Sympathisers wailed uncontrollably on Wednesday January 31, at the scene of an accident on Kara Bridge, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. A commercial motorbike operator, popularly called okada, collided with a truck on the bridge, leaving four persons dead, including a three-year-old child.
The accident occurred at about 8am when the truck attempted to avoid running into another vehicle. It then swerved and hit the okada, which was carrying a woman with a baby strapped to her back. The head of the truck was detached and plunged into the Isheri River below the bridge with the driver and his assistant. The baby and the okada rider died on the spot due to the heavy impact, while the mother sustained heavy injuries. The truck driver and his assistant also died.
The Kara accident is just one of many. The unrelenting abuse of Lagos State traffic laws by okada riders and the seeming failure of law enforcement agencies to curtail their recklessness is raising many puzzles that are seeking urgent answers. The menace of this class of road users constitutes a nagging headache to Lagos commuters who have for long been condemned to deal with it. Reckless and lawless motorcyclists have dispatched many to their early graves and left others with varying degrees of injury, including permanent disability.
Each day records many fatal crashes involving the deviant riders and other legitimate road users. Residents who ply the city’s many roads are increasingly tired of the menace of okada riders operating with sheer recklessness. Many of the city’s dwellers cannot but wonder if government operatives will ever restrain the motorbike operators. Some residents even accuse the autjorities of compromise, which has slowed down the execution of the war against the operators on unauthorised routes.
A driver with a drink distribution company in Ikeja, Mr. Ayo Adeayo, told the reporter that some okada riders in the city operate with the guts of the gods and flout traffic rules with impunity. He said there were other riders who were completely unaware of road signs. He pointed out that safety was alien to many of them, which he attributed to the reason they operate as if they have an urgent date with death.
Despite the fact that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had, on several occasions, read the riot act to the riders, warning them to stay off the restricted routes on expressways, bridges and elsewhere, hundreds of them ride their bikes at top speed against oncoming traffic, honking like devils on a special assignment. And menace of okada riders has remained untamed. With little or no training or experience, they come from every part of the country to have a bite of the opportunity that abounds due to the surging population in Lagos. Efforts by various administrations to instil discipline in them and achieve decorum have not recorded appreciable success.
Investigations have shown that these acts of unbridled impunity take place more on the popular Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Mile 2-Badagry Expressway, Agege Motor Road, Ikorodu Road, and some other roads they had earlier been banned from. When the riders hit the road, nothing stops them. They ride with some sort of gusto that no one can actually explain. They take risks and make money at the expense of human lives, including theirs. Most people who commute on those roads have sad tales of okada riders to tell.
In 2012, former Governor Babatunde Fashola signed the Lagos Road Traffic Law, 2012, which banned the operations of commercial motorbikes on at least 492 of the 9,200 roads across the state. The ban was as a result of series of criminal acts and accidents in the past. Several armed robberies were said to have been smoothly carried out using motorcycles.
Some of the prohibited routes are Lekki-Epe Expressway, 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.
Many are of the opinion that, since Ambode came into office, motorcyclists have returned to the restricted roads, wreaking havoc, without much response from security operatives. But the state government had, at different times, announced the crushing and recycling of thousands of commercial motorcycles that it had impounded.
A journalist with one of the national dailies, Victoria Enuma, said it was unfortunate that the state government’s occasional threat to clear commercial motorbikes was nothing but blowing hot air. She said the failure of the government to totally get rid of okada riders and to maintain sanity on the roads often leads to avoidable fatalities.
Fashola had emphasised that the measures were taken to protect Lagosians and he reminded the operators that the laws were not new as such but had been in existence without enforcement.
Many residents say it is worrisome that virtually all the rules and regulations guiding motorcyclists’ operations in the permitted areas have been flouted by the riders. Some of the rules that clearly demand 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 to their backs and not riding against traffic have totally been shunned by the defiant riders.
In November 2017, a motorcyclist plying the wrong way and facing oncoming traffic from Iyana-Ipaya axis to Oshodi rammed into an oncoming commercial bus near Cement Bus Stop. Though the rider and his two passengers (male and female) survived the crash, they were all badly wounded.
On October 10, 2017, a commercial motorcyclist and his passenger sustained varying degrees of injuries when the bike collided with a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) bus. The incident occurred at Idera Bus Stop, near Mile 12, when the okada man took the BRT lane. The bus was moving towards Mile 12, while the motorcyclist, coming from Ikorodu, tried to cross the lane but he was not fast enough.
It was gathered that some hoodlums, sympathetic to the victims, went for the bus but they were quickly dispersed by mobile policemen and the victims were rushed to a nearby hospital. The security agents also prevented a total breakdown of law and order at the scene, as the bus was saved from being vandalised.
Also on the Ikorodu/Mile 12 axis, the incident of February 25, 2016, might not have been totally forgotten. It was the day an okada rider was crushed to death by a BRT bus at Agric Bus Stop. The rider, who was plying the BRT lane, was trying to evade arrest by the monitoring team of the BRT when he ran into the bus that was in motion. With his skull crushed by the tyres of the vehicle, the man’s brain was splashed all over the road.
In their usual habit, colleagues of the motorcyclist, who were enraged by the way their comrade was crushed to death, took the law into their handsm, barricaded the road and vandalised the BRT bus.
On April 27, 2017, a trailer crushed an okada rider to death in the Isolo area of Lagos. The tragedy, which stirred emotions and aroused pity, occurred at Daleko Bridge, inward Isolo.
According to the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency’s (LASEMA) investigation, the okada rider, identified as Biliaminu Olayiwola, was trapped and crushed under a trailer while trying to make a U-turn.
On July 4, 2016, a commercial motorbike operator and his passenger were crushed by a LAGBUS on the Anthony-Oshodi Expressway. The duo died on the spot.
In 2017, Lagos State recorded alarming statistics from okada accidents, as released by the state general hospitals, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Lagos University Teaching Hospitals and the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, which has a special ward dedicated to victims of okada accidents.
There were said to be more than 2,500 cases attributed to recklessness on the part of okada operators.
The reporter, moving around some of the restricted routes in Lagos, witnessed almost zero enforcement and compliance with the traffic law. It remains the usual chaos and lawlessness. Even in the scorching sun on Monday, February 5, at Oshodi, it was business as usual for the okada operators. They were all in the heat of their act, soliciting passengers heading to Ladipo Spare Parts Market and Mushin area.
Under the bridge at Oshodi, every evening and into the night, okada operators, civilians and uniformed men pose on their bikes, yelling different routes to potential customers.