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Lagos tightens noose on okada, keke over robberies, insecurity

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Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently convened a state security summit to appraise successes, prospects and challenges of keeping the cosmopolitan state safe. Feedback from stakeholders pointed at the malfeasance of commercial motorcyclists, describing it as the jigsaw puzzle between the governor’s grand security agenda and residents’ sense of ease. WOLE OYEBADE reports.

“It was like a scene from a badly-scripted horror movie,” Ifeoma recounted. She was half-awake through the 1.5 kilometre journey from Five-Star to Iyana-Isolo. But mid-way on the service lane, she noticed a fellow tried to jump in front of the moving tricycle. His blow sent the windshield shattering on all five occupants.

“We all screamed in horror,” Ifeoma said. “As I tried to get out, another guy crossed from the expressway and pinned me to the keke with a Dane gun. He threatened to shoot.”

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The two robbers took everything of value within a minute. “They crossed the expressway, hopped on a waiting motorcycle, faced on-coming traffic and disappeared into the night. I had never seen anything like it.” The time was just before 8 p.m.

Ifeoma later heard similar robberies occurred at Mile 2, Cele Bus Stop and Oworonsoki, all on the same day, and by men on motorbikes.

Indeed, okada has been an environmental nuisance of all seasons, and almost everyone has had a fair share of sheer recklessness of its riders. The emerging trend nowadays is to see more highway robbers, armed robbery gangs and other criminals arrive and escape crime scenes on motorbikes.

So, when residents and other stakeholders met with the State government at a security summit last Monday, their fears were palpable. Besides the spike in road robbery cases, of similar concern was the majority of the riders are of questionable nationalities – all suggesting a state under siege of foreigners.

The consensus was that the issue had gone beyond appropriate regulations that Lagos has in abundance, but the need for a courageous clampdown on the okada menace especially. Sanwo-Olu, who sat through the four-hour summit taking notes, later said “a major pronouncement that will be far-reaching” would be made in the next couple of days. There are indications that the process has begun.

Lagos Traffic Law 2012 and hapless enforcement
Since they were proscribed in Kano in January 2013, Lagos has become the Mecca of okada riders in West Africa. And by their convergence at every junction, indiscriminate ‘flights’ on streets and expressways, one could safely assume there are enough motorcycles to go around 20 million Lagos residents.

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Their utility and reasons for high patronage are not farfetched, especially if you’ve ever been stuck in Lagos traffic or live in hard-to-reach suburbs and itching to get away as quickly as possible.

But there is a lot more in their nuisance value. It is hard to find a modern state with the preponderance of commercial motorcyclists as an unregulated mode of transportation. That informed the drive for the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012.

Specifically, Schedule II, section three of the Act prohibits okada operations on all major highways, bridges and selected major roads in all the local governments, including all Central Business District (CBD) while okada operation was limited to 10 pm in non-restricted areas. But the law has recorded more blatant violations than compliance.

State Commissioner for Police, Hakeem Odumosu, affirmed that State Police Commands had recorded more of Ifeoma’s experiences since the #EndSARS debacle, with both commercial motorcyclists and criminals alike more “daring” than ever before.

Odumosu said robbery in traffic constitutes a major security challenge encountered by the Command with majority now linked to okada.

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According to him, the government’s good intention of providing additional means of land transportation and creating jobs for the unemployed youths have been abused with “okada now a veritable tool for hoodlums to commit a crime and get away; disrespect to traffic rules and regulations; okada operators becoming a nuisance and reckless on our roads, and resulting into avoidable accidents with attendant consequences on human life.”

From January till May 9, Lagos recorded a total of 385 road accidents, out of which 280 are okada-related. The 280 accidents recorded a total of 198 deaths and 74 serious injuries.

Odumosu added that reports from the field had shown that a greater percentage of crimes, ranging from armed robbery, cultism, kidnapping, murder, drug peddling, burglary and stealing, traffic robbery to carjacking and cash snatching from bank customers, are attributable to armed hoodlums, who operate on okada.

“Another frightening menace of the okada riders is the impunity with which they carry out their jungle justice on innocent and unfortunate members of the public. A typical example of this was what happened in Ikorodu roundabout on June 22, 2020, when a motorist, Usman Bashir aged 58 was alleged to have hit a beggar by Ikorodu roundabout (which never happened after investigation). The man was pursued to the Ijede area and hacked to death in broad daylight. This shows how inhuman they are.

“Accomplices on okada in an armed robbery gang have also been reported to ride ahead of armed robbers, who are escaping in robbed vehicles and pass the information on police locations and movements through GSM so that they can evade arrest. At other times, they conduct surveillance around selected persons, private and government facilities and other targets, before calling in the operational arm of the gang to strike. In most of these cases, security operatives fell victim as they were attacked to decimate and destabilise them before going for their target,” Odumosu said.

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Ticking time bomb
Available records reveal that 218 serious crimes were perpetrated with the use of okada from January till May 12, 2021. Out of this figure, 92 were robberies in traffic; 26 were foiled armed robberies, 38 were cult-related activities while 18 were murder incidents.

Similarly, 78 suspects were arrested, 480 ammunition recovered while 320 okada were impounded in connection with various criminal and traffic offences. Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental Offences and other Police formations have also impounded over 5000 motorcycles.

Odumosu said it was high time the state “urgently reviewed applicable guidelines” and took “more drastic measures to permanently curtail the notoriety” of okada riders.

The Anyangburen of Ikorodu land, Oba Kabiru Shotobi, at the panel session, said the traditional rulers in various communities readily felt the pinches of insecurity the most.

The monarch said the State government had wasted too much time in deciding the fate of okada riders, and the time to be decisive is now.

“It is time to eradicate the usage of okada as a means of transportation. Our citizens among them should have alternative means in the absence of okada. It has proven to be dangerous to our health, well-being and security.”

Representative of the 57 community development committees (CDCs) in Lagos, Rotimi Owolani, said it was self-evident that the okada menace is a ticking time bomb.

Owolani said the most disturbing was the fact that majority of the riders are non-Nigerians, without proficiency in any local language. “It is time to flush them out,” he said.

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Speaking on behalf of all religious leaders, Bishop Stephen Adegbite of Lagos Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), reckoned with the general view.

Adegbite urged the State government to exercise the moral courage to do the needful, not only on okada riders but also the “unionists who daily collect tolls and levies without adding any value to road infrastructure.”

Okada, keke: Going…going…
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu shared the sentiments of all stakeholders as he reckoned that the security of the commercial nerve of the country and the fifth largest economy on the continent should not be taken for granted.

Sanwo-Olu said over the last couple of weeks and months, and in direct response to the growing spate of violence and insecurity in the state, Lagos had instituted several measures designed to curb the activities that engender insecurity, all to secure the state.

Some of the measures rolled out include monitoring of abandoned buildings and properties, demolition of shanties, eradication of cultism, technology development and the coming re-launch of the Lagos State Residents Card.

He added that he had noted with dismay the fact that okada riders were disregarding and flouting the restrictions imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis. In this same vein, we have also observed with dismay the ongoing war between commercial motorcyclists and our law enforcement agencies.

“This propensity for lawlessness is not who we are as Lagosians. We have also observed a worrying trend in which criminals have found commercial motorcycles a useful and enabling tool with which to perpetrate heinous crimes, with the motorcycles acting as quick-getaway vehicles.

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“As we all know, no society can make progress amid such haughty displays of lawlessness and criminality. Ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate our commitment as a government to the maintenance of law and order in the society. Our mission of attaining a Greater Lagos can only be achieved when we all resolve to live in an orderly manner.

“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.

“We are excited to announce that next week, we will be launching what we term the ‘Last Mile Buses’ that will ply inner roads and safely get commercial passengers to their final destinations. We envisage deploying over 500 of these buses to alleviate the pain associated with the restriction of motorcycle and tricycle operations. We also envisage that this initiative will also generate employment opportunities for Lagosians, including the commercial motorcyclist operators, who will be employed as operators of the Last Mile Buses.”

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