interviewBy Charles Adingupu
For okada riders in Lagos, the Governor Fashola has drawn the battle line as he eventually ordered enforcement of the law, banning commercial motorcycle operators from plying major highways.The Chairman of All Nigerians Auto Bike Commercial Owners and Workers' Association, (ANACOWA) Aliyu Wembe narrated the travails of okada riders since the law came into full force. He explained to Saturday Vanguard whey his group sought the services of renowned human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu to drag the Lagos State government to court.
Were you consulted before the bill was signed into law?
We were not consulted when the bill to ban commercial motorcyclists was in the works. But we decided to attend the public hearing when we heard of it. At the public hearing however, a 23-page-document was given to us as the proposed bill. After perusing through it, we eventually analysed it clause by clause.
We realised that some of the sections were conspicuously removed from the law, particularly Schedule 22 that is currently generating the crisis in Lagos which banned Okada from plying some roads in Lagos. I remember somebody asking at the floor of the public hearing where is the Schedule 22 mentioned? But he was asked to put down his observations in writing.
So, when Governor Babatunde Fashola was to sign the bill into law, the Schedule 22 and others now emerged. What we later had as the law was a 78-page document as against the earlier 23-page document that was showed to us. The okada operators were not carried along.
The government failed
What the Lagos State government would have done was to distribute the complete document to all okada riders' Association in Lagos for scrutiny before the eventual endorsement of it into law.
I do know that most of us would have consulted our lawyers to fine tune areas of the bill that are inimical to our operations and eventually harmonise areas of anticipated conflict. Let the okada riders make their own input. Perhaps all these controversies would have been averted.
The gray area of the law
The law banned okada riders from operating in four hundred and seventy five roads in Lagos. According to the Transport Commissioner, he said Lagos has eight thousand five hundred (8,500) roads.
These 475 roads that okada riders do business. Then Schedule four Sub-section 16 of the law further says that if your motorcycle is below 200cc is banned from operating in the remaining roads. So automatically, these 475 roads and section that says if your motorcycle is below 200cc you are ban from plying the other roads further compound our problems.
The logic is that if you put the two clauses together, you find that okada has been automatically wiped off Lagos roads.
We felt it was a manipulative tactics to wipe commercial motorcycle operators out of existence. So that their family members and dependents will continue to suffer and perhaps eventually die of hunger.
Why we struck now
It is already a law hence we could not struck after it was signed by the Governor. Therefore, anybody who contravenes any aspect of it will be charged accordingly. We were also consulting with other okada riders' association to see how we can meet with the governor to persuade him to suspend those aspects of the law that threatened our operations. But the governor was adamant.
Some of my colleagues met the Transport Commissioner to assist us in convincing the Governor but he refused to respond. I followed them in more than two separate occasions to the governor's office without recording any appreciable progress.
When I realised that it was all an exercise in futility going to Alausa to speak to a Governor who was not ready to listen, I resorted to use my time for something precious. But those who were not ready to agree with my position continued their fruitless visit to the Governor's office, until it eventually dawn on them that the governor has zeroed his mind on the issue.
So, they came to me at last. I then advised that we proceed to court to seek the judicial interpretations of this law. That was the reason we consulted Barrister Bamidele Aturu. He saw reason with us and agreed to proceed with the matter.
What of other groups?
We have about nine associations of Okada riders in Lagos. Unfortunately, two of them have been bought over by the government. They are more or less like agents of government. The government is now using these two groups to frustrate others. But my Association understands government intentions.
Hence, we distance ourselves from them whenever we are going for any dialogue. We solely took the government to court.
Besides, for now they are not making any contribution either financially or morally but some of them are now beginning to appreciate our stance. Also, we have not received any financial contributions from any cooperate organisation from anywhere.
How many of your members have been arrested since the law came into being?
Over one thousand of my members have been arrested so far. Like I earlier told you that we have about nine Associations of okada riders in Lagos. Therefore, if you add members of other groups who have been arrested, they would be over ten thousand (Okada) motorcycles that have been confiscated by the police and task force.
But those motorcycles impounded, were they eventually released upon payment of certain amount of money?
This placed us in a dilemma. It was an outright dictatorial law. They made law and in enforcing it, they were not even adhering to it accordingly.
The law states that when you are caught violating the so called prohibited routes, prohibited, you will be charged to court. The minimum fine is twenty thousand (N20,000) naira for first offender. If you commit the offence a second time, your motorcycle will be impounded. But this is not what they are doing at the moment. Whether you ply the prohibited routes or not, wherever they set their eyes on you, your motorcycle will be impounded.
Even if you're fixing your deflated tyre with a vulcanizer, the police or task force members will stop, and impound your motorcycle. For now, the police are haunting okada riders. It was in the newspapers that the Lagos State government grind about three thousand motorcycles.
You see, we had report, that some task force members and police officers were even selling the impounded motorcycles and sharing the proceeds among themselves. At other times, some of them converted these motorcycles for personal use.
As far as I'm concern, even though I'm not lawyer, it is only a competent court of jurisdiction that can make pronouncement over seized motorcycles and subsequently place them for auctioning if need be. That is the practice in civilised societies. But in our situation, they will seize these motorcycles, they will not charge the offenders to court.
No opportunity to reclaim seized motorcycles?
Nothing like that. Whenever a motorcycle is impounded, they (task force) took it to Alausa instead of court. Sometimes, they sell some of them and shared the money among themselves.
Some of them even converted the impounded motorcycle for personal use. It is like the state ministry of transport has become a court. So far, those caught were taken to the ministry of transport instead of the court to prosecute the offender and verify whether he is guilty or not guilty.
In processing of this harsh method of enforcing the law, has any of your member been injured?
Some are even beaten to death. I had a report an okada man, though not my member, was beaten to death at Ajegunle. One okada rider was hit by the butt of the gun and one of his eyes was condemned.
There was a report of how a police officer knocked down an okada operator while he was on motion at Ikeja and in the process, he fell off his bike and one of his arm was broken while the okada rider was grasping from breath, the task force men impounded his motorcycle leaving him in the pool of his blood.
So, the brutality suffered in the enforcement of this law is indeed something else. If you are enforcing a law, it should be done with some degree of meekness. I believe that every law has human face.
But how many are you in ANACOWA?
We have over twenty-five thousand members in Lagos.
But many of them are graduates
Many of them are graduates and many of us have enormous responsibilities. Some have two three children in the university. I'm aware of one of my members whose first child is currently at 400 level while the younger one is at 200 level at the university.
This man uses proceeds generated from his okada business to pay their school fees, buy books and provide feeding allowance for them. Now, under this current situation how will the man cope. Government just wake one morning and say to hell with their problems.
How much does an okada rakes in on daily basis before now?
Well, it depends on where you are operating from. But conservatively, an average okada rider rakes in between N3,000 to N3,500 on daily basis.
But with the implementation of this restrictive law how much do they generate?
They are not even working at the moment, it is even difficult for most of us to feed our families.
Quacks in commercial motorcycle operations
The government, particularly Lagos State government does not seem ready to regulate the operations of commercial motorcyclists. They are not ready to consult with people or groups with the technical knowledge on how to regulate the operations of okada riders.
They believed they know it all. They have failed woefully. Now, they have consulted and realised their mistakes, hence, they (Lagos government) are adopting this military approach.
It is true we have some under-aged okada riders, some of them who are foreigners as well as those who are equally reckless. But all these are mainly due to the inability of the government to put formidable control measures on ground.
For example, before you will be allowed to operate okada in Lagos, you need to obtain a riders' card. It is like a Driver's licence. It permits you to ride okada in Lagos. Also, we have riders' card centre. That is where your personal data are captured. But today, corruption has bungled the whole exercise because protocol of issuance is abused by government officials.
All that is needed is just provide your passport photograph, and a riders' card would be issued whether you are under-aged, over aged, blind, foreigner or even disabled. Once you are able to provide the requested amount of money at the riders' card centre, you will be issued one.
But how much does it cost
Government price is just N800 but now officials collect N2,000 to produce Riders' Card.
The mechanism put on ground to regulate who is suppose to be on the road has been abused by government officials.
The ministry of transport encouraged under-aged, disabled and unwanted people who are operating this okada business. So whenever they failed, they look for people to blame for their failure.
The use of okada for robbery
On the issue of using okada for robbery, armed robbers use jeep and four-wheel-runner for their operations. Like the recent armed robbery incident in Lagos, the dare-devil robbers used SUV jeep for their operations.
They held Lagos spell bound from Mile 2 to Gbagada, Ikeja to Agege. They killed three policemen and three civilians. Can we say because the armed robbers used jeep for the operation, we should embargo the use of jeep in the country? It is true motorcycle were used for robbery but it is not true that those behind this dastardly acts were okada riders.
But until the government arrest an armed robber with a union identification card, it will be hard for me to swallow government's claim. That is when I will be convinced that okada riders uses okada for robbery.
There is no okada man who engages inn robbery. Otherwise he would have abandoned the business completely for robbery.
So, if Lagos insisted on enforcing the law, it means 25,000 Nigerians will lose their jobs
that is just only my members. There are other larger groups with more members. There is MOALS otherwise known as Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State. They were one of those partnering with government.
When this whole exercise began, they refused to tell their members the truth but eventually when the truth emerged, their members now went violent. Hence, you heard that some okada riders vandalised BRT buses at Jibowu, Fadayi, Ikorodu and other places.
Those areas are being controlled by MOALS and they partnering with the Ministry of Transport. But all the local government areas that are under my jurisdiction had never demonstrated or protested against the law at anytime.
As the chairman, I encouraged my members to remain calm irrespective of the degree of provocation. We are already in court. So, areas that witnessed rioting were controlled by MOALS and AMORAL-Association of Motorcycle Owner Riders Association.
How many LGAs are under your jurisdiction?
We control about ten local government areas but MOALS controls the largest number of LGA in Lagos State.
ANACOWA is human rights based. We are not just an Association. Since the brutality is becoming unbearable, we have started working with other human right groups. We are preparing to hold at least a 5-day rally to protest the brutality against okada riders.
We shall march to the State House of Assembly to tell that these laws are imposing hardship on the people. Since the enthronement of democracy in 1997, the Lagos State House of Assembly has never promulgated any law that is so controversial like this ban on okada riders because these were the people, politicians bought Crash Helmet for and they campaigned for them only for them, the politicians to legislate on law that will wipe them out of existence.
Which other Human Right Groups are you working with?
We are working with Civil Liberty Organisaiton (CLO); Human Right, Committee of Defence on Human Rights, Joint Action Fund (JAF); and many others. When we eventually agreed on a date for the rally, Lagos will be paralysed for at least one week. Perhaps that is when the government will know that it is beyond okada riders.