Ajao: Upscale Estate And Its Naughty Okada Riders

Okada riders waiting for passengers at Ajao Estate 					                      PHOTO: IKECHUKWU ONYEWUCH

Okada riders waiting for passengers at Ajao Estate PHOTO: IKECHUKWU ONYEWUCH

• We’ve Right To Operate, Say Riders
• Ban Them, Allow Tricycles – Residents

IN what has become a battle of wits, residents of Ajao Estate and Okada riders (commercial motorcyclists) are, again, at loggerheads, as the former are calling for an outright ban of motorcyclists in the area.

But the Okada riders, who insist that the estate is industrial rather than residential, say the ban would adversely affect companies and industries, adding that the traffic laws in the state do not allow for “wishful thinking.”

Trouble started when the Lagos State government decided to build the Oke-Afa link-bridge to connect Ajao Estate with Ejigbo and its environs. The measure was hailed as novel. It promised to ease the burden of Lagosians, seeking to cross the Oke-Afa canal to their offices in the estate, Isolo and other places. Car owners, who wanted to connect the Muritala Mohammed International airport, would also be spared having to make the long trip through Isolo.

In the early days of the project, however, the Ajao Estate Phase II Residents Association raised the alarm that the project would jeopardize peace and serenity in the estate, open up the area to miscreants, and with the attendant human traffic, make the estate another “Oshodi”. The Okada riders, on their part, argued that the residents were being overdramatic and exhibiting lack of empathy for the less privileged.

In the years that followed, up till the commissioning of the bridge, the battle rose and waned. Government, on its part, waded in to assure both parties that adequate provision had been made to arrest the fears of residents and measures put in place to ensure Okada riders operated without hindrance. Policemen and Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) officials were stationed at the bridge to control traffic and maintain law and order. But they disappeared in a matter of months.

The residents, through their chairman, Barrister Leo Ikeagwu, recently, expressed worry that the measures by the government were ineffective and sought an outright ban, even as the riders maintained their service is essential to the estate.

Urging the new government in the state to intervene, Ikeagwu said the worst fears of residents are now real, as they are now at the mercy of Okada riders, who no one seems to have control over. He added that businesses are already contemplating relocating from the estate because of the ugly trend.

He said: “As an association, we started opposing the emergence of that road because it wouldn’t favour the estate. We insisted that the road should be channeled beside the canal to the airport, from where it could join Muritala Muhammed Way, by Conoil Filling Station. We tried to convince the government on this because we saw that if the road was opened, this place would be worse than Oshodi Bus Stop. The government didn’t see it that way. It wasn’t as if we are not in sympathy with the artisans and those who probably would benefit from passing through here, to their places of work, especially those going to ASPANDA. In fact, we prefer Keke (tricycles), because they are more coordinated and disciplined on the road.”

He continued: “The original idea was that it was cars that would be allowed to go through, for people going to work. But soon, Okada riders started assembling there, day by day, until we now have uncountable Okada riders on the axis. Even the government can’t cope anymore. On days when the Okada people have their fights, no one can ply that road. They fight until they get into Ajao Estate. Initially, we had situations when there were stealings. They attempted coming here, but we organized our security to beat them back. These have not yet stopped. These Okada people are not even Lagosians; they are from all over West Africa.”

He said that the situation has become so bad that even vehicles that should naturally ply the road are not allowed to pass, as Okada riders constitute a nuisance, defaulting on the one-way rule.

When the reporter visited Oke-Afa link-bridge, the area was a beehive of activities. The Okada riders were kings, dictating the pace of things. There was incessant blaring of horns, as many cars found it difficult to navigate their way through blockade by the Okada riders.

“Get out of the way, you ****,” a man yelled from his car to one cyclist, angry at the delay he faced in order to link the estate. He cursed under his breath and waited for the cyclist to move off. But the rider would not bulge. Instead, he took his time and called for his passengers.

At both ends of the bridge, especially the road leading into the estate, through Vincent Eze Street, there was a sea of Okada riders haggling over prices and literally fighting over prospective customers. At intervals, one man who looked like some sort of task force officer wielded a big stick and dispersed members of the crowd, who blocked the entrance to a private building.

The chairman of 7&8 Chapter of the Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State (MOALS), Mr. Felix Chukwu, said he has been working to coordinate his men, so that they do not stay at the foot of the bridge. But he discovered that members from the Isolo and Ejigbo units also gather there. According to him, the situation has made the job daunting, as he only has control over his unit members.

He said: “The residents who are complaining are quite right. But we are trying to put things in other. Okada is essential in the estate. Not everyone owns a car. Even the residents patronise some of us when their cars become faulty. Moreover, this estate is an industrial one, not residential. It is known as Ajao Industrial Estate. That is why Chivita occupies so much space here.

“Their request is not possible because we carry people who do business, here, to work. The day we went on strike, it affected everybody. They were cursing us that day. On that day, we stopped all our members from operating because former Governor Fashola was coming. People had to walk from Oke-Afa to 7&8, and Junction Bus Stops. They cursed Fashola, saying that he was inflicting pain on the people.

“If God has blessed you, and you have a car, is that the reason others should suffer? Even if they petition the government, the ministry in charge would still consider every other road user. That was why the initial requests didn’t go in their favour. The only thing that can be done is to restrict movement.”

He stressed that by the end of July a decisive directive would be implemented and the menace would reduce or stop, because, according to him, “humans are very difficult to control. Law enforcement agencies should do their job and arrest defaulting Okada riders.”

An Okada rider, who sought anonymity, said traffic law in the state has explicitly spelt out where Okada should operate and the estate falls under that space.

He insisted that until the law is amended Okada riders could not be chased out. “The rich men just want to see us suffer. If we stop here, where do they want us to go? As far as we are concerned, it is mere wishful thinking,” he said.

A business owner in the area said the Okada riders have become a nightmare to residents and their businesses. According to him, his business is being threatened by the activity of the Okada riders.

“The Okada riders and their combustible fury is a disaster waiting to happen. They are a threat to businesses in the estate. Most of us are losing patronage because people are getting the impression that this estate is unsafe. The day they would lose their cool and wreak havoc on residents, we hope no one gets hurt. I am saying this because there have been clashes in recent times.”

Another resident in the area, who pleaded anonymity, lamented that Okada riders have virtually taken over the estate, converting it into a haven for motorcyclists from all over Lagos. He said the worry of some residents is the risk the cyclists pose to schoolchildren in the estate.

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