Violent clash as Lagos clamps down on daring Okada riders
More than ever before, commercial motorcycle operators popularly known as Okada riders in Lagos State now constitute a menace to the residents and the government. Recently, they have become so daring and emboldened to act in manners detrimental to safe living in the society. They operate with unregistered motorcycles and seem to be running a parallel government as they flagrantly disobey orders restricting them from plying certain routes. Besides, assaulting other innocent road users at slightest provocation and attacking police personnel on duty have become the order of the day. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes on the need to check the incessant violence and vandalism of police stations and burning of police vehicles by the Okada riders.
“Okada riders would have killed me on Sunday morning if not for my friends from 23 Road, who came at the right time and guarded me out of their hands, while they were beating me.”
With these words, Mr. Jimmy Solanke, a tailor and father of four, recounted the maltreatment he suffered in the hands of Okada riders in Lagos.
Solanke, popularly known as Awilo, was last Sunday, beaten to a pulp by Okada rioters while videoing a weeklong clash that erupted between the police and the riders in Festac.
Some police personnel had stormed 7th Avenue, impounded some commercial motorcycles and took them away. The riders regrouped themselves, waylaid the police officers and burnt three of their patrol vehicles that they used for the operation.
Awilo said he was in his shop at 7th Avenue, K Close, Festac, when his wife who went to church came back and told him that there was a fight going on between the police and Okada riders on the street, and he woke up from his bed to see things for himself.
On getting outside to wash his face, he saw four Okada riders running into the close. He challenged them to go out as Okadas are not allowed into the close, but they threatened to stab him to death with a Hausa-made dagger.
Luckily for Awilo, some other residents of the close who had been alerted by the altercations that ensued between him and the commercial motorcyclists joined forces with him to push them away and lock the gate to the close.
Awilo later went out to record what was happening with the aim of posting it to close’s Whatsapp platform to inform others on the development. While doing that, the Okada men swooped on him with slapping and beating using a flat surfaced plank, and prevented him from videoing their clash with the police.
Awilo recounted: “It was while they were beating me that 23 Road boys, my then neighbours at 23 Road, saw me and guarded me out of their hands. One of the elderly people told them to check what I was videoing. So, they checked my phone and deleted the videos.
“This people are bad. They do not have respect for the police. Look at how they vandalised the 7th Avenue Police Post. All the vehicles parked there were destroyed. They burnt three police vans.”
There are other accounts of the reason for the fight between the police and the Okada men. An eyewitness, Mr. Mustapha Abiola, told The Guardian that the police from Alausa came to the 7th Avenue and impounded some Okadas and took them away in continuation of their raid that the Alausa taskforce started last Friday along Second Rainbow in Mile 2 axis.
Another account by Kunle Ajani has it that the Sunday’s raiding was in response to complaints made by some landlords and residents whose frontages are being used as a party ground every Sunday. They said they were being denied free access to their houses.
In response to the petitions, the taskforce visited the area and took away some vehicles but the daring Okada riders revolted. Some of them with charms removed their clothes and started walking towards the police who responded by using teargas canisters to disperse them.
“As the confrontation was going on, other riders at the 711 end of the road had blocked the exit road with logs and used tyres such that the policemen, who fled on foot, couldn’t move their vehicles.
“It was then that they poured fuel on the police vehicles and set them ablaze. One could see the thick balloon of dark smoke from a distance as the three vehicles were on fire,” he said.
During The Guardian’s visit to the scene in the late afternoon while the unrest was on recess, the carcass of the three burnt vehicles were seen being scavenged on by unidentified persons who were looking for iron and other saleable parts.
While the Okada riders were throwing parties and celebrating their ‘victory’ over police, little did they know that the police were also planning something big against them.
One of the rioters, Ibrahim Musa, even boasted to The Guardian: “We fought them and burnt their vehicles and destroyed the police station. If you go there you will see it. Why will the police come to our house and carry our Okada?”
But the ‘victory’ turned into a horror early Tuesday morning. At about 3 am, while the residents were still rolling from one end of the bed to the other, constant gunshots and clanging of machetes woke them up.
It was learnt that the police in the company of some soldiers and area boys had stormed the area where the Okada riders slept in their makeshift apartments and dealt a huge blow on them.
Some people claimed that a number of persons lost their lives that night but the claim couldn’t be substantiated. However, it was confirmed that many more motorcycles and their riders were arrested in connection with the burnt police vehicles.
The Guardian learnt that the night raiding was spurred by the insult and boldness of the Okada riders to attack a police post and burn their vehicles.
“They really showed them that the government does not succumb to criminals,” a resident of the area, Ephraim Okolie, quipped.
“The Okada riders are so daring, always telling police that they will beat them with their numerical strength. They also fight motorists on a regular basis for what is their fault,” he added.
It is on record that commercial motorcyclists had attacked the same police post years back and killed an officer. They destroyed the post, pulled down the gate and vandalised vehicles parked in the premises.
A resident, Abig Agbo, a pastor in a Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) on the 7thAvenue, K Close, said worshippers took to their heels when the fight was getting close to the church’s premises during Sunday service.
At about 8am on Tuesday, the crisis started again, resulting in many closes on the 7th Avenue locking their gates to protect the residents. Also, business owners locked up their stalls to avoid possible looting of their goods.
Some schools in FESTAC had to contact their wards’ parents to reassure them of the safety of their children. One of the schools, Radiance Nursery and Primary Schools as well as Radiance High Schools on First Avenue and 41 Road sent messages to parents and guardians to reassure them of their wards’ safety.
While this was going on, the police had mounted a roadblock at the 2nd Avenue, not far away from the Divisional Police Station. This, The Guardian learnt, was done to prevent any attack on the station.
Recounting his ordeal, a resident of the area, Jideofor Nelson, said: “At about 11:47am, while I was about leaving the church premises, my mother called me and said there was a crisis around my house and asked me to go to my pastor’s house instead of coming home.
“She said my neighbour was discussing it with his wife. I said okay. She called again and I told her I was going to call my neighbour to explain the situation to me. When she dropped the call, I called my neighbour and he said 7th Avenue was not a place I would like to come to at the moment as there was a serious fight going on between the police and Okada riders.
“Already, I have carried some elderly women whom I wanted to drop off their houses before going home with my family. After dropping them off, I advanced to my house, but on getting to 72 Road Junction by 7th Avenue, the road was blocked and I saw some people shouting ‘no road’ and wielding dangerous weapons coming my direction. I quickly engaged my gear and sped off.
“Before getting to that point, I saw thick dark smoke in the air indicating that something was wrong. I tried to drive towards the First Gate just before the police station on the 2nd Avenue, there was another roadblock without a sign of any human being.
“The roadblock was mounted by the police to prevent the rampaging Okada riders from accessing the station. As a result of the roadblock, all the vehicles that were leaving Festac had to follow 21 Road, through Third Avenue.
“There I headed but with the heavy traffic I witnessed, I decided to go back since the traffic on the other side was flowing. I drove back with my family and was forced to go to an eatery on 22 Road where I spent the money I never planned.
“My child, after seeing other children playing paid games at the place, forced me to register him for the game. I had no option than to register him with N5, 500 for 50-units game. This is apart from what I had spent on food and drinks. By the time I left there after three hours, my pocket felt it.
“I decided to follow the other route to 7th Avenue, that is, 71 Road, and there I discovered that the thick smoke I saw earlier was from three police vehicles set ablaze by the rioters. The FESTAC’s divisional police officer had just visited the area where a Toyota Hilux pickup van and two danfo buses were burnt.
“There, I met one of the 7th Avenue residents who told me that the other end had been opened while that of 71 road was still blocked with fire. The DPO couldn’t advance beyond the point where I turned. I quickly drove home to, at least, secure my family first before any other thing.
“While my co-resident joined in the car and I asked what happened, he said that Alausa taskforce came to Festac and packed some Okada and the riders burnt police vehicles.”
The character of Okada riders in the country is the same anywhere they are found, especially in Lagos where irrationality, violence, and abusive temperament, among others, are the hallmarks of their recklessness.
Before now, people stayed off the road to avoid being hit by an out-of- control Okada rider. Pedestrians would climb pavements and road barricades to escape being hit, but today, Okada riders climb the same walkway, drainage slabs and pavements, posing a threat to footers.
Today, you don’t need to ride on an Okada to get killed or injured or have your bones broken. They struggle with pedestrians over the right of way on the walkways.
Even with the pedestrians not being safe on the streets, the motorists have had their own share of unpleasant experiences with these uncontrolled Okada riders.
As a motorist, you might be unlucky to pull by, at the roadside to get something done and get smashed by a marauding Okada from nowhere.
Many have been sent to their early graves under the watch of the helpless government and its law enforcement agencies just because they stepped out of their vehicles on Lagos roads.
The case of Bamidele Johnson is still fresh in the mind. He was almost killed by a reckless Okada. Hence, the clamp down on Okada is a well thought out decision.
“With Okada in our environment, no one is safe, not only as a result of accidents, but they constitute a serious security threat to the entire society. Traffic robberies are made easy with Okada in place, especially snatching of pedestrians’ bags and obtaining people’s valuables at gun-point,” Gloria Odunze, a mother of three, said.
The Lagos State government confirmed that Okadas are being used in perpetrating traffic robberies, kidnapping and conveying arms, among other nefarious activities.
At the formal launch of the first and last mile bus scheme recently at the Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said it was because of the nefarious activities of the commercial motorcyclists that the government restricted them and tricycles in certain areas and local governments, apart from other reasons like killing and maiming of citizens.
According to him, the restriction is to improve and guarantee the security of life and property. “The alarming statistics of fatal accidents recorded from the operations of Okadas in the state between 2016 and 2019, as well as the exploitation of Okadas for the facilitation of crime across the metropolis can no longer be ignored.
“The goal is the full implementation of a safer and more efficient alternative transport solution that takes out the need for Okadas and replaces them with the ‘First and Last Mile Bus Scheme (FLM) buses, thus curbing the incidence of Okada-related crimes and robberies,” Sanwo-Olu said.
Today, it’s a punishable offence for any Okada and tricycle to ply any of the restricted areas, which include Surulere; Lagos Mainland; Lagos Island; Ikeja; Eti-Osa; Apapa; Apapa-Iganmu; Coker-Aguda; Itire-Ikate; Yaba; Ojodu; Onigbongbo; Lagos Island East; Iru-Victoria Island; Ikoyi and Obalende.
Other areas are the 11 major highways in the state: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Apapa-Oshodi Expressway; Oworonshoki- Oshodi Expressway; Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway; Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway; Third Mainland Bridge; Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe Expressway; Lagos-Badagry Expressway; Funsho Williams Avenue; Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa Lekki Coastal Road.
But Okada riders have never obeyed the order and are even operating without number plates. Indeed, anyone who has seen Okada riders attack innocent passengers with knives, or motorists with stones, clubs and pieces of broken bottles, will support a total ban on their activities in Lagos.
It was once said that Lagos was sitting on a keg of gunpowder, owing to the influx of ‘undocumented northerners and immigrants from neighbouring countries’, especially those with questionable characters.
The Guardian’s investigation reveals that these foreigners, who could hardly speak English, initially stopped in the North, specifically Kano to learn Hausa language before moving down South to take up the job of riding Okada.
In most cases, they do not reveal their real identities to anybody and cannot communicate. Unofficial figures indicate that there are hundreds of thousands of Okada riders between the ages of 15 and 22 who are now in Lagos alone. They live in the inner city centres and in remote corners of the state like the far-flung FESTAC, Satetelite Town, Ikeja, Oshodi, Oke Afa, Ajangbadi, Ajegunle, Agege and Yaba.
Recently, a resident of 3rd Avenue, FESTAC Town, Ifeoma Anyanwu, was stabbed on her belly for dragging her bag with one of the Okada riders at night.
The 32-year-old graduate of Philosophy at the University of Lagos, had attended an audition at Abeokuta, Ogun State, and was returning to her home in FESTAC when she boarded the bike of a rider who had criminal intent.
Anyanwu had arrived at FESTAC around 10pm. Coming through Ikeja, she had taken a bus to Alakija, from where she hired an Okada. Unknown to her, the Okada rider was armed with a dagger. Anyanwu was going to 3rd Avenue, but instead of taking the straight route of 2nd Avenue, the Okada rider took the lonely and dark 7th Avenue.
Suddenly, according to Anyanwu, the Okada rider held her bag, dragging it while shuffling his Okada as he tried to turn around to make his passenger to fall off the bike, but she held on. Sensing he had lost the bag, the rider pulled out his dagger and stabbed Anyanwu and escaped before a rescuer came.
A security expert, Omoki Oviewhe, said the fearlessness of Okada riders to commit crimes was being emboldened by some strong names in the country.
“I believe that there are people sponsoring them to Lagos because when you take them to the police, the next moment they are back on the street. Apart from that, where do these people have money to buy brand new Okada for N300, 000?”
According to Oviewhe, the criminal commercial motorcyclists constitute a serious security threat in the state and the country. “They do not value lives and therefore should be treated without kid gloves.”
The restriction of Okada riders in some areas may not work because their operation in those areas is still very pronounced. Despite the governor’s hard words, Okada riders are till operating on Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway; Oshodi-Ikeja along; Mile 2-Orile; Lagos-Badagry, Ikeja, Ojota and Maryland.