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Lagosians and the ban on Keke, Okada

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PHOTO: DAILYADVERT

A lady resident in Lagos went to address a seminar at a venue in her locality on Saturday, February 1, 2020, the day the restriction order by the Lagos State Government on commercial tricycles and motorcycles came into effect. By noon, when the event was over, she walked down to the market to shop for what her family would need for the week. When she was through, she came out with heavy packs of foodstuff and other items. Her street is a kilometer (or a little more) away. Since she has refused to learn how to drive despite endless prodding from her husband, children and friends, what she usually did on occasions like this was to engage a commercial tricycle to take her to her street, since no bus plies that way or enters any street no matter how long.  It was at this juncture that it painfully dawned on her that she would have to walk home with the heavy load of stuff she had purchased – which was practically impossible. The commercial tricycles had all vanished on “orders from above.” Just immediately, her husband called to enquire where she was and she explained her predicament. “Just wait for me there, I am coming to pick you now,” came his reassuring voice. And soon, her husband was there, and with much relief, she entered the car and they returned home. In her bewilderment, it had not even occurred to her again to call him to come and take her home. She was used to the tricycles doing that for her.

This short, true account raises a couple of questions. What if the couple had no car? What if the man was out of town or engaged or trapped in traffic at some distant part of Lagos? Okay, this briefly stranded lady could have hired a taxi if she wanted (or could find any since commercial vehicles have become scarce commodities these days), but how many other Lagosians can readily afford that in these very harsh times when leaders have deluded themselves to think that the only solution to an economy they have recklessly run aground is to make false, grandiose claims while unleashing their infantile propaganda that may not be able to convince even a toddler, in their attempts to paper over the excruciating mess they have created?  Now, what solution did the Lagos State Government consider for people whose houses are two kilometers (or even more) away from the nearest bus stop and who might be carrying some loads or leading very tender children? I understand that government must at times take tough decisions to salvage dire situations, but in doing so, shouldn’t it be wary of presenting itself as an enemy of the people intent on callously inflicting unspeakable hardship on them?

No matter how sweet-sounding the reasons for this ban are, the implementation lacks human face and could have been handled better and more humanely, instead of this rude advertisement of gross insensitivity. The activities of Okada and Keke operators were proscribed in six Local Government Areas (LGAs), nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), 10 major highways and 40 bridges and flyovers across the state. But when you look at the local governments affected, you would wonder what remains of the Lagos that is known to you and me.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said defiantly a few days ago that the restrictions will not be reversed. That reminds one of the brash, icy tones that used to distinguish state military administrators of those dark days of military dictatorship. The governor said that at the launching of the state government’s commercial water transportation operations at Ajah in Lagos Island. Now, why was this Lagos Ferry Services (LAGFERRY) not launched and its impact determined before the ban? I learnt that, also, a sprinkle of about 50-something buses have been released; why was that not done before the ban? And what impact would even a hundred more buses make in a densely populated city like Lagos?  Reports say the government would be releasing more buses, but was any study undertaken at all to determine how that will unduly complicate the already horrible Lagos traffic situation worsened by the equally horribly bad roads? Is the government not aware that there are several roads in Lagos that vehicles cannot enter today due to their unmotrorable state and that some of them like in Apapa and Tin Can are still being rehabilitated and would still take a long time before ongoing work there is completed? How would the people living or working in those places move in and out?

Many people who used to ride tricycles to their offices or business places have put their cars on the bad roads to avoid the severe suffering other people are enduring this time around. Many more cars are also on the same dilapidated roads to take children to school. And so, terrible hold-ups have become the “bread of sorrows” of many Lagosians, while those who do not have cars are trekking long distances or stranded at the bus stops if they are too weak to trek.  As I drive to work every morning since this ban and see multitudes stranded at bus stops waiting for the buses that are grossly insufficient for the population waiting for them, my heart breaks. Now, why should anyone withdraw the means of transportation which came into being because of the failure of the authorities to plan for the movement of a growing population with what they consider safer means of transport?  Okada and Keke came in to fill the gap that successive governments had allowed to exist due to lack of foresight. Now that they have been withdrawn from the roads with hardly any alternatives, the outcome is just tales of woes and suffering everywhere. School children now trek long distances to still reach their schools late. Those who cannot do the marathon trekking are stranded at bus stops. By the time they are able to reach their schools (if ever), many subjects would have been taught in their absence. I also foresee many people losing their jobs this time around because of constant lateness!

By the way, what would the government have lost if it had given sufficient time (say, a month or even two) between the announcement of the restriction and its implementation, during which it would have released and marketed the alternatives with which it intended to fill the gaps that would be created by the ban? Okay, what was wrong in taking the measures piecemeal to reduce the ongoing hardship, like banning the Okadas first, before coming to the Kekes?  Most people share the apprehension about the mass invasion of Lagos by dumb-looking “Okada riders” being imported with long trucks almost everyday from different parts of Africa. In the heart of many Nigerians, the belief is strong that these fellows must have other agendas other than just commercial activities, and that the Okada business was just a disguise for their real mission which would have exploded on everyone one day. Also, the very high casualties their reckless riding of the machines were accumulating has become worrisome. So, their ban would have been a most welcome development if people knew that tricycles were still around or that there were other “grassroots” transport arrangements made available by government that could take them near to their homes. The government could have just barred the tricycles from plying ALL major highways, major roads, bridges and flyovers.
Ejinkeonye, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.

They should have only been restricted to the streets and “inner roads” where no bus routes exist to reduce the suffering of the people. If they now continue to constitute security risk, government will now duly explain and carry the people along and ban them completely. Indeed, if the tricycles were stopped from plying the major roads, it would be difficult for them to be used to perpetrate criminal activities. How would they escape in the streets if they commit crimes? They can easily be apprehended.

Alternatively, government can also establish its own fleet of strictly monitored tricycles and restrict them to the streets and “inner roads”. Instead of these big buses that can only ply the highways, they should provide mini-buses that can ply the narrow roads and streets and take people from the bus stops into the streets. Some streets are up to two kilometers long and people that live at the end of the streets have been plunged into unimaginable suffering trying to get home. Some are pregnant women with tender children who are now finding it very difficult to take their children to school and bring them back due to the long trekking involved. Please, dear Gov Sanwo-Olu, no matter what some callous “friends” are telling you, just assure yourself that there is no contest of egos between you and Lagosians. Please, tinker with this new policy and let the suffering, sorrow and mourning reduce in Lagos. You are here to serve the people and not punish them.

Ejinkeonye, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.


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