Okada Ban: Relative Sanity On Lagos Roads

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Before the enforcement of the new traffic law, driving on Lagos roads, Southwest Nigeria was an issue. It was an issue because every motorist had to contend with the multitude of motorcycles, popularly known as ‘okada’ on both sides of the roads and the reckless manner their operators were riding. While the motorists would be looking sideways to ensure that their side mirrors were not smashed, they would be extra-conscious to avoid crashing with okada operators, considering the way they rode.

Mr. Babatola Akinsanmi, a resident of Idimu area of Lagos said on different occasions, okada operators had “hit my side mirrors with impunity. Sometimes, they even abused and called me names. I had a sad experience with one of them at Agege sometime in August.

“At Agbotikuyo, one okada operator suddenly  crossed my lane after LASTMA officers had passed the lane. I almost hit him. If I were not careful enough that day, I would have cleared him off the road and perhaps, killed him. The scenario made me drive in the fear of okada almost on daily basis.”

Since the  enforcement on the ban of okada riders from plying 475  roads in the metropolis about three weeks ago, several motorists have heaved a sigh of relief as sanity is gradually returning to Lagos roads after long period of brazen lawlessness exhibited by okada riders.

“But since the enforcement started three weeks ago, the situation is much different. There is relative order on Lagos roads. I now drive with ease. Precisely on Monday, I drove from Idimu to Alausa with little or no fear of okada suddenly crossing my lane. Aside, the roads are no longer congested. At least, vehicles move with ease except that yellow buses still constitute menace on the roads.

“But there is need to do more because some okada riders still operate on restricted roads. The law  enforcement officers should do more to ensure the traffic law is implemented without fear and favour, bias or favouritism or objectively and with human face. And there should be room for correction at all time,” Akinsanmi added.

Mr. Emmanuel Ukudolo, who lives in Ojodu area of the state said “prior to restriction, driving in Lagos State has been very difficult, hectic and nauseating. Okada riders mill around vehicles; they drive against traffic.

“Now sanity has returned to Lagos roads; you feel free to ride your car now, there is no threat now that okada riders will enter your front. Okada riders still have places to ply, they can ply rural areas.”

Another motorist, Mr. Abiola Peter said there is now relative sanity on Lagos roads since the clampdown on okada riders, but lamented that some daring ones still ply the prohibited routes. It behooves on those patronizing them to abstain for their own safety.”

Since the clampdown on okada riders three weeks ago, thousands of riders have vacated the expressways, highways and several of other prohibited routes across the state. Several popular areas where okada riders have turned to their parks are now deserted as the police are now after them.

Already, over 5,000 okadas have been impounded since the clampdown. The police have been very dutiful in the war to get rid of okada menace in the metropolis.

In places like Ogba, Ikeja, Agege, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, old Abeokuta road, Egbeda, Idimu, Capitol Road, Oba Akran, Ojodu- Berger, Ikotun-Iyana-Ipaja road, Ejigbo-Isolo, Ilasamaja, Oko-Oba, Iju, Ikeja GRA,Opebi, Allen, Toyin Street, Adeniji Jones, Agidingbi, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lagos Island, Surulere, Ojuelegba, Costain, among several places, okada riders have deserted the roads for fear of being apprehended by the police.

Some desperate  okada riders have adopted a new strategy. They still  ply some of the prohibited routes but don’t normally carry their passengers to the main bus stops where police could arrest them. They stop very close to the bus stops, drop their passengers and move to other directions.

The enforcement had been total, the police had been very ruthless in enforcing the law; the Lagos State Government is happy that the enforcement is effective in the metropolis and Governor Babatunde Fashola had vowed that there is no going back on the enforcement as okada riders have become a thorn in the flesh of Lagosians.

Irked by the fact that their trade and means of livelihood are on the verge of being totally taken away from them, okada riders took laws into their hands last week when they protested in several areas in Lagos such as Ikorodu road, Ejigbo, Agbado, among others and vandalized over 10 BRT buses in a bid to express their grievances.

Very early in the morning, okada riders from Mushin, Onipanu and Somolu areas of the state  reportedly attacked BRT buses with commuters  around Olosha area of Mushin, Ojuelegba, Onipanu and Fadeyi. It was gathered that the angry hoodlums attacked three BRT buses between Onipanu Bus Stop and Aladiye Bus Stop on the ever-busy Ikorodu road, smashing the buses with stones, sticks and other objects.

The hoodlums, mainly from Mushin and Somolu also attacked a BRT bus around Ojuelegba, where passengers were forced to scramble out of the bus for safety.

Okada riders’ outrage led to criticism in several section of the society while some called for outright ban of okada business instead of restricting them.

The Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji said the state might be forced to ban okada riders outrightly because of their  violence as a result of the restriction.

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The House frowned at the attitude of Okada riders in the metropolis, calling on the state government to further strengthen security agencies to protect lives and property.

Fashola, in his reaction said: “About the okada, for me, I understand the economics of the okada. But it also has the social effects. Many fathers have lost their children; many husbands have lost their wives; many children have lost both parents.

“All we are saying is don’t go on the highways. First, because we must even understand, okadas and vehicles are automobiles; they are not toys; they are mechanical devices and therefore for you to even use them, you must go and train. That’s why you go to driving school to go and learn; then they certify you.

“Somebody just pulls okada from any parts of the country he likes, gets onto a truck, he’s going to Lagos and then you entrust your life to that man? As if that was not bad enough, he drives against traffic?”

Statistics from the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA and the police speak volume on why the government wields the big stick on okada riders.

In the last two years, 107 people have been killed and 512 others injured in okada accidents in Lagos State, according to the report

Reports obtained from the research department of LASTMA also revealed that 71 males and  36 female were killed in okada accidents in two years.

According to the report, between January 2011 and October 2012, 442 commercial motorcycles were involved in accidents across the State, out of which 271 occurred in 2011 while 171 occurred this year across the state.

The report also disclosed that in 2011 alone, 47 persons were killed and 98 others sustained serious injuries while from January 2012 to date, 63 people have been killed and 59 others sustained serious injuries.

More reports from the Lagos State Police Command revealed that 22 out of 30 armed robbery incidents between July and September this year were carried out by the use of okada.

The report shows that of eight robberies incidents that occurred in July, seven involved the use of okada while okada was also used in 10 out of 14 robberies in September and five out of eight robberies in August.

It disclosed that 513 fatal accidents recorded in the State in the last two years were caused by okada operators, adding that out of this number, 305 happened between January and December 2011 while 208 of the fatal accidents happened between January and June this year.

Some okada riders who spoke with PM NEWS METRO said the state government was very cruel to have driven them away from major roads in the metropolis.

According to Alex Nwore, an okada rider, government’s decision was cruel, painful and bad because “many of us have no jobs. I ride my okada in Ikeja; they drove me away and I am now at Ekoro area. I sustain myself and children through this business; I am begging them to allow us. Many of my colleagues are leaving the state with their okadas to somewhere else.”

“I don’t like the ban on okada riding. This move is counterproductive for the poor masses. Government should leave us alone; we campaigned for him and he promised not to ban okada but now he has done it,” said John Chukwuma, another okada rider.

As for Mike Ojo, okada rider, “okada ban is unfair. We don’t want to steal; we don’t want to go into armed robbery. They should allow us to ride on the streets they banned us from.”

Another okada rider, Joseph Umoh lamented that “government has made us useless through this ban. I pay my children’s school fees through this business. I don’t use okada to wreak havoc. He should leave us alone.”

—Kazeem Ugbodaga