For the umpteenth time in Lagos state, the government had to come down on commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okadas, banning them from operating in six local government areas and nine LCDAs.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, for the second time in his administration, on Tuesday at a meeting with Commissi0ner of Police, Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) at the State House, Alausa made it the fifth time in the history of Lagos that Okada has come under the sledge hammer of the Lagos State government.
Although it will be literally impossible for one to divorce the recent ban from the unfortunate incident that happened in Lekki some few days ago where the Lagos Task Force had to clampdown on commercial motorcyclists in the Lekki axis after a lynching of a man identified as David by suspected motorcyclists in that axis. Other bans in the past have also been prompted as a result of the hazards and criminalities that come courtesy of okada operations.
However, during a TV interview, a day after the ban, the commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Abiodun Alabi brought a different perspective to the whole conversation that did put him in the spotlight and had his claim under the variegated microscopes of concerned Nigerians. The commissioner of police claimed that most Okada riders in Lagos are criminals. Although he never provided statistics to back that claim, but such claim coming from an authority is one the public would always take an interest to for its bearing on the society and their lives.
In Ikorodu, the ban was not extended to its community, but the people felt hard done by that they had been excluded from being protected from the menace of Okada riders. Various respondents spoken to during the week claimed that indeed Okada riders in Ikorodu as well are sometimes berserk and unruly with their operations, and as such, the government should consider the local government and also place a ban on its area if truly the premise of the ban is to protect the lives of citizens from being compromised by Okada operations.
Truly, a large number of motorcycles ply the road networks, both the highways and inner roads found within it, and for passersby sometimes, the sight of the temerity and audacity these Okada riders exude in the execution of their operation is sometimes scary, and would almost lead one into calling for the government to clamp down on them just to protect their own lives and the lives of the passengers they carry. But then on the other hand: the big questions are: will the outright ban of Okadas in Ikorodu solve totally the menace of accidents on our roads? Are there other ways their operation can be regulated especially knowing that these commercial motorcyclists depend on this operation for their source of livelihood? If the case is that most of these okada riders are criminals in disguise, what ways can we sift the good ones from the bad ones?
The first question would most likely lead to the rumination of the fact that when it comes to accidents, Okadas are not exclusively predisposed to it as much as it is painted in this part of the world. Though agreed that the chances of them getting involved in an accident are higher, cars as well have been seen to have also an alarming rate of accidents on the road. The question then is: why aren’t cars always coming under the hammer? To solve the menace of accident on the road as regards Okada operation, what should be done is what had been proposed in the past but as a result of corruption and lack of strict and sustainable enforcement, we have not pulled off any significant and sustainable result in that regard. On major highways where the road traffic is averse to Okada operation, the government should come hard on any okada that plies it. They have done this before, but time has proven to us that with just some token pushed down their pockets, the enforcement of these laws are quickly forgotten and the operation of Okadas allowed a field day. Time has also proven to us that with time they get disinterested and demotivated to enforce the laws and these Okada riders get emboldened to come back to the roads, and have their lives and others in the endangered exercise of plying highways. So to a large extent, if the claim that Okada threatens accidental dangers to lives in respect to hotspot roads, then the reason such is the trend is on the government.
Also, the other side of the argument to be looked into is the void to be created when these riders are absolved of their source of livelihood. Although the police said they are aware and are prepared for the surge of crimes this might precipitate, I think once again we need to revisit that old saying of not disposing of the baby with the bathwater. An outright ban, if Ikorodu is handed such, will not be the best decision in cognizance of the economic climate of these riders, in the light of the scarce public transport facilities in the community and why should we also forget, the signature bad roads the community has. The ban can be appropriated to the highways, I stand with that as much they see to its implementation, but to say that the hinterlands roads within Ikorodu where Okadas ply and have commuters transported to their various homes should see a ban, it is a no for me. These Okada riders cannot just be thrown to the street unemployed, even if the police have given us an assurance that there is no cause for alarm, their inefficiency over the years belie such. We cannot fully bank on a force that has consistently failed us over time and go to bed expecting it to mitigate against the likely insecurity issues that might spring up as a result of this void we are creating. So, in the light of these factors, is a need to ensure that these riders are not totally acquitted off work but allowed to ply their trade in the innards of the community. At least, that will see them go home with an income as against the zero that is likely to be their lots. Also we have the very limited numbers of tricycles in the area – there is no basis to compare the numbers to that of motorcycles, they are world apart – and that invariably creates an imbalance in the demand for public transport in the community. The motorcycles, in this instance, come in to ensure there is a balance to the scheme of transportation to ensure that there is no gap in that regard. But in a case where there is an absence of one, we are most likely going to find stranded people on the road or a chunk of people trekking long distances in the 21st century. Not to talk about the crimes likely to be perpetrated at innards of communities when people trek instead of going with a public transport system like that of commercial motorcycles or tricycles. Most importantly is the state of the roads in the inner communities of Ikorodu. The state of most roads in the innards are an eyesore and it only takes a brave car owner to bring out their car and drive past such road. It is commonplace to see cars getting stuck in the mud in communities in Ikorodu, and spending hours, days stuck in there because of how bad the roads are. Car owners have had to spend expensively on the reparation of their cars parts due to damages caused to them by the bad roads. But thankfully to the availability of bikes who can easily navigate these roads, some car owners don’t have to take their cars out when the road go bad as a result of rain or as some do, park their cars at the junction, and take a bike into the hinterlands that have the bad roads leading to their houses. If you take this substitute and ease away from the people of Ikorodu, it is more inconvenience and does not save any life, it rather inconveniences them and make their plight more deplorable which does not justify the underlying intention of the ban.
And if the fear is that most Okada riders are criminals, then what then happens to the few ones that are not. Do they get to suffer for the actions of others? Or should it not be the government liaising with the associations these Okada riders are registered under to ensure that it is not having among their ranks unscrupulous individuals that are a threat to the peace and security of Lagosians? Underpinning the reason for the ban of Okadas on the statement that most of them are criminals is just a cheap way of shirking responsibilities on the part of the government. Apprehending them would have been easier if they are known to be part of the Okada riders as the only thing the government needs to do is to carry out their due diligence in line with the associations’ authorities to fish out furtively the charlatans among them and have them prosecuted. This is quite more intelligent than having them go disparate ways and mixing with the larger society, and claim to be ready to deal with whatever crimes will surge when there were better ways to have avoided violence which they are throwing an open and brazen invite to.
Obviously, the bulk of the menace of Okada operations has always laid with the irresponsibility of the government. And yet again, they come with another lazy yet jeopardous policy in the pretext of protecting Lagosians. The Ikorodu people need not clamour for the ban to be extended to its quarters, except the government is ready to have strict and professional enforcement this time around on its highways and partner with the Okada associations and other relevant agencies to ensure that its activities are regulated for professionalism and safety. If that is not the case, then whether or not the ban is imposed in the community will not make any difference, since it has again all the recipes for another vicious circle.