30 December 2012

Nigeria: Lagos - Commuting Without Okada

Residents of Lagos State explore new ways of commuting daily from their abode to their places of work and business as the restrictions placed on the activities of commercial motorcycle operators, popularly called okada, by the Lagos State Government, bite harder. OLAOLU OLUSINA reports

Mrs. Folake Adejumo (not real names) looked tired and worn out as she stood right under the scorching sun at the Ikeja Bus Stop as she waited in vain for a commuter bus to take her to her destination at the Barracks area just around the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Lagos Zonal Office in Alausa, Ikeja, the Lagos State capital.

The traffic situation in the city that day was terrible as the last-minute rush for the Christmas celebrations was already taking its toll on commuters who had no choice than to depend on commercial transportation to move from one point to the other.

After standing at the bus stop for over an hour, she heaved a sigh of relief when a commercial bus finally pulled by, ready to go towards her destination. "Mowe-Ibafo, enter with your N300," the bus conductor shouted as the waiting passengers rushed towards the bus as if their lives depended on it. The old woman was left with no choice than to join "the rush" as she pleasantly told the driver that she would be alighting at Barracks. "Madam, enter with your N300 no matter where you are going," the driver barked back at the old woman that was old enough to be his grandmother.

"I have no problems with your fare, what would I do? I trekked and trekked on my way down to Ikeja this morning as I could not find a bus. The okada and Keke Marwa operators have all been banned from plying the secretariat route. Is it not better for me to pay N300 instead of the normal N50 than to catch malaria right under this scorching sun?" she replied as she ordered for a cold drink from a beverage vendor nearby to cool her thirst.

Madam Adejumo's experience is not different from what many others now go through in the metropolis on a daily basis as many spend endless hours right under the sun at various bus stops waiting for the commuter buses, which appeared to be in short supply. With frustrations written on their faces, they appear to have left their fate in the hands of God.

An apparently frustrated young man, Sunday Abayomi, could not contain his anger. "I have been standing this point for more than 30 minutes without getting a bus to convey me to Opebi," he said. "They have banned okada, the commercial buses can no longer drop passengers at bus stops along the way, you are left with no choice than to continue trekking and trekking as if it has now become an offence not to have a car in Lagos."

There is no doubt that the impact of the restrictions placed on the activities of commercial motorcycle operators, popularly called okada, by the Lagos State Government, is now being felt more than ever as the hardship commuters now have to trek long distances and wait endlessly to catch the buses that are grossly inadequate.

Coupled with this is the fear that the new Lagos Traffic Law has driven into the minds of many residents, with many abandoning their personal vehicles at home to join public buses, especially on week days. "You have to think twice before bringing your car out in Lagos now, especially with the new traffic law. You can never be too sure with these traffic officers as you may be booked at the slightest opportunity," Mr. Mike Alabi, a businessman who works in Lagos Island told THISDAY. "And the buses are in short supply, even the so-called mass-transit buses and the Lagos Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) grossly inadequate."

While no explanations have been made for the withdrawal of the mass transit buses introduced under the SURE-P programme, THISDAY learnt that their withdrawal may not be unconnected with the Federal Government's failure to pay suppliers of the buses. This is even as the authorities managing the BRT and LAGBUS fleet attributed the shortage of the buses on the roads to scarcity of diesel to power the buses.

But as the problems linger, the taxi operators are having a boom period as attention is gradually shifting back to the taxi cabs. A taxi cab operator, Shakiru Salami, told this reporter that Lagosians are now beginning to patronise the yellow taxis as they are left with no choice since okada operations are being restricted. "We are having increasing patronage now as with just N500, you could board a taxi instead of waiting endlessly under the sun as bus stops. But the challenge we have is that some people still think that you have to fill up your pockets with plenty money before opting for a taxi," he said.

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