By Cosmas Omegoh and Lukman Olabiyi
On Tuesday, May 18, Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, unveiled his “First and Last Mile ‘FLM’ Bus Scheme” at Lagos House, Ikeja.
Part of what Mr Sanwo-Olu said on the occasion was that scheme is targeted at replacing hundreds of thousands of commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada in key areas of the state with brand new mini buses.
He said: “The FLM has been conceived, as the name implies, to take care of commuting between the main transit corridors and the hearts of our communities, where the bulk of our people reside and where the high capacity buses would normally not pass through. It is intended to connect various communities with one another.”
It was gathered that going by the scheme’s timetable, commercial motorcycles would be phased out in major areas of the state starting from July.
While delivering his pet project, Sanwo-Olu cut the image of a war general poised for a final onslaught.
Perhaps, the idea is the joker he needs to change the face of the city’s transportation life. Many residents would likely like it. For sure, everyone is looking to see how the scheme would work in face of the perennial chaotic traffic jam in the impassable Apapa roads, ever increasing number of residents and lots of other challenges bedeviling the city.
Indeed, the Lagos State government has been in this war with the Okada riders in the state. The state has been waging this battle to retake the city and free it from the vices occasioned by the firm grip of the Okada riders.
This segment of the transport community, a long time ago, took over the city despite spirited efforts by the previous administrations to push it back. Such drives did not yield the expected dividends. The Okada riders kept having the upper hand, often pushing the state government and law enforcement agencies back, making them look weak and overwhelmed in the eyes of the people. Perhaps this Sanwo-Olu masterstroke is the last gasp at fully and finally taming the unrelenting Okada riders.
Looking back, the Lagos State government might be able to accurately tell when, and at what point the rains started beating it. It cannot say that it was taken unawares by the Okada menace either.
Now, the government sees itself surrounded, hemmed in, and constricted by a rapidly growing army of men on motorcycles, making their daily living on the roads, doing so with a certain degree of audacity that often irritates.
But give it to the Okada riders. They help to sustain the tempo of Lagos life. They keep the wheel of business largely going fairly good by ferrying many about, helping them to get to their destinations in good time, and freeing them from the characteristic traffic bottleneck Lagos is known for. And what is more: taking residents to places available taxis and buses dare not go to.
In a nutshell, the Okada riders now command a huge and domineering presence which threatens to kill the city on all fronts even when they are also undeniably contributing to keeping lives and businesses alive.
Okada good for residents
While welcoming the Sanwo-Olu scheme, some residents have expressed doubt if it will be sustained in the face of noticeable challenges.
Mr Anthony Nwafor, a worker, while admitting that motorcycles are not the best for a city like Lagos, doubted if the governor’s scheme would survive the test of time.
“Lagos does not have great road networks that would help this scheme succeed. Some of the roads are bad; that is where the Okadas have an edge.
“I live in Ejigbo and work in Apapa. On a bad day, coming out to Cele bus stop on my way to Apapa sometimes takes up to an hour because of the gridlock. So, I rely on Okada. Once I get to Mile, (like every other person) I take Okada to Apapa because the Apapa-Mile 2 road and traffic are terrible and have been so for ages.
“On my way home, I do the same thing. And this has been the way I have been going and returning from work over the years.
“If not for Okada, how would I survive? The scheme may not succeed if the roads are not fixed, and the Apapa traffic gridlock not taken care of.”
Similarly, a staff of an insurance brokerage firm, Olawale Ilori, said that a total ban on Okadas in Lagos would spell doom for the city.
“Where would the rest of the riders who make their living from the business go to?
“Now that there are no jobs, do they realize that many graduates are riding Okada?
“Whatever anyone might say about the Okada, they are serving the city.
“Let the government devise ingenious ways of encouraging the riders, while striking a good balance between safety and maintenance of livelihood,” he advised.
Okada riders many sins
Everywhere you turn in Lagos, Okada riders are there in their unbelievable numbers. Many of them are suspected to be coming from the arid Sahel region, a good many of them foreigners. They speak no word of the English Language, only passable Pidgin English.
Just stop by at the major entry point into Lagos, you see new arrivals perching delicately atop articulated trucks. Travel weary, you see them admiring the sprawling city, which probably contrasts sharply from where they were coming from. They have their brand new motor bikes loaded in the trucks, some of them fastened expertly at the truck’s side.
On arrival, they melt into an amorphous cell. In days, they hit the city streets. A week or two afterwards, they are dug in, and continue to do so.
At every bus stop, they are massed like a swarm of gnats; in some places, they spread out like a blanket soliciting passengers. They are simply ubiquitous. They dominate the roads. Their trade mark is recklessness: they ride against the traffic, brazenly coming at you at night time with their head lamps on; they squeeze through every inch of space in the Lagos traffic with the ease of the wind. They flagrantly abuse known traffic rules. They abuse you if you refuse to yield to them an inch of space to squeeze through. If unfortunately you have a brush with any of them, you are in for a rough patch; they swarm at you, overwhelm you, out-shout you with sheer numbers; it is worse if you mistakenly hit any of them – not minding if he is at fault. They simply swoop on you, beat you and damage your car and even seize the opportunity of the melee to steal from you. You have guessed right. They are the lords of Lagos roads; that is the average Okada rider for you.
Okada as harbingers of death and crime
In recent times, hundreds of people have been killed, maimed and wrecked via Okada-related accidents in Lagos.
A man who identified himself as Mr Ozo, told our reporter that two weeks ago, an Okada man riding against the traffic was killed in Yaba area of the city while carrying three people.
“The rider alone died instantly. The rest three survived.
“The moment that happened, other riders stormed the scene and began to beat the driver. Someone had to call the police to intervene; thank God they arrived promptly.”
A health work told our reporter that at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, a particular ward was dedicated to Okada- accident victims.
Also many Okada-aided crimes are often witnessed in the city. Criminals use it as quick getaway each time they rob or harm.
Governor Sanwo-Olu attested to all that when he emphasized that they were part of the reasons his administration wanted Okada off the streets in many places.
He said: “We did this in response to two major issues: one, the alarming statistics of fatal accidents recorded from the operations of Okadas in the state between 2016 and 2019, and two, the exploitation of Okadas for the facilitation of crime across the metropolis.
“Unfortunately, these safety and security concerns have persisted, more than one year after the rollout of these restrictions. Which is why, on Monday last week, we held a Town Hall Meeting to deliberate extensively on issues of security in Lagos State, with various stakeholders cutting across the fields of law enforcement, civil society organisations, labour union leaders, royal fathers and religious bodies.
“It is instructive to note that some of the key resolutions from the town hall meeting identified various issues as being the root cause of the increase in crime rate being witnessed in the state. Notable
amongst these identified problems is the lingering menace of Okadas being used to perpetrate traffic robberies, carjacking, kidnapping, conveying arms, as well as other nefarious activities.
“In response to the growing concern over the increased rate of crime in the state, the stakeholders resolved unanimously and unequivocally to take certain key and bold steps to curb this escalating menace, and seek to restore peace and security once again in Lagos State.”
He added: “The goal is the full implementation of a safer and more efficient alternative transport solution that takes out the need for Okadas and replaces them with the FLM buses, thus curbing the incidence of Okada-related crimes and robberies.”
Unruly posture of many operators
Weeks ago in Ojo area, a suburb of the metropolis, mayhem linked to the Okada riders erupted. At least one life was lost. There were various accounts of what happened. But a source said that the riders were protesting the hike in the tariff they paid daily to operate in the area. Dangerous life-threatening weapons were freely used.
A week before, a similar incident was averted in the Iyana-Ipaja area of the city when the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Other Offences Unit attempted to seize motorbikes plying the BRT lane.
A source said that the riders, who were ready for a showdown, were heard challenging the taskforce team to come, saying: “Let them come; it is going to be total war.”
Attempts at fighting okada
Former Governor Babatunde Fashola in 2012 issued a restriction order on Okada, warning them to stay off 475 roads and bridges in the state.
He later followed up with another restriction order, forcing them to leave Ikeja, the state capital.
But the Okada unions sued the state government at the Federal High Court, Ikeja, for infringement on their members’ rights. The case was later struck out. And since then subsequent administrations in the state had continued to maintain and issue similar restriction orders.
But the Okada riders have been unyielding. Then in February 2020, the current state government ordered their restriction from six local government areas and nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) and ten major highways in the state.
Speaking last Tuesdays, Sanwo-Olu warned that he would not fail to totally ban Okada in the state if they failed to retreat to the suburbs.
“I am using this medium to restate our earlier pronouncement on the operations of commercial motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke Napeps) in Lagos State; to reiterate, all okadas and Keke Napeps are restricted from operating in the following six local government areas: Surulere, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, Ikeja, Eti Osa and Apapa.”
He also listed the nine local council development areas which include Apapa-Iganmu, Coker-Aguda, Itire-Ikate, Yaba, Ojodu, Onigbongbo, Lagos Island East, Iru-Victoria Island, Ikoyi-Obalende and
11 major highways in the state namely Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Oworonshoki-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos-Badagry Expressway,
Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa-Lekki Coastal Road.”
He added: “There will be zero tolerance for defaulting Okada riders who insist
on riding their Okadas within the restricted areas.
“We will be charging our law enforcement agencies to strictly enforce this restriction, as we will be going heavy on recalcitrant offenders who persist in flouting the restrictions.
“We will continue to monitor and assess the situation over the next one-two months and tweak our response appropriately to
ensure that ultimately we are winning the war against crime and criminality associated with Okadas.
“If we do not see any improvement, we will have no choice, but to go for a full and
complete ban on Okada activities in the state.”
Okada riders persist despite restriction
An official of Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit recently told our reporter that the agency was arresting hundreds of okada daily.
“We impound 100 bikes on the average daily,” he told Sunday Sun.
“Every motorbike seized by the agency is taken to our head office and later crushed.”
Police also enforce restriction even in suburbs
Our reporter gathered that the police are enforcing the order even in non-restricted areas just to extort money.
“They seize the Okadas from the poor riders. Some of the riders pay to free their machines, while the unfortunate ones lose theirs,” a source claimed.
A rider who identified himself as Adamu told our reporter in Isheri, a suburb of the city, that the police were always disturbing them once it is 7:00p.m.
“The moment I drop you off now, I will retire for the night. Policemen are always disturbing us here. They often come around in mufti, pretending to be passengers. When they seize your Okada, they will be demanding N5,000. How much did I make today?” he queried.
Supporting the claim, a member of Nagari Nokowa Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association (NNAMORAL), the motorcycle wing of Road Transport Employers of Nigeria (RTEAN) in Ikorodu, Lagos, decried the rate at which law enforcement officials extort their members unnecessarily.
The union members also accused law enforcement agents of aiding and abetting the commercial motorcyclists to violate the law.
One of the leaders of union, Abimbola Sarafa, accused the law enforcement agents of aiding and abetting the commercial motorcyclists to violate the laws.
Mr Akeem Esho , chairman, Ikorodu West West D, Zone C of the association, who collaborated Saraf’s allegation, pleaded with the police authorities in the state to look into allegations of extortion of his members.
“Even within the streets which the laws permit us to operate, police still run after our members to extort them; government should look into this as well. We are ready to comply with the traffic laws in the state, but we also need assistance to protect our rights,” he said.
We‘ll comply with order declares okada union
Meanwhile members of NNAMORAL Ikorodu chapter, have declared their readiness to comply with government’s order.
The transport union under the leadership of Alhaji Sulaimon Adesina Raji a.k.a Jafo Authority, who is it state chairman, declared their commitment to giving Lagosians hitch-free transportation.
He said, the union was trying its best at checking the excesses of its members, but the police were not helping them.
“As you can see, we are here to complement government’s effort to clampdown on commercial motorcyclists who are plying highways, but the police officers, who are saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the law are not ready to cooperate with us because of what they are benefiting from the violators.
“We are calling on the state government to give us support because the police have failed us,” he said.