By Cosmas Omegoh, Christy Anyanwu and Agatha Emeadi
In Lagos, commercial motorcycling, otherwise known as Okada, are kings. They are all over the city; fluid, ubiquitous, audacious as their operators tear through the maze of the trademark Lagos traffic with the ease of thrusting a knife through a lump of butter. Such is their utility.
Many who patronise Okada everyday will tell you they keep Lagos moving and humming. Okada will take you even to the remotest part of the city where no commercial buses or taxis can. They are often preferred. And that is why they rule the city roads with a certain gut ascribed only to the gods.
But right now, Okada operators are at war with the Lagos State government. It has been a long-drawn war way back to the days of Mr Babatunde Fashola in office as governor.
The state government and the people wanted them though, but frowned at their unbridled recklessness and overall conduct on major highways.
Over the years, the government has insistently warned Okada riders to stay off some major motorways, bridges and some parts of the city, contending that they frustrate its Lagos megacity dream. It also accused the Okada operators of causing majorly a high per cent of road accidents in the city, aside some of them using their motorbikes for robbery.
To curtail their perceived excesses, the state government started seizing the Okada riders’ motor bikes, warning everyone patronising those plying prohibited spaces to desist from doing so. The government warned that it will apprehend and prosecuting both the riders and their passengers and upon conviction, both will pay a fine or undertake community service or go to jail.
In Lagos, indeed, Okada riders are a handful of menace, swarming major city roads like mosquitos, most of them paying no heed to laid down traffic rules.
The Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is one of the many roads government insists Okada riders must not dare, the same for the Orile-Mile 2-Badagry expressway. But they don’t listen; they are always seen there in their unimaginable numbers.
At the Second Rainbow and Mile 2 bus stops along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Okada riders mass like ants, soliciting passengers. Everything about their presence is chaotic. Some of them park at the edge of the speed lane, their backs turned to the traffic coming from behind. Even at night time, many are seen riding against the approaching traffic right on the expressway with their headlamps on. They crisscross the roads at will. Some perform unbelievable stunts in the middle of the road. Sometimes accidents occur.
Over the years, Apapa has been grossly inaccessible; only Okada has been the easiest means of going to the once-bustling part of the city. And they are always handy.
Along the Orile-Mile2–Badagry Expressway, Okada is also the king. Their passengers are people condemned to patronise them because of the intractable traffic situation that has ruled the area for long. Only those who can accommodate their excesses and recklessness use them.
Okada riders even ferry their passengers as far as Lagos and Victoria Island from the mainland Lagos. Workers and traders are their big-time passengers.
Governor Fashola in 2012 issued a restriction order on Okada, warning them to stay off 475 roads and bridges in the state. He later followed this up by asking them to leave Ikeja, the state capital.
Pronto, 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 are not yielding. Between them and the state government what exists is a cat and mouse game.
Okada riders speak of experiences
Issah Ibrahim is an Okada rider. He told Sunday Sun that they are all aware that the ban on them still exists, but they have to make ends meet.
Their recent coming out for business, he said, started after the #EndSARS protest and ever since, they do their business as usual, but with the fear of policemen and taskforce officials.
“We always escape or take different routes whenever they are on patrol because they seize Okada, and if you are lucky, you get your motorcycle back after the payment of N30,000.”
Issah who hails from Jigawa State, said that he plies Ikeja to Ogba route. He said he had been in Okadabusiness since the era of Fashola as governor.
Idris Bello is another rider on the axis. He admitted that they are afraid of the police, taskforce , and the Lagos Neighborhood Safety Corps.
He said that he was caught recently by the police and had to cough out N11,000 at Area F, Ikeja, to get his machine back.
He said that it is risky riding the bike because any day he gets caught, he will pay dearly, or forfeit his bike at the police station.
Close to Idris Bello were almost 15 other Okada riders parked, waiting for customers. All of them are from Jigawa State; they are in Lagos for greener pasture.
Okada accident victim speaks
Yinka Bayo is still nursing the pains from her recent Okada fall.
She said that she boarded the bike from Masha in Surulere and just before Obele Junction, she was knocked down.
“I saw myself on the ground; it was a car that hit us. I quickly sprang up and limped off the major road to avoid another vehicle running me over.
“The Okada man, an aboki bolted; thank God that the car driver was kind enough to take me to a chemist shop opposite the scene of the accident. I thank God I’m alive today because those who saw how it happened thought I would end up in Igbobi hospital. I had a cut close to my right eye and my shoulder; I also had bruises in my toes.”
Okada used for robbery
Ngozi Michael, a nurse attendant at a pharmaceutical shop in Surulere narrated how three men on Okadastormed her shop and robbed them on Valentine’s Day.
“The two customers in the shop lost their belongings. One is a banker who had come from Abuja to spend his Valentine’s Day in Lagos. He was having stomach ache apparently after Nkwobi delicacy.
“He came to get something to ease the stomach pain. That was how he lost his two expensive phones and two ATM cards – all gone. They asked for the password and ensured they got it right.
“The second victim lives in the same building where the pharmacy is. Because he wanted to use his official laptop for office work and there’s no power supply in the compound, he decided to stay in the pharmacy and do his work. His laptop was forcefully taken away. They took our pharmacy laptop and collected my ATM cards too. They used their cutlasses and damaged our CCTV, and ensured they have the memory card with them.
“After they left, passersby and people around said they came on an Okada. The rider stood outside while the two stormed the shop to wreak havoc,” she said.
Okada keeps me alive
But Musiliu Nuhu, 36, from Nasarawa State, an okadarider at the popular 7/8 Junction along Airport Road, Mafoluku, Lagos, is enjoying the hazardous trade.
He said that he cherishes his trade so much that he won’t be ready to relinquish it because it keeps him busy and alive.
“I have been riding Okada for a long time now. It was this Okada business that I used to train myself in school.
“Today, I am an NCE graduate from Nasarawa State University.
“When I came to Lagos in 1996, I could not find a lucrative job for myself and did not want to do any security job. So, I started riding a commercial motorcycle; I did it for years before I met a friend who was also doing the same thing and attending his lectures at the same time. I asked him how he was doing it, and he explained to me that he would pick a passenger on his way to school. Then he would park and go for his lectures. Immediately after his lectures, he would return to work and ride until 7:00 p.m when he would close and go home, bath, eat and sleep until midnight. Then he would wake up and start reading his books. I was interested in what he told me and I followed his steps. I graduated in 2016, but found no job, hence, I had to return to this business.
“In Ajao Estate where we live, residents and landlords are still at loggerheads with the Okada riders association (Ajao Estate). They do not want us to operate in the streets; so we sometimes go to Lagos Island from this junction.”
Okada saves precious time
Nuhu added that “there are some people who might not want to waste time boarding commercial vehicles. They just pick Okada to get to their destinations.
“Again, we also work with travellers who want to catch up with their flights.”
Only God saves us
Nuhu attributed his accident-free career in the industry to God’s grace. “If God does not permit, we would not have been on the road again because a successful Okada rider is one that is fast in his calculation.
“If one is not smart, accidents would be a daily occurrence.”
Okada riders’ many troubles
Ask the average Okada man, life is like war. Some of them are up as earlier as 4:00 a.m to ferry early risers to work. They struggle through the chaotic and oftentimes, nerve-wracking gridlocks. They must avoid accidents. Many of the unlucky ones are long dead. Some are bed-ridden in various hospital beds, their legs on POP.
On a daily basis, some unruly ones exchange fisticuffs with as many as might come their way. That is their own way of registering their anger and self-entitlement mentality.
Now, everyone of them must pay a good chunk of their earnings to their union officials and hordes of hoodlums aka agbero lying in wait for them at every street corner. They must “settle” or have their bikes seized.
Okada riders’ real nemesis
Right now, for those of them still plying the restricted areas, their real nemesis is the officials of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit – Taskforce for short. They must avoid this group to be in business.
The taskforce is the agency charged with enforcing the law restricting commercial motorcycles from plying designated areas. Those of them who are caught flouting the law are apprehended and their motorbikes seized. Some are prosecuted and jailed or given an option of a fine if convicted.
According to the Taskforce’s spokesman, Toafeek Adebayo, “we are doing our best at this level of a taskforce.
“We impound 100 bikes on the average daily.”
Every motorbike ceased by the agency is taken to their head office and later crushed, it was gathered.
Adebayo warned Lagos residents not to patronise Okada riders plying restricted areas. Those who fail to heed the warning, he said, when apprehended would be prosecuted alongside the Okada riders. When convicted, they are either given an option of a fine or forced to undertake community service.
According to Adebayo, “the state commissioner of police has directed all police formations, including DPOs to join in the enforcement on commercial motorcycles on restricted roads.”
Insecurity pushing riders to Lagos
Adebayo said that “the fundamental problem with regard to this Okada issue has been addressed; it is a national problem. It is what is happening up North as a result of the insurgency there. People mostly non-Nigerians are pouring into Lagos to make a living.
“If you make an arrest, six out of every 10 Okadariders are foreigners from some of the West African countries. Some are from the far North – people who believe they are no longer safe out there; they come to Lagos to make a better living.”
Govt didn’t ban okada
Adebayo explained that the state government did not ban okada riders from operating in the city.
“They were only restricted from close to 475 roads, including bridges in the state. The state government did not ban them and it is good to make this clarification.
“Every day we go out on operation, we make an arrest; the culprits are prosecuted at the Lagos State Mobil Court at Bolade, Oshodi.
“It is not an issue we can wipe out in a day. But with the enforcement, we hope to gradually keep Okadaoff major roads,” he explained.
Other ways of stopping them
Adebayo said that regulate meetings are held with the two major Okada riders associations. “We engaged their exco, but it is the same story that they keep telling us. That all those arrested are not their members.
“To be fair to them, we discover that when we make arrests, six out of 10 of them are not Nigerians; they cannot even speak English. That is to tell you that something is fishy. They just come in from Niger, Chad, etc into Lagos.”
Ban on Opay, Goakada, others
Adebayo denied that some more oraginsed Okadacompanies were banned. He said: “No one banned those ones. The issue with them is that they were not registered. They were operating without any government registration.
“When we invited them to show us the documents they had with the government if they had any, not one of them came up.
“We are not saying that they should go or come back, what we are looking at is the restriction of Okada on major roads and bridges. And that affects any motorcycle that is below 200 engine capacity.
“Those ones above 200cc we allow them, but not for commercial purposes. They are the ones being used by dispatch riders. And we have given a strong warning to them not to use their bikes for commercial purposes. They must ensure that they mount a box at the back of their Okada, and the rider must be fully kitted with a helmet, no radio installed, must not ply BRT lanes, or one-way, stop at an obstruction etc. These are some of the conditions given to them.
“But all other Okada below the 200cc engine capacity, we don’t want them at all on all the restricted roads.”
Menace posed by okada
Adebayo listed some of the dangers Okada poses in Lagos. “They carry passengers and ply major highways. Often, you see them and their passengers facing upcoming traffic, plying one way, hitting innocent schoolboys and girls. They often carry pregnant women and school children below 12 years old on the highways. These are risky things they are doing on our roads.”
According to Adebayo, “following the restriction, a study conducted in our hospitals showed that the casualty caused by Okada on the highways has drastically reduced unlike before when they were riding with impunity. When you visit our General Hospitals, you will only see one or two casualties.
“Before now, we were recording between 30 and 40 casualties on a daily basis. This is an achievement going by the action of the Lagos State government.
“The law is not punitive; it is corrective. So people should not look at it that the government is punishing them. The government is only trying to protect the lives of the citizenry.”
Message to Okada passengers
Adebayo warned that “people should stop patronising commercial motorbikes plying restricted highways and bridges and other areas. The law that affects the rider also affects the passenger.
“We have prosecuted no fewer than 40 passengers in recent times. Some were given a fine, some forced to do community service. We demand that people shouldn’t engage commercial bikes on restricted areas for their own safety.”
Challenge enforcing law
“In enforcing this law on Okada riders, we are always very careful,” Adebayo said, adding that some of the riders smoke Indian hemp. In the course of that, some of them throw off their passengers and zoom off.
“Sometimes, their passengers are either carrying a baby or pregnant. So that is why we are always very careful. Some of them are so notorious that they don’t mind injuring their passengers in their bid to escape arrest.
“But what government is telling them is that the law is not punitive; it is corrective. So, what we plead with the residents is to stop patronising Okada plying the restricted places.”