Chiemelie Ezeobi and Ebere Nwiro write that the implementation of the new Lagos State traffic law, which banned commercial motorcyclists from plying 475 routes in the state, is already taking its toll on motorcycle operators and Lagos commuters who spend long hours at different bus stops across the state waiting for vehicles to get to their destinations
"I was a cashier with the WEMA Bank until I was sacked in 2011 as a fall-out of the Central Bank of Nigeria's (CBN) tough stand on the bank. I went around in search of jobs to no avail and I decided to gather what I have to buy my motorcycle (okada) so that I could make ends meet. This unfortunate event happened to me immediately after my wedding so I had to look for an alternative means of making a living pending when I get a better job. Rather than roaming the streets, I decided to become a commercial motorcyclist carrying passengers from here to there, it has been so painful an experience, but life goes on."
Those were the words of Kehinde Ogundare, a graduate of Banking and Finance, and formally an account officer with WEMA Bank Plc, whose second shot in life to make both ends meet came to abrupt end once more on Monday, October 22. Ogundare was not alone in his present predicament as there are estimated 4,000 motorcycle operators who lost their only means of livelihood.
The Lagos State Government on Monday wielded the big stick when it started the implementation of its new traffic law banning commercial okada operations in 475 designated roads out of the 9, 100 that dots the streets of Lagos. A development many believed was done in bad taste.
The Lagos State government had on August 2, 2012, signed into law, the restriction of okada on 475 roads, specifically, bridges, expressways and double-carriage roads in different parts of the state.
Following the new traffic law, Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Kayode Opeife, announced that okada operators are restricted on such routes as: Lagos Island, Victoria Island and Ikoyi, the Lagos Central Business District Area, Ozumba Mbadiwe from Bonny Camp to 1st Roundabout, Awolowo Road, Bourdillion, Gerrard Avenue, Alexander, Osbourne, Alfred Rewane Road and CMS, Funso Williams Avenue, Eko Bridge, Apongbon, Murtala Muhammed Way, Jibowu, Yaba, Oyingbo, Iddo and Idumota Ikorodu Express Road and Ikorodu Town Roundabout.
Also for the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway/Agege Motor Road, the entire stretch from Moshalasi, Oshodi, Abule Egba up to Sango Toll-gate, a boundary between Lagos and Ogun States, Okada business is prohibited for commercial activities.
The commissioner further disclosed that all bridges in the state are prohibited to motorcycle operators as well as the entire stretch of Badagry Express Road. The entire stretch of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is also prohibited except for the service lanes.
At Ikeja, the entire networks of roads around the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Awolowo Way, Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way up to Maryland Junction have been designated as no-go areas for Okada riders.
Additional routes added to restricted areas include; Herbert Macaulay Way, Nurudeen Olowopopo Road, Agidingbi Road, Adeola Odeku, Ajose Adeogun, Akin Adesola, Adetokunbo Ademola and Kofo Abayomi.
Others are Inner Marina, Allen Avenue, Opebi, Kudirat Abiola Way, Adekunle Fajuyi, Oduduwa Way, Oba Akinjobi, Isaac John, Joel Ogunnaike, Mobolaji Johnson Way and Adeniran Ogunsanya.
There were indications that new re-enforcement of the ban on okada operators were as a result of the group's failure to adhere to the agreement held with the state government at the last stakeholders forum on motorcycle operation which took place in August 2010 at the Blue Roof, LTV 8, Agindigbi, Ikeja.
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, had lamented the menace of motorcycle operators which include riding without crash helmets, riding on the medians, kerbs and walkways, disobedience to traffic rules and regulations, driving against traffic, the traffic signal lights, plying the highways and working in prohibited areas even at restricted time.
The state government went a step further to produce a movie titled 'Aye Olokada' to inform, educate and enlightenment the motorcycle operators on the dangers and menace their illegal acts pose to themselves and the general populace. To the pain of the government, the okada riders remained adamant.
In the new Lagos Traffic Law, the state government went all out to curb the menace of the okada operators. It was however not surprising that the enforcement which started in earnest on Monday grounded commercial activities in the state.
Although the clampdown began last Monday, the okada operators complained that they were being brutalised by policemen who were working under the guise of enforcing the law.
The enforcement of the ban which was duly carried out in different parts of the state by the law enforcement agents had reprisal effects ranging from the high number of commuters that were stranded to the protest organised by the okada riders as well as the resultant increase in transport fares.
As the police and other authorised agencies carried out the raids, the unhappy okada operators armed with clubs, machetes and other dangerous weapons took to the major streets like Onipanu, Fadeyi, Mushin and Ijora to protest the ill treatment meted out to them by policemen.
Areas like Ejigbo and Ikorodu were not spared as they witnessed another set of protest from the okada operators. According to them, the government through the ban was only telling them to take up arms and become robbers.
In the rage that brought a temporary moment of scare to commuters in Lagos on Monday, the okada operators, obstructed the operations of the state's Rapid Transit Buses known as BRT. The okada operators said their grouse was the abuse meted out to them by the police under the guise of implementing the ban. According to them, the police impounded motorcycles which were not found on the 475 roads outlined by the state government.
At Onipanu bus stop, which was the meeting point for the rampaging motorcyclists, no fewer than five BRT buses were vandalised. Wielding dangerous weapons, the okada operators were said to have forced passengers to disembark.
According to eyewitness account, the okada operators took to the streets at about 10am, hours after the enforcement began, and accosted some of the buses that were filled with passengers. They were said to have smashed the windscreens of the buses, thereby causing pandemonium in the bus as the passengers tried to escape all at once.
An eyewitness who spoke to THISDAY, Mr. Okechukwu Ofoegbu, said the rampaging okada operators pelted the policemen that came to restore peace in the area with stones. He claimed the protesters even overpowered one of the policemen and seized his gun and fled before the policemen could call for back-up from his colleagues.
Fewer hours after the protest, a detachment of anti-riot policemen and regular policemen drafted from Area D and Mushin Police stations arrived the scene to disperse the protesters. Although some arrests were made, THISDAY could not however confirm the number.
Even after the riot, different police patrol vehicles, including those of the Rapid Response Squad, OPS Attack were seen patrolling the area. Throughout the protest, no Lagos State Traffic Management Authority official was seen in the affected areas as they were said to have fled to safety.
Speaking to THISDAY, Ekpeyong Bassey, a commercial motorcyclist said part of their grouse was that the police in the guise of enforcement were forcefully impounding their motorcycles, which were released only after they paid N5, 000.
He said, "Not all roads in the metropolis was affected by the ban but the police keep arresting us on every road and impound our bike if we refuse to pay. The demonstration is a way of registering our disaffection to the state government."
Another okada operator, Ayo Omole lamented that the ban would render them jobless. While placing the total number of okada operators in the state at over 4,000, he said banning them would tantamount to chaos.
"There are about 4,000 okada operators if not more and banning them will leave commuters stranded as was witnessed today. Again, it would also leave 4, 000 okada operators jobless.
"Besides the ban, we are aggrieved because the police has made life unbearable for us due to their constant extortion and I blame the state government for not protecting us from police harassment instead they are compounding our woes."
He added, "The traffic law restricts okada operations from majorly expressways and bridges. Most of us have accepted to obey the law but the police are not enforcing the law the right way.
"Policemen now arrest okada operators on backstreets and minor roads and use it as an avenue to extort money from us. Why can't the state government protect us from police harassment?
"If a policeman arrests an okada operator on a non-prohibited road and the policeman claims he arrested the rider on an expressway, who would believe the rider? Just last week Sunday, some policemen seized four motorcycles at Fashoro Street and collected N5, 000 for the release of each. It's very unfair," Omole said.
In a state known for its chaotic traffic situation, most Lagos residents were stranded in different parts of the state as a result of the recent ban.
According to THISDAY checks, commercial bus drivers avoided the bad roads like Okokomaiko and Mile 2 axis of the state but the brave ones that ventured the road especially the Okokomaiko axis increased their charges from the normal N150 from Okoko to Mile 2 to N250 while the okada operators that dared the authorities collected N1, 000 each. A trip from Mile 2 to Apapa was also hiked to N1, 000 instead of the normal N600.
Already, some Lagos commuters have called on the state government to put modalities in place that would cushion the effect of the ban. A resident, Mr. Abiyomi Akinremi said for the government to do otherwise show its insensitivity to the plight of the masses.
"The state government obviously does not know what the masses are going through. This is evident in the haste with which they carried out the enforcement. People are frustrated already and the week is just beginning.
"Asides the ban, it is the passengers that will suffer the most; financially and time wise. It also boils down to the increase in the cost of transportation as the bus drivers capitalise in the absence of okada operators and increase the fares."
However, a recent statement credited to the state government said that the enforcement would be a collaborative effort between officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and other security agencies.
According to Fashola, by the end of the month the enforcement would ensure that no okada operator is seen on any of the prohibited routes.
Responding to feelers that the ban would render many jobless thereby increasing the rate of crime, the governor said there are lots of jobs especially vocational skills. While maintaining that the law was not meant to punish rather sanitise, he said it would help regulate the transportation system in the state.
When contacted, human rights activists and legal counsel to the embattled okada riders, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, called for caution in the implementation of the law. According to him, the police and those in authority should be careful the way they enact and implement laws that reflect on the general society.
On the incessant and illegal harassment of the okada riders, he said, "It is wrong for the police to implement such laws by shooting people. It is not correct for them to trample on people's human rights just because they want to implement some laws.
"If they shoot everybody they see, who will remain in the society for them to implement the law on? It is also unlawful for the police to effect arrests on roads that are not prohibited by the state government."
He therefore called on the state government to appeal to the police to exercise caution and restrain in the way the law is being implemented particularly as the law is still being challenged in court.
A study carried out in 1993 in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, provides additional insight into the okada business. The study revealed that about 88 per cent of the okada operators were between 18 and 30 years old, and only 47 per cent had received any type of formal education.
The study also revealed that those who patronised okada operators do so because they are fast and readily available. And reasons why customers disliked them were that they considered them to be unsafe (this was stated by 67 per cent of the respondents) and expensive (stated by 43 per cent of the respondents).
Left with few transportation options, however, many continue to patronise okada operators notwithstanding the significant risks involved. It's a known fact that okada operators pose a great menace to car owners, pedestrians, and even to the environment. Interestingly, many commuters prefer okada to buses, even when many have been victims of the often reckless okada operators. More curious is the fact that commuters take okada on long distances. For example, one taking okada from Apapa all the way to Badagry.
Although, okada fares are usually sometimes higher than that of buses and taxis, Lagosians who patronise them believe the state government is over-regulating the commercial motorcyclists in a state where adequate transport system is almost non-existent.