Okada Menace On The Rise In Lagos


As he groaned on his bed in his apartment and pain shot sparks from his broken leg bound in Plaster of Paris, POP, Mr. Oladipupo Odunewu regretted the day he rode on a commercial motorcycle, popularly known as Okada. On that fateful day, he rode on an Okada around Ikoyi area of Lagos, southwest Nigeria, so that he could meet up with an assignment, but he never got to his destination.

Along the way, the Okada on which he was riding suddenly found itself face to face with a car. As the Okada rider applied the breaks, Odunewu was catapulted into the air and landed on the road.

At the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, where he was rushed to, there was delay in attending to him but they later attended to the swollen and bruised leg and asked to go home.

“For three months, I could not go out or go to work. I was told to lie down with my face down and not to move about. It was a very sad experience,” he told this reporter.

In August, 2011, a youth corps member, Musa Hassan, was knocked down by an Okada rider who was riding against traffic in FESTAC area of Lagos. Hassan, who was then serving in Kebbi State was on a visit to Lagos. He wanted to buy some fruits at a junction in FESTAC before he was knocked down by an okada. He landed at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital where he underwent surgery.

Mr. Felix Ogunleye was also a victim of the Okada menace. He was robbed by a two-man gang riding on Okada. He had gone visiting a family friend around Alfosca Hotel, Igando, some months ago. Ogunleye, a legal practitioner, never expected an attack at that time of the day. “I was not suspicious of the young men who were trailing me on Okada.”

Ogunleye explained that he was initially not suspicious of the two young men, whose okada overtook his car. But things suddenly changed when the okada pulled up in the front of the car. “We first thought it was a mistake until the two young men got down, pointed guns at us and dispossessed us of phones, cash and other valuables,”

He lamented the impact of the incident on his family as it left his wife and children traumatised, a situation which he said, still “makes them to be afraid of okada. The experience lingers in their memories because they had never experienced such a thing in their lives. Now, they lock themselves indoors daily.”

Few weeks ago, an okada was crushed to death by a vehicle while riding on the ever-busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. The government had banned them from plying all expressways in the state but many them have been defiant.

In the last few months, the menace of Okada riders has risen in the Lagos metropolis. Robbery incidents involving the use of okada has risen sharply and the police and the government are worried about the situation. Residents in the state are also aware of the threats posed by okada.

Just last week, robbers, operating on two okadas shot dead a police seargent at an automobile mart while he was about to purchase a car. They escaped with his money.

Okada riders are notorious for riding their motorcycles with impunity, violating traffic laws and carrying more than one passenger, among others offences.

Statistics have it that 17 out of every 20 robbery cases are carried out by commercial motorcyclists in the Lagos metropolis. Between January and November 2011, 492 robberies were committed by commercial motorcyclists while in the month of November alone, 79 armed robbery cases by okada operators were reported.

Also, 1,908 commercial motorcycles were apprehended in October for traffic violations while in October and November 179 cases of accidents were recorded at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Ikeja with 170 of them being passengers on Okada.

Records at the Accidents and Emergency Centre at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway Toll Gate showed a total of 41 cases of Okada accidents within the same period while in the 20 General Hospitals across the state 1,039 accidents cases involved okada riders.

Aside these, the engines of the commercial motorcycles are a source of noise and air pollution which is also contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Commenting on the activities of the commercial motorcyclists, the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Mr. Osita Chidoka, said no fewer than 597 persons died as a result of okada accidents between 2006 and 2007.

Statistics on okada accident victims as recorded at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi Lagos, showed that between September, 2000 and June, 2009, 1,789 victims of okada accidents were brought in with various degrees of injury. This alarming statistics as well as the menace of okada riders was what prompted the Lagos State government to take a strong stance by, not only banning them from major highways, but also enforcing strict guidelines for their operations.

Based on recent developments, it has been discovered that okada has a higher rate of crippling and fatal accidents per unit distance than vehicles. A study conducted in the USA in 2004 showed that while about 15 cars out of 100,000 ended up in fatal crashes, the rate for motorcycles was 69.3 per 100,000.

Former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo disclosed that out of about 1,763 accidents recorded in Lagos between January and May, 2010, 249 deaths involved okada riders. This, he noted, was mostly due to recklessness on the part of the riders, especially at peak periods.

Akpoyibo further noted that okada accidents constituted over 80 per cent of the number of overall accidents recorded within the period. He lamented that there had been several cases of robbery involving the use of okada, adding that over 70 per cent of crime committed in the state involved the use of Okada.

He, however, noted that, although, a large section of the Lagos populace had come to regard okada riders as a necessary evil, it had become necessary for the state government to intervene if the state was to realise the vision of the city becoming a melting point for investors and tourists. A recent report on Okada revealed that Lagos State stands the risk of several health and economic hazards if Okada riders continue their operations unchecked.

Worried by these frightening statistics, Governor Babatunde Fashola inaugurated a 32-member committee on Okada operation in the state with a view to advising the government on what action to take on Okada riding in the state.

Fashola said he was worried by the reckless attitude of the Okada riders in the state as the level of crime in which Okada were used has risen astronomically.

The report of the committee heightened the fear that government would soon ban Okada business in the state and may restrict them to rural areas. The 32-member committee, headed by retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Olusegun Kazeem, passed a vote of no confidence on them, saying that the disadvantages of okada riding far outweigh its advantages.

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According to Kazeem, research had shown that the vibration caused while riding on okada could lead to impotence in men and that the helmet worn by several people could result in the spread of diseases and had serious health implications.

“Economically, Okada has become a lucrative business for its operators who have in turn become very reckless and impossible to control, with their flagrant disregard for law and order.” He said the committee also discovered that undue influence and interference was always brought on law enforcement agents by some influential people, thus thwarting attempts to enforce the law.

Kazeem stated that because the majority of the commercial motorcycle operators were migrants from other states who had no accommodation, they had become a nuisance in several neighbourhoods.

He said the committee was convinced that the disadvantages of the operation of the commercial motorcyclists far outweighed the advantages since the injuries and crimes associated with its operation could not be compensated for.

“The incalculable cost of loss of lives, injuries and crimes cannot in any way be compensated by its economic benefits. It is the contention that the government must be ready to forgo the revenue accruing from issuing licenses and riders’ cards to operators in order to seriously confront the menace of motorcycle operators,” he stated.

Already, drastic measures that might eventually lead to an outright ban of Okada in Lagos State is being taken. Early this month, Fashola banned Okada riding on major roads and streets in Ikeja while the Lagos State Police Command has been enforcing this ban aggressively.

As a result of the ban, Okada riders in Ikeja have sued the Lagos State Government for banning them from carrying out their legal trade at the Federal High Court, Ikeja.

As a result of the ban, Okada operation in Ikeja has been paralysed, except for the few foolhardy ones who dared to disobey the law. The police are everywhere on the order of the Commissioner of Police to arrest any rider found operating in major roads in Ikeja. Hundreds of motorcycles have been impounded by the police.

A statement issued by the Office of the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos Police Command and signed by the head, Joseph Jaiyeoba, said the state government and the police took the decision to ban Okada because of the high rate of robbery involving the use of Okada.

According to a letter to the Okada unions in Ikeja, the police stated that “due to increasing rate of criminality through the use of motorcycles, popularly known as Okada, the Lagos State, Government, in collaboration with the Lagos State Police Command have decided to put a total ban on Okada within Ikeja axis.”

The statement said no Okada rider must be found in areas such as Oba Akran, Bank Anthony Way, Isaac John, Opebi Link Bridge, Adekunle Fajuyi Way, Acme Road, Alausa, Oregun, Simbiat Abiola Way and Kodeso Road with immediate effect.

Following the ban, Okada operation has been restricted to inner and remote streets in Ikeja. The police in Ikeja are aggressively enforcing the ban as several of them could be seen on almost every major road arresting Okada riders.

Disenchanted by the ban, one of the two Okada unions in Ikeja, the All Auto-bike Commercial Owners and Workers Association, ANACOWA took the Lagos State Government to court yesterday, praying the court to restrain the government from harassing them while carrying out their businesses.

Counsel to the okada riders, Bamidele Aturu told P.M.NEWS that the Okada riders were suing the state government for infringing on their fundamental human rights, saying that government had no law governing the operation of Okada riders, thus it had no power to restrict them from carrying out their businesses.

He said the Okada riders were praying the court to stop the government from banning them from doing their legal businesses.

The Ikeja Branch Chairman, Motorcycle Association of Lagos State, MOALS, of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Joseph Amadi, said the ban on Okada might heighten insecurity in the state.

He stated that with the level of unemployment in the country, banning Okada riders meant taking food from the mouth of their families and numerous dependants, while appealing to the government to rescind its decision.

“It is not the commercial motorcycle riders that are using them for robbing. Robbers just capitalise on it to escape fast after carrying out their operations. With the way the police have intensified arrest of Okada riders since the ban, if they had intensified their efforts in fighting crime, they would have stopped this menace a long time ago.

“Banning Okada will have security implications. Police collect between N5,000 and N15,000 from us to get our bike released. Is government encouraging corruption? If government wants to ensure sanity, they should allow only one Okada union to operate in Ikeja,” he said.

While some people are calling for outright ban on Okada riding in the state, some are calling for restructuring of the system as they fear that taking their businesses from them might lead to rise in crime.

Mr. Afolabi Ademola, an auto technician in Egbeda, said most people chose to use Okada because of the traffic situation, to which he said, most residents “often lose man-hours and consequently miss crucial appointments.”

But Ademola observed that it was unfortunate that some residents “have been using Okada to commit all manners of crime in the state while a good number of people have been incapacitated due to okada accidents. As a result, Okada operators have caused a lot of pains for several families. On this ground, no person will continue to back their operations.”

Mr. Aderemi Adebayo, a haulage operator in Apapa also said that okada “has become a necessary evil in the state, considering the fact that some residents working in such traffic-jam prone areas such as Apapa depend so much on Okada to move around. But we all know that some of the operators are involved in criminal activities.”

—Kazeem Ugbodaga

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