As sweet as a melodious music is to the ears, so is the recent news on planned total ban on commercial motorcycles (Okada), to the ears of Lagosians who have long groaned under the menace of Okada riders' operations. In fact, the plan is one of the most cheery news we have heard in recent times.
Ever since these Okada riders stormed the city of Lagos, the state has continued to experience a spike in the rate of preventable fatal accidents in addition to gridlocks on the roads. In a May 28, 2020 Vanguard Newspaper report, Lagos State Government disclosed that it recorded 600 deaths in 10,000 accidents involving commercial motorcycles between 2015 and February 1, 2020. The Lagos State commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederick Oladeinde who gave the statistics, said "It is worrisome to note that between 2015 to the commencement of restrictions of their movements, 600 deaths were recorded in Okada/tricycle-related accidents.
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There were over 10,000 reported cases of accidents in the state". These figures are no doubt those recorded at the public hospitals. If thorough census is taken from both public and private hospitals, including the number of deaths and accidents in 2021, the statistics will be frightening.
In January 2020, the Lagos State Government attempted a major clamp down on menace of commercial motorcycles and their counterpart, tricycles (Keke NAPEP), by restricting their operations in some Local Council Development Areas and major highways in the state.
That was to commence the following month, February 2020. But as it is usual with the government at various levels in the country, there's always pussyfooting or complete abandonment whenever it comes to implementation of laws and policies. Therefore, the nuisance caused by these Okada riders especially, has since continued unabated. The messiness and disarray they pose on the ever busy Lagos roads could best be described as pure madness.
They don't ever respect traffic laws or traffic men. They are above the law. With ease, they visit violence to other road users. If they hit in an accident you are in trouble. It is worse if you hit them. The evil they've brought upon the city does not end with the incessant accidents, rather, the criminal elements among the riders also serve as handy and enabling tools with which heinous crimes are committed while their motorcycles serve as quick-getaway instruments.
"We have noted with dismay the fact that Okada riders are disregarding and flouting the restrictions we imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis. We have also observed with dismay, the ongoing violent confrontation by commercial motorcyclists against our law enforcement agencies... " Governor Sanwo-Olu acknowledged the dire situation before announcing the intention of the government to ban them out rightly.
Almost on a daily basis, these Okada riders ride in droves along Gberigbe road, Ikorodu, in a most reckless and chaotic manner, with assorted leaves fastened to their bikes, while on their way to bury their member who died in accidents. Surprisingly many of the riders are migrants from neighbouring countries with very few Northerners who obviously seized the business in the city.
They are mostly reckless, untrained, untamed and unkempt. Their operation is a sign of backwardness on the State which allowed their influx in the first place. The anarchical condition these Okada riders have subjected the state to couple with the menace of tankers and container carrying trucks, negates the motto: 'Centre of Excellence' of Lagos state.
No city or state develops with the kind of lawlessness, chaos and insecurity that commercial motorcycles breed. Even the governor is aware of this which is why he was quoted as saying, "As we all know, no society can make progress amid such haughty display of lawlessness and criminality". Good a thing, he added, "Consequently, and based on all that we have seen and experienced in the past couple of weeks, as well as the increasing threat posed by the activities of commercial motorcycle operators to the safety and security of lives, we will in the coming days be announcing further changes to the parameters of motorcycle and tricycle operations in the state."
It's nearly impossible to find in cities of even the poorest countries around the world, where motorcycles are used as means of transportation. Even individuals who own bikes in foreign countries ride with safety measures intact. But here in Nigeria, both the rider and passengers hit even expressways without helmets. Why wouldn't people die from Okada accidents?
A good number of states across the federation which have taken the bold step of banning Okada, have testified of how drastically the number of accidents and crime rate reduced. Why not in Lagos State? As far as transportation is concerned, commercial motorcycles are unnecessary evil. The fumes from their notoriety choke even to the high heavens and must be stopped.
The question of what the riders will do as means of livelihood thereafter, must not deter this present move to end the peril they cause Lagosians. The fear of their resorting to crime which has served as one of the bottlenecks to the implementation of earlier restrictions placed on their operations can no longer hold. Thank God the government "promised not to leave those who patronise the motorcyclists in the cold" during the latest security meeting held in the state. Also, during the meeting, Governor Sanwo-Olu disclosed that the "Government will be inaugurating the First and Last Mile buses next week, which will ply the routes the motorcycles are plying". In addition, those who have taken up Okada riding for lack of jobs were advised to grab the opportunities in agriculture, wealth creation, poverty alleviation and other government programmes.
This promise must be kept for any meaningful progress to be made because in the first place, the inability of government to provide safe and viable means of transportation to cater for the growing population, gave room for increase in the number of Okada riders in the state.
Also, failure to fulfil the promise, will see Lagosians clamouring for the return of Okada after suffering from lack of comfortable means of transportation for a while. But there will always be teething problems and we all have to make sacrifices for our own good.
Who says the state cannot have functional intrastate rail system to serve the teaming population and as well, address the choky traffic situation as obtainable in other cities in the continent. Imagine how easy movement will become if there are rail lines from Island to Apapa, down to Mile 2 to Badagry and from Ikorodu down to Costain (Iganmu), and linked to the Island etc.
Lagos State can afford it! Also, if the water ways function to the maximum, many workers who endanger their lives and valuables by mounting bikes so as to hurriedly get to their offices early, will prefer to go by water. I have personally witnessed two men collapse in the bus on two different occasions due to gridlocks. On both occasions, journeys of about 20 or 30 minutes dragged on for more than three hours.
The first victim, a young man of about forty years, with sweat all over his body, passed out and was stretching out. As God will have it, the bus was close to a health Centre and passengers quickly rushed him to the Health centre together with the money realised from contributions on his behalf. I can't say whether he survived or not. The second individual couldn't get a seat and so was standing in the bus when all of a sudden there was a loud noise, everyone thought there was danger somewhere only to find the man flat on the floor. Luckily he was revived later with water in the bus and a good spirited passenger relinquished his seat for the man.
Merely mouthing the government's desire to transform Lagos State into tourism destination will not do any magic. How will the visitors navigate the bad roads that are bedevilled with gridlocks and menace of commercial motorcycle operators? Lagos State, due to huge commercial activities has become so clustered that peoples' life span keeps reducing while many are developing high blood pressure unknowingly. All across the globe, cities are on constant expansion. There's constant construction aimed at opening up the places as a response to population rise.
Nairobi, Kenya's capital for instance, which has always ranked among top five largest commercial cities in the continent, has not stopped expanding. The rapid development of the city is as a result of constant expansion through the establishment of more malls and provision of a work and investment-friendly environment. They lure foreign investors into new spaces by meeting their demands thereby, decongesting the already choked up areas. Interestingly, Nairobi is the main industrial centre of Kenya with the railways, not commercial motorcycle business as the largest single industrial employer.
The city is also endowed with a bustling tourism sector and to its advantage, it is located near eastern Africa's agricultural heartland, and a number of its primary products are exported through Mombasa, hence, its important role in the community of Eastern African states as the headquarters of important regional railways, harbours, and airways corporations. The fact is, if Nairobi's rail system is non functional, their tourism sector and most businesses wouldn't be thriving the way they have.
The Nairobi model can be replicated in Lagos State which is long overdue for such expansion.
While we pray government keeps its promise of establishing alternatives to the commercial motorcycles, it must be ready to improve upon its maintenance culture as well as quality of services. Everyone has seen the state of the BRT buses. It brought great relief to passengers when it first came into operation. However, not many people can say the same at present. Most of the buses are old and now keep passengers stranded after breakdowns during trips. The ones still road worthy are not enough such that passengers queue at terminals for hours before the buses arrive.
The time wastages no doubt, compel most individuals to opt for Okada ride home, or to their offices/business places. The situation is worse now that government replaced the pay as you go ticketing method with smart cards. Many people now avoid the terminals because most often, the cards are either not available or there is no network.
Also, other planned alternatives in agriculture, wealth creation, empowerment programmes for those who wish to acquire skills, must be taken seriously to ensure that crime rate does not increase as a result of the ban.
This is not the first attempt by Lagos State Government at banning Okada riders but if it musters enough will power to execute the plan, this will certainly be the last we will hear of motorcycles as commercial transport in the state. It will make Lagos a better place for all and Lagos history will have a page for Sanwo-Olu.