motorbikes without minding what happens to their owners and their source of livelihood. Of course, they have families and responsibilities. Some of them are graduates who are not supposed to be okada riders but were forced into the trade because there are no jobs for them.
But instead of government to encourage them, it came up with an unpopular law and now, it is now confiscating motorcycles even when the individuals that gave them the loan to purchase the bikes are waiting for their money. So what next should they now do? “The Commissioner for Transport Mr. Opeifa said in a television interview that the state government asked the okada operators to enroll and be trained in other trades but only five so far have come forward. If truly there is a place where those people would be trained and empowered, I tell you, millions of them could have dropped their okada and enrolled immediately,” he added.