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Despite ban, okada remains ‘kings’ on Lagos roads

By Daniel Anazia, Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond and Chinonso Ihekire
09 October 2021   |   4:20 am
Despite the restriction of commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada, from plying certain roads in Lagos State, there is no part of the state where they do not operate now.

Despite the restriction of commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada, from plying certain roads in Lagos State, there is no part of the state where they do not operate now. In fact, a lot of Lagosians now hold the view that trucks have given way to okada riders to emerge as the new king of Lagos roads. Whether on the highways or inner roads, okada riders flout traffic laws with impunity and any attempt to make them to do the right thing always result in insults or outright violence.

For instance, on Thursday, September 23, this year, rampaging okada riders murdered a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Kazeem Abonde, in Ajao Estate.

Abonde, who was attached to the Police Command’s operations department, was hacked to death by the okada riders during an operation to enforce the banning of commercial motorcycles from certain routes.

According to the official statement released by the spokesman of Lagos State Police Command, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, after the incident, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Ajao Estate, CSP Abdullahi Malla and other police officers were also injured during the attack.

“The Lagos State Police Command lost one of its finest officers during a raid on criminal hideouts in Ajao Estate, Lagos State, yesterday, September 23, 2021.

“The incident happened when tactical teams of the command comprising men drawn from RRS, Taskforce, Ajao Estate Division and other divisions were carrying out a raid of identified flashpoints and enforcing the ban on use of motorcycles in restricted areas in the Estate and similar places in the state.

“The exercise was a routine proactive approach aimed at curtailing activities of armed robbers and other criminal elements in the state. Similar exercises were carried out in the past in other parts of the state, which have resulted in reduction in crimes in the areas.

“After the successful operations which led to the arrest of some suspects, other criminal elements and hoodlums, in their large number, laid siege to the exit point of the estate and attacked the policemen with guns, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons.

“Unfortunately, during the attack, CSP Kazeem Sumonu Abonde attached to the Operations Department of the command was brutally killed by the hoodlums.

“The DPO Ajao Estate, CSP Abdullahi Malla and other Police officers equally sustained varying degrees of injuries. The body of the deceased officer has been deposited at the Yaba Mainland Hospital for autopsy.

“The Commissioner of Police CP), Hakeem Odumosu, while condemning the attack on the policemen who were carrying out legitimate duty at the time, has directed that a discreet investigation into the incident should be carried out immediately. The CP has equally vowed to ensure that all suspects responsible for the dastardly act are brought to book soon,” Ajisebutu said.

It could be recalled that on January 27 last year, the Lagos State government proscribed the operations of okada riders and tricycles (Keke NAPEP) operators in six local government areas, nine local council development areas and 10 major highways across the state.

The state government had directed security operatives to embark on a total enforcement of its Transport Sector Reform Law of 2018 with effect from February 1, 2020, to address the chaos and disorderliness created by illegal operations of okada and tricycle riders in restricted areas. The government also banned okada and tricycles from plying 40 bridges and flyovers across the state.

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, who made the announcement at the State House in Alausa, said the measures were taken in response to “scary figures” of fatal accidents recorded from operations of okada and tricycles in the state between 2016 and 2019.

“Also, the rate of crimes aided by okada and Keke keeps rising. They are also used as getaway means by criminals. Therefore, after consultations with stakeholders, the state security council, in compliance with the extant Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, has decided to commence enforcement of the law which bans the operation of okada and keke in six local government areas and nine local council development areas,” he added.

Although the announcement of the ban was made with so much gusto, its enforcement has been grossly ineffective as evidenced in the ubiquitous presence of okada riders on almost all Lagos roads. On the ever-busy Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Mile 2-Badagry Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and Funsho Williams Way around Alaka, commuters expect okada riders to be available with the wink of an eye despite the ban.

The Guardian checks also showed that the ban on tricycles is not being properly enforced.

To a resident, who simply identified himself as Callistus Oforbike, the okada riders appear to be more powerful than the state government.

“I do not think the government can stop these people because they seem to be more powerful than the government. They go about their activities without minding the consequences. They ride against traffic. Other road users cannot even confront them. If you check very well, most of the bikes are not registered. This has its implications, especially in terms of security. What this means is that these okada riders with unregistered bikes can commit crimes and go freely,” Oforbike said.

Also lamenting the disregard for law and order by okada riders, another resident, Akingbade Oladunyin said: “There has been increase in criminal activities as well as road accidents due to the recklessness of these okada riders.

“It is indeed an eyesore; they have no regard for the police, they even assault policemen who try to caution them. They beat up any car owner who is involved in any accident with them even when they are glaringly at fault. I witness this almost everyday at Second Rainbow Bus Stop on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.”

One of the commercial motorcyclists who identified himself simply as Aliyu, bragged that no level of enforcement could take them off Lagos roads.

“This government is just deceiving itself saying they want to get rid of okada; they know they cannot do that. Even if they put task force at every corner, which is not possible, how many of us do they want to catch? Even we are ready for them too since they want to frustrate us. They say we are banned yet their agents collect charges and ‘cut’ tickets for us daily. If we are illegal, why do you keep collecting money from us? You didn’t provide alternative for us to survive and you want to take away what we are managing to keep body and soul together. Even the governor himself knows this is impossible, they are all wasting their time,” he said.

Recently, operatives of the task force were stationed at Pako/Oke-Afa axis of Isolo to conduct a raid on okada riders but the operation recorded little success as the motorcycle riders deserted the route immediately they got wind of it.

“This is not the first time they are raiding; it’s them that will get tired first. We shall see,” a rider on the route who didn’t want to be named boasted. “When they are tired and move on, we will resume our business, let me go and park for now. They said we should get identification cards and other permits and we did that. What else do they want? They said we shouldn’t work beyond a certain time and we are obeying that. To say we shouldn’t work at all is plain wickedness. It is impossible.”

One of the motorcyclists plying the Abule-Egba – Oshodi highway, who preferred anonymity, while recalling his experiences in the hands of the task force, vowed not to quit the trade.

“This is the third bike I am riding since the ban. They (Taskforce) have seized my bike twice and I had to forfeit them. We just have to stay in hiding whenever they come out to raid. This morning, they raided from Ogba to Abule-Egba and they brought two different trailers to seize our bikes. They don’t even wear uniform again; they disguise and catch people unawares.

“If they catch you, most times, there is nothing you can do about it. There are people already waiting at their office in Oshodi to buy your bike from them. I think they take the bikes to other countries to resell.

They don’t even collect settlements or listen to pleas. So, we just have to manage. When they are done with raiding, we will start to work again. They should just remove the ban because it is better that way.”

Another okada rider, who also pleaded anonymity, alleged that members of the task force sometimes extorted commercial motorcyclists. “But parting with some money is better than forfeiting one’s motorcycle. Sometimes if the taskforce members catch you on the road, and there are just a few of them there, you may be able to bail your bike from them immediately. If they agree, you would have to pay up to N30,000 to collect it back.

But if they come out en masse to raid and they catch you, forget it. Unless you know someone there, your bike will just go like that.

“Despite the ban, officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) also extort commercial motorcyclists. The money we give to the union workers is just free money. They don’t give the money to the government. It is illegal money. They collect between N200 and N400 from us every day.”

A resident of Jankade Estate in Ejigbo LCDA, Dr. Sola Kolawole, identified the deplorable state of many roads in the state as the reason for government’s failure to implement the ban on commercial motorcyclists.

Kolawole, who works in Ojo Alaba area, referred to the Isolo-Ikotun road, which serves as an alternative route to the Lagos-Badadry road, saying it has collapsed due to enormous vehicular traffic.

He explained: “Much as I’m not a fan of okada, there is no other alternative for people to move from one destination to another swiftly other than okada. The state of the roads frightens a lot of people. Rather than inconvenience themselves in public buses, most people prefer to hop on okada to get to their destinations swiftly.

“It is appalling that a journey that should ordinarily take 30 minutes will take an hour or more due to gridlock. It is good the government has banned the operations of okada in some major routes, but the government should, as a matter of urgency, create alternative routes or means of commuting from one point to another, especially in areas where construction works are ongoing.

“As you know, residents of communities along the Mile 2-Badagry Expressway – Ojo, Alaba, Iba Ishashi, Agbara, Aradagun and even Badadry – have been cut off from other parts of the state due to long years of neglect by both federal and state governments. For people living in those communities, okada is the best option.”

At the popular Jakande roundabout in Isolo, an okada passenger, Kola Adeyemi, maintained that okada had become a necessary evil in the state due to the traffic situation.

“We all know they can be a nuisance, but the traffic in Lagos defies human logic, forcing many of us to rely on okada to move from one place to another. I am a businessman and clients can call me at anytime to meet them somewhere for business and Lagos traffic would say no, making me to lose the business. The best thing is to regulate them very strictly; ensure they are all registered and traceable and if possible, have them stop work at a particular time.

“The truth of the matter is that the number of buses and tricycles we have in Lagos cannot cater to the transportation needs of all Lagosians. If you remember, when keke and okada were banned last year, thousands of people suffered; many people were stranded and the commercial buses hiked their fares astronomically. Cutting off the head is never a solution to headache. They can be reckless but that is where they should be sanctioned and not banned outright.”

A resident of Alimosho, Asiwaju Dare, agreed that most commercial motorcyclists are reckless but advised that government regulate their operations to bring sanity to the roads instead of outright ban.

His words: “I mostly use bikes within inner city roads; I also use bikes when I am running late to work. I prefer using the bikes to beat traffic. I feel it is more comfortable to patronise them than these commercial (danfo) buses. The only means of commuting in Lagos State that I prefer to bikes is BRT buses. I haven’t really encountered any risk with bikes. It is even easier to control an okada rider than a bus driver in transit. I think bikes are safer, to be honest. Even on the highways, they are safe, as long as they maintain a lane. I think the ban should be lifted.”

A resident of Yaba area of the city, Adetona Ayoade, said: “I use bikes on the mainland. I use it everywhere I go, from Iyana-Ipaja, Bariga to Oshodi-Isolo. I use bikes for almost every outing I have. I think that apart from being faster, they are relatively cheaper to use than cabs. I would use a bike more than commercial buses, except when I am going through a long distance. Admittedly, a lot of bike riders are irresponsible. I have encountered some hazards a few times, but they are not really serious. I don’t think they are safe to use but I personally feel they need to uplift the ban because living in Lagos is just too stressful. It is not okay to have buses as the only means of moving from one point to another.”

For Ms Onyinye Chinwuko, “bikes are important because of the speed.”

“I’d rather use them, because it makes more sense to save time than to be stuck in a bus for a long time. It saves me the extra stress of having to trek to bus stops because most times these bikes can pick me up right from my compound,” she added.

Johnny Ajefu also expressed a similar view: “Mostly I use bikes from the Mainland to the Island. I feel that they save my time. I prefer bikes because Lagos traffic is so hectic that it can leave you stranded for hours.

I have encountered many risks. A truck almost killed me before. At another time, I was on a bike and the rider was trying to dodge a policeman. The rider almost landed me in a gutter. In yet another case, the rider almost crashed into a filling station. Bikes are not safe; I won’t lie. But they are important,” he said.

After the killing of CSP Abonde by rampaging okada riders three weeks ago, the commissioner of police vowed that the incident would not dampen the morale of the police command or discourage it from carrying out its statutory duty of protecting life and property of residents. However, how they would drive okada away from Lagos roads with the adamant posture of the riders and the residents’ willingness to continue to patronise their services remains to be seen.