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Again, Lagos battles commercial motorcyclists, others

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• Govt Is Coming With Alternatives — Omotosho
• Ban Is Just A Cosmetic Idea To Make Lagos Look Nice — Banker

Except for the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, every other administration in Lagos State since the return of democracy has, in one way or the other, flexed muscle with commercial motorcyclists, and tricycle operators.

If the government is not threatening to ban the operators for alleged reckless driving and for aiding and abetting crimes, they are being considered for replacement with one “modern” transport scheme or the other. At other times, they are scheduled to give way for the implementation of a more robust, new transport policy or traffic law.

Interestingly, none of these schemes or policies have delivered to the people, effective, sustainable intra-city transport system, neither have they flourished the way their promoters have always hyped them ahead of inauguration.

For instance, nothing spectacular happened on the intra-city transportation milieu after Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola banned commercial motorcyclists from plying about 500 out of the 9, 200 roads in the state after his administration came up with what many considered a controversial traffic law.

Some of the major highways and feeder roads with a high volume of vehicular traffic, which commercial motorcyclists were barred from operating on including the Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway; Apapa-Oshodi Expressway; Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway; Lagos-Badagry Expressway; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Western Avenue, and Lagos-Lekki-Eti-Osa Expressway among others.

That law, which recorded a reasonable level of compliance, also prohibited these operators from operating on some bridges — Third Mainland; Eko Bridge, Airport-Ikeja, Opebi Link Bridge, Mushin/Isolo Link Bridge, and the Ikoyi-Lekki Link Bridge.

After attempts to make the government shift ground failed, the commercial transporters popularly called Okada under the aegis of All Auto-bike Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA), sued the state government for stopping them from earning a living through legitimate business.

It lost out and the emboldened state government to go ahead to expand the areas of restriction.

The clampdown by law enforcement nearly annihilated biking activities in some areas in the state, including Ikeja the state capital. This massive reduction in biking services increase the fortunes of commercial tricycle operators, better known as Keke NAPEP. It was not, however, long before they were also restricted from plying many roads, and pushed into remote areas.

Despite being labelled as an unfashionable means of transport for a cosmopolitan city in the 21st century, as well as being accused of being crime enablers, widespread unemployment ensured that attempts to push commercial motorcyclists out of business failed, as these key service providers gradually staged a comeback in all affected areas.

Five years after the initial ban by Fashola, his successor, Akinwumnmi Ambode, reintroduced the ban, as well as expanded the restricted areas.

However, the 2015 Lagos Road Traffic Law allowed motorcycles with an engine capacity above 200cc to operate on most roads in the state. That was how dispatch riders and power bike owners had their way. The Ambode traffic law was again in 2018 reformed and made to deal with wider issues of commercial road users. It being in place also gave rise to an upsurge in the number of bike hailing services using motorcycles with engine capacity above 200cc.

Lagos State is notorious for its never-ending traffic gridlocks, which lead to thousands of residents spending several hours on the road, but without getting to their destinations on time. As has been the case over the years, the only remedy to arriving destinations in time, and catching up with appointments has been the use of commercial motorcycles.

That notwithstanding, the Sanwo-Olu-led administration last Monday announced that it was shutting the door against commercial motorcyclists, tricyclists, and even the rapidly multiplying and in vogue bike hailing services in six local councils and seven Local Council Development Areas (LCDA).

According to the state Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho, who announced at the State House, in Alausa, the development was in response to “scary figures” of fatal accidents recorded from Okada and tricycle operators between 2016 and 2019.

The commissioner stated that with effect from yesterday, the ban would affect local councils and LCDAs such as Apapa, Apapa-Iganmu, Yaba, Lagos Mainland, Surulere, Itire-Ikate, Coker-Aguda, Ikeja, Onigbongbo, Ojodu, Eti-Osa, Ikoyi-Obalende, Lagos Island and Lagos Island LCDA.

“After a robust assessment of the debate on what has been widely referred to as the motorcycle (Okada) and tricycle (Keke) menace, the Lagos State Government and the State Security Council have decided that the security and the safety of lives of Lagosians are paramount,” Omotosho said.

He added: “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 (LCDAs),” he said.

The commissioner stressed that the enforcement would be total, warning that the government would deal with violators in accordance with the laws, adding that there would be zero tolerance for the movement of the banned devices on the listed highways and bridges.

The Transportation Hailing Alliance of Nigeria (THAN), the regulatory body for modern motorcycle firms, including as Max.ng, Gokada and O’ride, in its reaction, condemned the ban describing it as insensitivity on the part of the government.

Co-founder and CEO of MAX.ng, Adetayo Bamiduro, at a news conference in Lagos, said the government should regularise the industry rather than rendering people jobless.

He explained that MAX.ng has, since inception, complied with relevant laws and regulations guiding motorcycle operations in the transport industry, including compliance with engine capacity requirements.

“The government is relying on its Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, which restricts motorcycles from operating on major highways, but Section 15 of the law states expressly that ‘motorcycles above 200cc are exempted from the restriction’. All Max motorcycles are 220cc engines, a 10 per cent premium above the regulatory requirement.

“As stakeholders in the industry, we have always complied with rules and regulations. We have held meetings with the government over regulating the industry, but the government would always tell us to wait. We even took the initiative to self-regulate our operations and present the same to the government without any positive response, only for us to hear of a ban.

“The government did not consult us before announcing the ban. We are not an informal unregulated sector, we are companies backed by credible and reputable investors, and we are in this business to help the government solve transportation challenges. We understand the security risks the government referenced, but what about the security risk of joblessness? What happens to the drivers, who will be forced out of the system? Where are the jobs they will do? Security risks cannot be viewed from one dimension,” Bamiduro said.

Still pushing to have their way, hundreds of motorcyclists in the employ of Gokada and Max, last Friday, took their protest to the Lagos State House of Assembly, where they handed their petition to the Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, who was represented by member representing Alimosho Constituency, Bisi Yusuf.

Obasa, urged them to obey the law pending when the House would look into their petition.

The riders, who bore placards with different inscriptions called for the suspension of the ban in 15 local councils of the state while lamenting that the ban would rob them of their means of livelihood and make them jobless.

The riders’ views on joblessness resonates with Lanre Osinowo, an advertising agent, who stated: “I want to believe that the Lagos State government is not aware of the number of riders that would become jobless, or the number of people that would lose their jobs due to lateness if it bans bikes in an area like Apapa.

“I live in Apapa and work at Maryland. If you try moving around as early as I do, you will be robbed, and as a lady, you can easily be raped by hoodlums hiding behind these tankers in dark corners. These bike men are not the only ones that will suffer because of the ban, the average Lagosian will suffer. Until we have a solution to the constant traffic gridlocks, and bad roads, all around the state, we cannot become a megacity overnight. Most of the bike riders might end up taking up arms to feed their families, thereby putting Lagosians at risk again.

For Olise Okuzor, a banker, “If the transport systems were working properly and the roads were in good condition, I won’t be worried about the influx of bikes all over the state. These bikes are needed, and that is why more people keep going into the business. This should be an eye-opener to the government that something is not right in its transport management approach.

“Daily, I leave my house by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and I have to take a bike to my office at Lagos Island because Apapa Road is nobody’s friend, and the tankers have taken over the road. Imagine a world, where there are no bikes on Lagos Roads, and I have to walk a long distance to get to work in a good time. These roads are not even safe because I have been robbed twice on my way to work, which is why I contracted a bike man that picks me to work every day,” Okuzor said.

For Adaku Iwuanyawu, a banker, “I understand that the government is sending these bikes away to give Lagos a cosmetic makeover, but it cannot work that way. People will lose their jobs. I have colleagues coming from all over to work every day, and they have to depend on bikes to keep their jobs. We have been begging the government to fix the roads and take the tankers off them, but that has always fallen on deaf ears. Now, all of a sudden it wants to take quick action against Okada riders.

But Adejumo Adebiyi, a staff of Lagos Mainland Local Council (one of the councils affected by the ban), said the development would stem the rising deaths associated with motorcycles and tricycles.

“The policy is okay; it will reduce the rate of accidents in Lagos State. There is no right time to start something right. Definitely, there will be hardship, maybe the government has a plan to replace this mode of transportation.”

Adebiyi, who said, “I don’t use Okada, but I use tricycle a lot,” continued, “I support the ban on Okada, but the government should have a second thought about tricycles.”

An Okada rider, Ifeanyi Owenke, is already planning to veer into another line of business.

He said: “I will open a business for myself, I don’t want to work for anybody.”

But his colleague, Comphrey Moses said: “There is no work. Even if there are jobs, it is not easy to get at this moment. The government just wants non-indigenes that were into Okada business to leave the state. But it should kindly give us some time to look for jobs, but if it sticks to the deadline given, I will return to my state.”

Sanusi Ibrahim, an Opay rider lamented thus: “I am a graduate, and when the government failed to provide jobs for people like us, Gokada and O’ride created employment for us, and many people living in remote areas need our services.”

The state’s Information Commissioner, Omotosho, while reiterating the need to do away with this mode of transportation told The Guardian: that “The State’s Security Council, which comprises the state government, the Navy, DSS, Army, Police and other stakeholders in the state took the decision.
However, in taking the decision, the government thought about alternatives, which was the reason the ban is just taking effect. We were trying to see what we could do to put the people’s interest first and the people’s interest has come first. We feel that the safety and security of the people remains paramount. Sadly, many lives have already been lost, and a lot of blood has been shed due to the nefarious activities of some people.”

On actual steps taken to cushion the effect of the ban, he said: “Part of the alternatives that the government has put in place is that in the first week in February, we are going to be commissioning at least six new boats. Each of them can take about 40 people and they are going to be running so many routes from Marina to Ikorodu, Marina to Mile 2, therefore more people will be encouraged to take the waterways. Besides, new Buses are going to be commissioned very soon. Apart from that, there are over 600 buses for BRT. They are at the port, and as soon as we finish the clearing of those buses, they will join the fleet of buses that are currently running. There are also plans to bring in taxi cabs in their thousands in the coming days.

“So, if there are a few pains now, later it’s going to be a kind of gain for people. We have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of it all and we feel that the advantages of doing what we have done now outweighs the disadvantages for people, who are saying that they cannot get from one point to the other, or that the rate of crime will be on the increase.

“We have considered all these things but Lagosians should concede to the government and what the government is seeing, they are not seeing it. There are so many things that we cannot be saying on the pages of a newspaper or in front of television cameras. This is a government that sought to serve them. So, even as painful as this decision may be to them, it is to their service and interest. Alternatives are coming, and the flow of blood, insanity and chaotic situation on our roads must stop,” Omotosho said.

He continued: “There is a new thinking in transportation. In the Greater Lagos journey that the administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration has embarked on, Okada and Keke Napep are not part of it. We are talking about the 21st century economy, and so cannot be talking about Okada and Keke Marwa. Lagos has not expanded in land area, it’s a very small state, and when we were young, all of us were walking but now, nobody wants to walk anymore. Many people want bus stops right at the front of their rooms; people don’t want to exercise, but that is not the aim of this, there is a bigger picture in terms of security that we cannot begin to talk about, the kind of risk that we are doing away with. No government would want its people to suffer.”

On whether the action would not boost the ranks of criminals in the state as a result of joblessness, Omotosho said: “If anybody wants to engage in crime because he has been barred from doing Okada business, the law will take care of such person. However, there are many programmes that the government has put in place, but some people don’t want to do anything at all. Okada is easy because of the kind of money they get from it. Lagosians who are interested in working know that the state has an employment trust fund. My fashion designer is illiterate, and he got N5m from the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, without any connection, but the committees were convinced that he is hardworking. Other people have also benefitted from the trust fund.

“How many of these people riding Okada are Nigerians? Even those who are young and are engaged in it have seen that it’s a lucrative business, forgetting about the risks that are in it. So many of them who are carpenters, bricklayers, and printers have all abandoned their jobs. Now, if you want to build, you have to look for artisans from Cotonou or Benin Republic. These non-Nigerians that are into Okada riding don’t speak the language that we know, so they can’t read road signs. Even the Okada that they claim to be riding they don’t know how to ride it. So, we should ask why they are here.”


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