The panic elicited by the rumour that the Lagos State government had banned the operations of commercial motorcyclists popularly known as Okada and commercial tricycle operators, locally known as ‘Keke Marwa,’ is yet to thaw despite a rebuttal by the government that no such announcement was made.
Reports had filtered in the penultimate week that the state government had banned commercial motorcyclists and tricycle operators from plying a total of 449 roads and 41 bridges in the state.
The report of the list of the roads and bridges where commercial motorcyclists and operators of tricycles were restricted from plying had trended on social media following an earlier report where the state government was reported to have threatened to step up the enforcement of the traffic laws across the state.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, was quoted to have said that the violation of traffic laws by commercial motorcyclists was unacceptable, thereby necessitating the enforcement of the State Traffic Law to pave the way for the implementation of the present administration’s transportation project.
But the state government, in another report last week, said it was yet to take a definite position on the operations of commercial motorcycle and tricycle riders on some roads across the state.
The government in a statement issued by the commissioner said that contrary to the news in circulation on the list of restricted areas, especially on the social media, purporting that the government had banned Okada and Keke Marwa on some routes, no such action had been taken.
Reacting to the reported ban, the commissioner was quoted to have said, “We have just concluded our routine security meeting, during which the issue of Okada and tricycles was discussed exhaustively. For now, no major decision has been taken on the matter. There are several factors for this development, but the main reason was to reckon with various opinions expressed by stakeholders.
“So many people have made representations to the government concerning commercial motorcycles and tricycles, including human rights groups, unionists and traders. They came up with many reasonable observations; all their views have been collated and are being considered.
“We feel it will not be good enough for the government to take a final decision on the matter without considering the opinions of the stakeholders. That would be against the spirit of democracy for which the Sanwo-Olu administration stands,” he said.
But despite the report by the state government that it has not yet taken a definite position on the operations of commercial motorcyclists in the state, there has been palpable fear not only among the operators, but also the commuting populace who are equally apprehensive.
Commercial motorcycle and tricycle operators who spoke to Sunday Sun expressed concerns over the development with many viewing the rumour of the ban and the subsequent denial by the government as a sign of what to expect.
A commercial motorcyclist, who identified himself as Amos Afolabi, appealed to the state government to be considerate with its decision on the operations of commercial motorcycles in the state:
“I commend the government for clearing the air on the rumour that it was planning to ban Okada and Marwa in the state. We are not unaware of the fact that there is a law restricting the operations of commercial motorcycle operators from certain routes in the state. But the question we should ask ourselves is why are more people taking to Okada business? It’s just because there are no jobs. Majority of the people you see riding Okada are professionals in one field or the other. Many of us see Okada business as the last resort.
“I am a bricklayer by training. The last time I had a job offer was in October. Since then Okada business has been the saving grace for me. So, I am appealing to the government not to consider an outright ban on Okada as an option for now. Most Nigerians are ready to work, but the problem is that there are no jobs anywhere.”
Another commercial motorcycle operator who simply identified himself as Nonso said that banning Okada in a state like Lagos would create fresh army of jobless people in the state, a development he noted could worsen the security situation.
According to him, operating commercial motorcycles or tricycles in a state like Lagos comes with better prospects than doing any other menial job one could think of in the state. So, if the government makes an attempt to orderOkada and tricycles off Lagos roads that could spell doom for many families in the state.
“Lack of employment opportunities has continued to push many people into Okada and Marwa because these are the only common and available jobs that offer them a relatively stable and appreciable income. On a normal day, a rider could go home with average of N3,000 after paying various levies, buying fuel and meeting other obligations.
“At the end of the month one can be sure of making between N50, 000 to N70, 000, which, of course, can sustain an average family in the country. Which other available job can guarantee you such income in Nigeria now? You can imagine how many families would starve and how many children would be denied the opportunity of going to school if government decides to ban us from riding Okada or Marwa in the state, “ he said.
Commercial tricycle operators are not less apprehensive about the rumour. Some riders who commented on the development appealed to the state government to approach the issue with a human face, saying that the survival of the citizens should be placed paramount above any other consideration.
A tricycle operator, Abiodun Subaru, said that he received the news of the reported ban with great anxiety, saying “it means a serious problem to me and my colleagues at our park. What else will I do to take care of my family?
“The truth is that most people operating tricycles or riding Okada do not really enjoy it because of the numerous challenges and harassments we encounter while doing it, but one must feed his family. If we are doing it out of necessity, the government should please show understanding with us in its decisions on our operations.
“We are aware of the problems created by a few characters, who use Okada and Keke to perpetrate criminality in the state and often we have shown our support to security operatives in the state by providing intelligence whenever we have any suspicion about anybody. Bad eggs are everywhere, they are in every profession; we have them among pastors and imams; they in the police, they are in the army and everywhere. So, do we then disband the police or the army because there are few bad eggs among them? No! The government should consider the thousands of families that would be affected, should they place outright ban on Okada and Keke riders in the state.”
For commuters, the rumoured ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles and tricycles in the state was received with admixture of feelings. While many expressed concerns over the economic implications of the decision on the operators and their families, a few others feel the government needs to be more proactive in finding a lasting solution to the menace, which the activities of Okada and tricycle operators created in the state.
A resident of the state, Mr Yemi Akinsulure, said that the government should be prepared for the aftermath effect of the suggestion to ban the operations of commercial motorcyclists and tricycle operators should it finally resolve to go ahead with it, maintaining that such plan would put further strains on the already overstretched security machinery of the state.
According to him, “commercial motorcycles, just like cars and other automobiles can be used to perpetrate crime. The eventual increase in the rate of crime is inevitable if commercial motorcycles and tricycles are banned. This will be primarily due to loss of jobs. Things can even take more difficult situation considering the current difficulties people are facing in the country. Banning them at the moment might even turn out to be a negative motivation for some of them to get back on the street as angry and begrudged unemployed set of individuals and ready to indulge in crime to survive. The effect will be more devastating as it will only add to the number of the unemployed in the state,” he pointed out.