By Job Osazuwa
Activities of commercial motorcycle riders in Lagos State have, for years, given many motorists, commuters as well as other residents goose pimples. On many routes in the state, the riders see themselves as kings of the road displaying total disregard for traffic rules and for other road users.
Residents who use the okada, as it is popularly called, to beat the perennial traffic congestion in many parts of the state literally choose between life and death while the journey lasts.
Lawlessness seems the general creed for the riders. One tradition among them, as testified to by many residents of the state, is that whenever there is a dispute between a commercial motorcyclist and a motorist or a passenger, other riders quickly queue up behind their colleague. And they, most times, overwhelm and assault the helpless motorist or commuter.
On virtually all the expressways and other busy roads in the state, commercial motorcycle operators have, over the years, been notorious for riding their bikes against oncoming traffic, honking like possessed creatures, speeding like men running late on a date with death. Nuisance might just be apt to describe their operations.
In Lagos, the menace of okada riders has remained untamed. Efforts by various administrations to instil discipline in them and achieve some measure of decorum have been rudely rebuffed. Their total disregard for traffic rules would bewilder anyone. In fact, many of them have no idea what traffic rules are.
Apparently perturbed by their gusto and immedicable recklessness, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu on May 18, banned commercial motorcycle operations in six local government areas (LGAs) in the state. The ban, which takes effect from June 1, will be total and indefinite, according to the governor.
The six local governments listed by the governor are Ikeja, Surulere, Eti-Osa, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, and Apapa. He gave out the directive to the Commissioner of Police, Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) at the State House in Alausa, urging them not to compromise in carrying out the order to the letter.
From June 1, there will be a sweeping enforcement of the Okada ban in all the listed councils and LCDAs.
The ban came days after Okada riders mobbed and lynched a young man in the Lekki area of Lagos State over N100 balance. It was learnt that the victim, who was a sound engineer, was lynched and burnt to death after a misunderstanding ensued over the N100 balance with one of the commercial motorcyclists.
Sanwo-Olu has directed that the police and other security agencies should redouble efforts to ensure the law is strictly complied with, assuring that the clampdown would be sustained vigorously on a daily basis.
The news didn’t go down well with the riders. Just after the ban, many people were reportedly injured as commercial motorcyclists clashed with the police in the Ojo area of Lagos. The commercial motorcyclists were reportedly resisting the enforcement of the ban on their operation by the Lagos State government.
It was gathered that policemen from the Onireke police station, Ojo, impounded some motorcycles and took them to their station. The motorcyclists reportedly mobilised themselves and attacked the police station in an attempt to release the impounded motorcycles.
Policemen in the area shot sporadically into the air to disperse the motorcyclists who also attacked the policemen with stones and other weapons.
It wasn’t the first time that the state would be restricting the activities of commercial motorbike operators in parts of the state. This fresh Okada ban followed the February 2020 restriction placed on the activities of commercial motorcycles in many areas in the state. Even before then, there have been bans and restrictions on the activities of okada riders in the state.
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. People have lost their valuables to these criminal riders who capitalise on the regular heavy traffic congestion in the state to make quick escape.
But the big question on the lips on many residents of the state is, “how many times will the government ban commercial motorcycle operations in Lagos”? Many others are also curious in knowing whether the latest ban will stand the test of time. These curious Nigerians are asking if the security operatives will be able to sustain the temple of arresting erring riders and prosecuting them accordingly.
From Iyana-Ipaya to Obalende, the story remains the same. Everywhere one turns to, like bees on a devilish mission to sting, they are on the road tormenting other road users and making driving a nightmare for them.
The war against their numerous evils didn’t start today. As far back as 2017 when Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was the governor of the state, commercial motorbikes were already prohibited from plying some major highways and bridges in Lagos State, but that didn’t deter them. On every road and bridge, they continued to operate with utter recklessness.
Successive governments had taken renewed steps to enforce the ban on commercial motorbikes on restricted roads and areas in Lagos. They were moves that received wide applause as well as criticisms in some quarters. While some saw the decision as anti-people, others saw it as very positive considering the atrocities that many of the riders have committed in the past.
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.
Unfortunately, the okada riders blatantly refused to stay off the restricted roads, even as their ferocious impunity stared 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 and 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 or experience. Many have even lost their lives in some instances.
Fashola had then 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. Unfortunately, over the years, the promise has been largely unfulfilled by successive governments.
In some of the prohibited routes, such as Third Mainland Bridge from the Toll Gate, Badagry Road, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Agege Motor Road, the entire network of roads around the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Awolowo Road, Mobolaji Bank Anthony Road down to Maryland junction, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, the stretch from Moshalashi to Oshodi, and Abule-Egba, and practically all bridges in Lagos, okada riders continue to rule and reign. 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 okada men, records show that in more than 3,000 road crashes, 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.
Lagos State government had in the past crushed and recycle over 10,000 commercial motorcycles that it has impounded. But the more they impound and crush, the more others take to the trade which is seen as a quick way to make brisk money.
Perhaps one of the reasons the activities have continued unabated is the belief that the government would merely puff and huff and would soon forget about enforcement.
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 Sanwo-Olu of the state was serious with the restriction law would be when there is 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.
He told the reporter: “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 jobless Nigerians. 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.
“I enjoy riding on the expressway because it pays better. During rush hours, I charge between N600 and N800 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: “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.”
In October 2020, the crises that resulted from the nationwide EndSARS protest, which was more pronounced in Lagos, emboldened Okada riders to return in droves to roads, highways and bridges where they had been banned; the police, which led the enforcement against Okada, withdrew from the roads for weeks and the situation led to the influx of commercial motorcycle riders from different parts of the country.
Also, on May 18, 2021, Lagos Government launched the First and Last Mile Buses as safe alternatives on routes where Okada had been restricted. From January 2021 to March 2022, there was some enforcement, which resulted in fatalities.
On September 24, 2021, a group of Okada riders killed a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Kazeem Abonde, in Ajao Estate during a violent encounter between the police and some riders. Some of the operators were believed to be foreigners while many are from the Northern part of the country. Similar violent clashes are usually recorded during enforcement in notorious areas where Okada riders operate on restricted routes.
Before the new pronouncement, Okada menace had assumed a disturbing level in Lagos, the riders have become lawless. They disrespect traffic laws and regulations. They get violent at the slightest provocation, inciting mob actions and jungle justice in which many innocent people have died.
Many would hope that the current ban would be enforced by the state government.
“I hope the state government would keep faith with the latest ban. I hope the ban would not die a natural death when election campaigns begin. That has been the situation over the years,” Marvin James, a Lagos-based businessman wondered.