Menace of okada in Lagos
Reports that the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode is considering to enforce a total ban of commercial motorcyclists popularly called okada in Lagos is absolutely in order and should be supported by the state lawmakers. That okada has become a terrible menace a huge embarrassment to Lagosians is not in doubt. The Governor’s disposition should be given teeth without further delay to stop the daily street brawls ignited by untamed and uncultured okada operators in Lagos metropolis.
Not surprisingly, the governor’s move followed the recent fracas at the popular Mile 12 food market in Lagos, which led to the destruction of lives and properties. Goods, houses, vehicles and other properties worth millions were razed in the sudden afternoon mayhem that swept through the market and the adjoining streets. The mayhem was preventable if there were no okada operators swarming every nook and cranny of the metropolis with uncouth and intolerable impudence. These fights occur daily on the roads. It doesn’t matter if a vehicle hits an impatient okada rider or okada hits a vehicle. In both cases, the vehicle is instantly adjudged the culprit, as swarms of okada riders will surround the driver to seek jungle justice. What kind of mega city is built on confusion and anarchy on the roads?
Confronted with a bizarre form of transportation that is not found elsewhere in the world, the former governor, Babatunde Fashola, in 2012, signed the Lagos Road Traffic Law 2012, which restricts okada operations in at least 492 of the 9200 roads across the metropolis in an effort to reduce the menace of their operations in recent past. Today, the okada operators have returned to all the roads they were banned from with ferocious impunity. One wonders whether there is a visible hand of authority that sets boundaries for human conduct in a mega city like Lagos.
The usual argument in some quarters that banning okada would render the youths jobless is hollow. For if the depraved okada economy is what the state can offer the teeming youthful population then, the state has failed woefully in its responsibility. Okada culture is a recent development that began in the last decade. Before then, the youths were gainfully engaged in more productive economic ventures including agriculture. The advent of okada has erased the apprentice culture, as the youths prefer to hire okada and burst onto the roads without training or license committing havoc. Governor Ambode should build on what Fashola started by enforcing a total ban on okada in Lagos metropolis. Abuja did it and virtually all the state capitals across the country have banned okada operation.
The earlier ban was sequel to series of stakeholders meetings between the State Government officials and members of the various transport unions, including okada riders. Governor Fashola had said that the measures were to protect lives and property of Lagosians. He said the laws were not new as such but had been in existence without enforcement, hence, the need to embark on full enforcement.
The forbidden routes in the Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Victoria Island axis include the entire Lagos CBD, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Awolowo Road, Bourdillon Road, Gerard Avenue, Alexander Road, Osborne Road, Alfred Rewane Road and CMS.
In the Lagos Mainland are the entire stretch of Funsho Williams Avenue, Eko Bridge, Apongbon, Muritala Muhammed Way, from Jibowu to Yaba, Oyingbo, Iddo, Idumota and Ikorodu Road upto Ikorodu town Roundabout.
The rest are entire stretch of the Third Mainland Bridge from the Toll Gate, Badagry Road, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the entire network of roads around the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Awolowo Road, Mobolaji Bank Anthony road down to Maryland junction, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway/Agege Motor Road – the stretch from Moshalashi to Oshodi – Abule Egba, Boundary of Ogun and Lagos State and all Lagos bridges.
All the rules and regulations made for okada operation have been flouted. For example riding without valid rider’s license, operating beyond 8.00pm in Victoria, Ikoyi and Ikeja and 10.00pm in other areas, wearing standard crash helmet, not carrying load or more than a passenger, not carrying pregnant women, school children and women with babies strapped on their back and obeying all traffic laws and regulations and not riding against traffic.
The okada operators were effectively restricted to the neighbourhoods. Interestingly, military authorities including the Navy, Air Force and Nigeria Police have pledged their support and ordered their personnel to observe them.
Though, there were mixed reactions when the new rules were enforced. While some saw the government decision as anti-people, others saw the ban as good riddance. The truth is that it is not only Lagos State that had banned okada. Besides, as Governor Fashola rightly pointed out, the traffic rules on okada operation are not new. The Road Traffic Act Cap 548, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1949; the Federal Road Safety Commission Act Cap 141, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990; and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority Law 2004, among others.
The present mass unemployment and lack of adequate urban mass transit system spur public resentment on okada ban. There is no doubt that okada business has provided many with job, thereby serving as the only means of livelihood for many families. The okada phenomenon is direct fallout of the acute unemployment in the country and the rise in poverty. But okada operation cannot be the solution to youth unemployment.
Given the endemic chaotic traffic situation in Lagos, the restriction of okada might affect commuters who are often forced to patronise but people will adjust. The ban should be confined to the metropolis.
However, the recklessness of okada operators leading to unacceptable high rate of accidents and crime necessitates the need the need to ban it altogether. The cost is more than the benefits. Records show that Lagos alone had 2,555 accidents within five months out of which okada accounts for 1,762 or 69 per cent. The National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi has Okada Ward dedicated to okada accident victims. That should be unacceptable to any responsible government.
Action should be expedited on the proposed light rail project. There should also be a programme to promote the use of tricycles, which seem to be safer. Government should pay attention to the factors that brought okada into the system.