Time was 6pm at the traffic-busy, indeed chaotic, Mile 2 area of Lagos.  A mammoth horde of fuel tankers and other articulated trucks has as usual taken over every inch of driving space, thus impeding the flow of traffic along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway from the Second Rainbow Bus-stop all the way to Berger and beyond. As expected, many motorists were trapped in the stand-still gridlock and in their helplessness could only give vent to their frustration and impotent rage.

But this was not the case across the road where the Ijesha, Cele to Oshodi-bound traffic was flowing relatively smoothly. It was also business as usual for commercial motorcycle riders popularly known as Okada. Facing the opposite direction of the road, what would appear as a swarm of Okada riders was at this time busy hailing prospective passengers most of whom had alighted from commercial buses trapped in the traffic jam. Their destinations ranged from Berger Underbridge to Coconut, Tin Can and even Wharf.

To get to these destinations from that side of the road, the Okadas had to ride against the traffic or doing what is popularly known as One-Way. But suddenly, there was an alarming, ear-piercing screech from a vehicle breaking at top speed followed by a thud as of a heavy object falling on the tarred road. But this certainly was no ordinary object as the accompanying screams of alarm suggested. Underestimating the speed of the car Indeed, an Okada rider and his passengers had just been knocked down by a fast moving car. It happened as the Okada man tried to meander between the car and a commercial bus whose driver had stopped to pick some passengers.

He obviously underestimated the speed of the car whose driver immediately sped off either because he did not care about what happened to his victims or was afraid of being lynched by an irate mob Okada riders which quickly gave him a hot chase. As the accident victims were taken away to a nearby hospital, an impromptu debate arose among those present as to who was to blame for the near-tragic accident.

Although many condemned the driver of the car for zooming off and not waiting to find out whether the Okada rider and his passengers survived the accident, majority blamed the now common resort to driving against the traffic for the many accidents recorded in the area in recent time. In fact, according to one of the discussants, an average of at least two Okada-related accidents are recorded in that area everyday on account of one-way driving by commercial motorcycle and bus operators who readily cite the near-total truck blockade of the road as their excuse.

Another contributor, a motorist, who simply identified himself as George, said he did not blame the car driver for escaping from the scene of the accident as he related a personal experience to buttress his position. According to him: “One evening one bastard of an Okada rider who was driving one-way hit may car and fell down. FILE: Rapid Response Squad (RRS) on Special Traffic Enforcement at Mile 2, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. His colleagues all saw what happened, but instead of them to blame him, they rushed me and started banging on my car and almost smashed the wind screen. If not for some police men who came to my rescue, maybe they would have lynched me”.

Similar scenarios continue to play out in different parts of Lagos, including the Mile Two to Iyana Iba/Badagry route, Mile 12 to Ikorodu, the  Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, Mushin, Ogba/Ijaiye, Aja/Badore, some parts of Surulere and  Mafoluku/Oshodi,  Ikeja, Isolo, Apapa, Agege, Shomolu/ Bariga, Ifako Ijaiye/ Ojokoro,  Ketu, Ojota, Ojodu and Ikotun-Ejigbo road. But happily for those who are opposed to the Okada operators for recklessness and other excesses, things are about to change for the better. Indeed, the days of Okada riders in Lagos appear numbered if a recent declaration of the state governor, Akinwumi Ambode, to impose a total ban on their operation is anything to go by.

Plan to ban Okada: Governor Ambode is said to have taken  into view recent criminal activities in the state as well as security reports to arrive at the decision to impose a total ban on commercial motorcycles in the state.  According to an informed source, the move is not unconnected with the recent clash in Ketu-Mile 12 area of the state, allegedly triggered by a dispute between an Okada operator and a passer-by which led to loss of lives and property worth millions of naira. Also, the use of Okada was said to have facilitated the recent kidnap of three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School in Ikorodu area of the state by gunmen.

Total ban on Okada operations Ambode is said to be presently under pressure to act and may soon approach the state House of Assembly to amend the law restricting Okada to some routes to total ban of their operations in the state. Ambode, it was gathered, was not comfortable with the flagrant abuse of the law by Okada riders, coupled with reports of robbery incidents in recent times allegedly perpetrated with the use of Okada.

“Don’t forget that there is a law on ground that restricts them to certain routes in the state but they have not been adhering to the law. “They find a way to circumvent the law and government has a duty to safeguard innocent lives. Most of them drive against traffic during the day and at night; so, government is weighing the option strongly that the best thing is to ban Okada outrightly and it is in the interest of the state to do so,” the source added. “The Okada riders are gradually becoming a menace in Lagos and it is evident in the way they ply restricted routes at any time of the day. You are also aware of the recent bloody clash in Ketu-Mile 12 and the increasing threat to lives and property by terrorists in the country; it has, therefore, become expedient and imperative for government to ponder on this option.

“The governor is seriously considering this move because he feels that a mega-city like Lagos cannot harbour Okada. He feels that the Lagos economy and most especially the transport sector cannot be driven by Okada,” the source further added. Responsible government Indeed, while confirming the plan to ban Okada, Ambode during a recent world press conference at the Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, said: “Lagos is a cosmopolitan city and we have to start thinking on how to take Lagos to the next level; so you just think about it whether it is good or not for Lagos.” He did not stop there.

“The duty of a responsible government is to protect life and property, and this we shall continue to do through the Road Traffic Law,” Ambode affirmed. It would be recalled that former Governor Babatunde Fashola had   on August 2, 2012 signed the Lagos State Road Traffic Bill into law. Fashola said then that the law was a holistic review of the state’s traffic law of 2003, adding that it was designed to ensure safety on the roads.

He noted that the growth of Lagos into a mega-city with large migration into the state had resulted in traffic congestion, saying that the law was one of government‘s strategies to manage the situation. According to Fashola: “This new law is also the state government`s intervention to the alarming statistics of road accidents, especially those caused by reckless driving and activities of commercial motorcyclists (Okada riders).”

The law sought to promote the life expectancy of residents as it would significantly reduce congestion. It would address the safety and security issues associated with operations of   Okada and illegal use of vehicles in the state. Schedule II as well as regulation 16 Sub – sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012, restricts Okada,  tricycle (Keke Marwa), carts and wheel barrows on at least 475 of the 9,200 roads across the state. Section 3 Sub-section I of the Law stipulates that “no person shall ride, drive or propel a cart, wheel barrow, motorcycle or tricycle on any of the routes specified in Schedule II”.

Alarming accident statistics Statistics released in 2012 by records at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, showed 722 accidents were reported, comprising 568 males and 154 females between January and July 2012. At the old Toll Gate Trauma Centre, 254 accidents, which resulted in 35 deaths, were recorded during the same period. Fifty per cent of the cases were caused by Okada riders, 27 per cent of the victims were passengers and 23 per cent pedestrians. “These are alarming figures and we cannot afford to allow this to continue, hence our intervention with this law,” Fashola said.

Then Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, in the run up to the 2015 general elections  lamented that the number of Okada-related accidents which had reduced previously by 81 percent began to witness an upsurge. It witnessed an increase from January 2015, both in reported death cases and injuries.

Specifically, injuries in Okada-related accidents increased by 34 percent compared with the fourth  quarter of 2014.  “This is largely due to the resurgence of Okada as public transportation on our roads with impunity,” Opeifa stated. Yes, they should be banned— LASTMA For the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, the proposed law banning Okada should come into effect immediately. This is because, according to the Authority’s boss, Chris Olakpe, motorcycle riders are the major problem in Lagos and indeed constitute a serious hinderance to managing traffic in the state.

Describing them as a troublesome lot, he said: ‘’It is very tasking to work with them. In a sociological balance, we call them criminal citizens because they have been worrisome on Lagos roads. Wheel of progress For instance, if you apprehend them on an offence, before the end of same day, they will still commit more. They keep doing the wrong thing; they are a clog on the wheel of progress. “It has been very hectic managing them though we have been curbing their excesses. As I speak with you, I have just recommended that enforcement should be dispatched at some of them for contravening the law. Many of them no longer wear protective helmet. Also, they are seen on restricted routes and they carry more than a passenger at a time.  In essence, they are endangering their lives as well as that of road users.”

FRSC concurs,   decries reckless   driving by Okada    operators: Meantime, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, has thrown its weight behind the Lagos State government’s full restriction on motorbikes plying the highways within the state. Mr. Hyginus Omeje, FRSC Lagos Commander who spoke to Vanguard Features over the telephone said that the State is implementing what the Law demands because Okada, by law are, not allowed to ply highways within the state.

According to him, it is not only the state law that forbids Okada riders from plying the highways, even the Federal Road Safety Traffic Code forbids motorbikes below 100CC from plying the expressways because of the dangers it constitutes. He said it was against this backdrop that the Corps had impounded many bikes and is still clamping down on those who refused to abide by the law.

The FRSC Lagos Command boss, however, advised Okada riders to abide by the law by plying only feeder roads, rather than exposing themselves to danger by plying the expressways. ‘’The restriction is to avoid incessant road traffic accidents along the highways involving okada riders who  expose road users and should not be found on expressways,” he said, adding that they should maintain the status quo of plying the feeder roads pending when the law on total ban comes into effect. He commended the Lagos State government for setting up a task force to enforce the restriction, adding that it was complementing FRSC efforts in this regard.

He regretted a situation whereby Okada riders block most roads under flyovers, especially when it is raining, as is the case under the Mile Two bridge which affects traffic flow negatively. Okada operators react, describe ban as unfair:

But for obvious reasons the plan to ban Okada in Lagos has not gone down well with the operators many of whom described it as unfair, especially coming from a government  they claimed to have voted for. A representative of Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State MOALS, Tijani Pekis, said outright ban of the riders will further impoverish them and increase crime rate in the country. He said: “I believe the recent crisis in Mile 12 is responsible for government’s decision to want to ban commercial motorcycles in the state. As soon as we heard about this, we wrote the Governor, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the House Committee on Transportation and the Commissioner for Transport about the development. Commercial motorcycle “Our advice to the government is to compel all commercial motorcycle riders to wear rider’s badges and be well screened by both the government and the association. If this is done, it will be difficult for every Dick, Tom and Harry to ride a commercial motorcycle on Lagos roads”.

On the effect of possible ban on the riders, he said: “Government should have a rethink on the planned outright ban and this will help them (government) from investing in ammunition to curb the crime that may arise as a result of the ban. Many of our members were formerly employees of companies that folded up or they were retrenched from their places of employment due to one reason or the other. “So we’re only using Okada to make ends meet. If Lagos State bans Okada, does it have the capacity to employ the army of individuals that will be rendered jobless? Or is it interested in worsening the already alarming  unemployment rate in Lagos and  in the country.Okada is the only means of livelihood for many since unemployment is on the increase. The primary objective of the government is to provide for its citizens but this is lacking in our own case.”

Written by: Mike Ebonugwo, Theodore Opara, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Bose Adelaja

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