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The renewed menace of okada

By Editorial Board
14 June 2022   |   2:59 am
The nuisance posed by commercial motorcycle riders popularly called okada in many parts of Nigeria has recently heightened, constituting a menace to citizens in general

[FILES] A general view of hundreds of taxi motorcycles, popularly called Okada, seized and waiting to be crushed by the Lagos Environmental Task Force following a ban on bike transport in Lagos on June 3, 2022. – Seven thousand seized taxi motorcycles have been crushed by the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Services empowered to enforce a ban on bike transport in Lagos. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The nuisance posed by commercial motorcycle riders popularly called okada in many parts of Nigeria has recently heightened, constituting a menace to citizens in general and a threat to peaceful co-existence.

Although the menace has been highlighted more in Lagos State and parts of the federal capital territory, Abuja, no state where okada riders operate is actually immune from their penchant to disturb public peace, as reflected in the past few weeks in which they featured in violent clashes that resulted in the loss of lives and property in Lagos and Abuja.

In the recent past, many states have had to embark on either outright banning of okada operations or strict regulation and monitoring of their movement, just to prevent frequent crashes and the resultant breakdown of law and order.

The frequency and scale of these okada clashes are a source of concern and have become a major security threat to the nation as their lawlessness, impunity and violence have assumed a disconcerting level.

Basically, the okada is synonymous with frequent vehicular accidents causing avoidable loss of lives and often permanent incapacitation. Many times, they run away after hitting passersby, constituting hit-and-run riders and leaving victims to die or at the mercy of bystanders or their families.

During a period in Lagos State, the situation got so critical that some public hospitals including Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital created ‘Okada Ward,’ specifically to attend to victims of accidents caused by the recklessness of okada riders. But the gruesome dimension that the operators have lately added to this calamity is the unwholesome solidarity they generate with one another each time any of them is involved in an accident.

First they claim ‘rights’ even when they are clearly at fault, and they then insist on punishment for the motorist or commuter against whom they are pitted. In some cases, as exemplified by the killing of a sound engineer, David Imoh in Lekki on May 12, they resort to jungle justice and lynching of their perceived opponents. This ugly situation surely cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

Indeed, people are already getting frustrated by the recklessness, and this is evident in the attack on one of them in Jakande Estate area of Lagos after the okada rider allegedly drove recklessly and reportedly killed a pedestrian. Luckily, the police were able to intervene on time and rescued the okada rider, but not before his motorcycle, and those of some of his fellow riders were angrily set ablaze. Jungle justice is detestable all around, either by okada riders or the angry or frustrated populace; that is why it is important that far-reaching actions are taken to prevent situations of such acrimony.

Therefore, the latest pledge by Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to tackle their overbearing recklessness by imposing a ban on okada in six Local Government Areas, and insisting on their strict regulation, should be enforced to the letter and probably extended to the entire state in due course. That okada operators have become a huge embarrassment and threat to Lagosians is not in doubt. The Lagos State governors’ disposition should not be seen to bark alone but given sharp teeth by the State Assembly and law enforcement agencies.

Similarly in Abuja the other day, people and houses were attacked at Same Global Estate in Lokogoma area by groups of armed okada riders. They attacked the estate over an accident involving two of their colleagues who were knocked down by a motorist who ran into the estate for safety. The attack caused panic as people scrambled for safe escape routes from their houses and the estate. The okada riders numbering over 100 pulled down the estate gate and chased residents with dangerous objects and set fire to two buildings before the police and soldiers intervened. In another development, about three days before the okada riders’ rampage on the estate, they set part of the Dei Dei building material market on fire after an okada rammed into an articulated vehicle resulted in the death of the passenger. It is worrisome that dangerous developments such as these would be allowed to happen before the police move to calm the situation. There can be no justification for this arson; and to cap it, the targeted motorist does not even reside in the estate. The police had observed that the Abuja incident was not exceptional, for the okada operators had been involved in several such incidents.

All state governments particularly Lagos State should sit up on the menace of okada riders. It is not enough to issue okada ban each time okada riders are in the news for the wrong reasons. Is Lagos State a Megacity by mere rhetoric that okada operation has become the best mode of transportation and the riders uncontrollable? It is high time Lagos State and the Federal Government stand firm to address the public nuisance that okada riders have become in the country.

Former Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration between 2012 and 2015 tried and succeeded in part to check the okada menace after signing the Lagos Road Traffic Law 2012 which restricts okada operations in at least 492 of the 9200 roads across Lagos metropolis; in an effort to reduce their operations and okada accidents. But over the years, the government relaxed its enforcement of traffic laws on okada, making the situation degenerate into today’s dangerously chaotic level. Okada riders thus returned to all the roads they were banned from with impunity and unchallenged audacity.

Governments across the country must be blamed squarely for their failing to embrace public transportation policies and thus creating a void that okada operators latched on to entrench themselves. The relatively easy access to motorcycles and the ready market of people who need to move thus created a mass of young people unwilling to learn skilled work and to engage themselves more meaningfully. With time, okadas became the number one tool in committing a crime as it aids a quick getaway. Now, as a result of the government’s belated onslaught against them, it is feared that banning them would create an army of unemployed youths and potential criminals. That is unfortunate for its truism but not a sufficient excuse to deter the government from enthroning law and order in society. Governments in all states need to initiate and sustain an urban mass transit system that will discourage okada and provide better alternative means of transportation for the people. Okada operation cannot be the solution to youth employment.

Merely announcing a ban on okada will not stop the okada menace; it is the regulation and enforcement that will do. The okada riders capitalise on the laxity and lack of consistency in enforcement of the ban. One wonders whether there is visible law enforcement that sets boundaries for okada operators in Lagos and other big cities.  Both the federal and state government should have an action plan to build light rail projects in every big city to ease transportation challenges. In Lagos for instance, people are suffering from an inadequate mass transit transportation system. Governor Sanwo-Olu can do more in this area.

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