Culture and Lifestyle

Lagos New Minibus Project: Endgame for Motorcycles?

The Lagos State Government is consolidating on its resolve to get motorcycles, popularly known as Okada off the road in major parts of the state. This is following the disclosure by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu who at a stakeholders meeting held at the Adeyemi Bero Hall, Alausa, Ikeja on 10 May 2021 declared that the state will be launching minibuses within two weeks to ply the routes which the commercial motorcycles are accustomed to. The minibuses are to serve as alternatives to them.

Sanwo-Olu cited  several lawless activities  involving commercial motorcyclists as one of the reasons his administration is taking strict measures to contain the situation, especially the persistent confrontation between the motorcyclists and law enforcement agencies. In the words of the governor:

“We have noted with dismay the fact that Okada riders are disregarding and flouting the restrictions we imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis. We have also observed with dismay, the ongoing violent confrontation by commercial motorcyclists against our law enforcement agencies.
 
“Based on all that we have seen and experienced in the past  weeks, as well as the the increasing threat posed by the activities of commercial motorcycle operators to the safety and security of lives, we will be announcing further changes to the parameters of motorcycle and tricycle operations in the state in the coming days. No society can make progress amid such haughty display of lawlessness and criminality.”
 
The Lagos State Government had equally placed a ban on motorcycles in the wake of 2020 in six Local Government Areas (LGAs), nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), and 10 major highways across the state.

The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, who made the announcement at the State House in Alausa, gave the move away as a response to the “scary figures” of fatal accidents recorded from operations of Okada and tricycles in the State between 2016 and 2019. According to him, “there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone”, excluding unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals.

While positing that the total number of deaths from reported cases was over 600 as of January 2020, Omotoso stated that the rate of crimes aided by motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke) kept increasing. According to him, most of the deaths recorded could have been avoided if there was no general disregard among operators of motorcycles for Lagos Traffic Laws.

The commentary by the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr Hakeem Odumosu at the same meeting held recently did not help assuage the disavowal for motorcyclists and their purported unruly activities. Corroborating Omotoso, Mr Hakeem posited that these motorcycles were responsible for 83% of 385 cases of preventable fatal vehicular accidents in the state.

He disclosed that between January and May, 320 commercial motorcycles were impounded in 218 cases of criminal incidents in which 78 suspects were detained and 480 ammunition recovered from them:

“The menace of Okada operators do not end with avoidable accidents. Crime reports from the field have shown that a greater percentage of crimes, ranging from armed robbery, cultism, kidnapping, murder, burglary and stealing, traffic robbery to carjacking and cash snatching from bank customers are attributable to armed hoodlums who operate on Okada.
 
“The nuisance constituted by the Okada operators on Lagos roads has become a danger to law-abiding citizens. Sections of Lagos populace have come to regard commercial motorcycles as a necessary evil, it has become imperative for the Government to take more drastic measures against their notoriety.”
 
The events of the past few days appear to have engendered this latest development. On 6 May 2021, three okada operators were allegedly shot dead by security operatives around Mokuolu Street in Ogba. The news immediately became the number one trending topic among Nigerians on Twitter.
The clash between the commercial motorcyclists and the Task Force was elicited by efforts of security operatives to enforce Okada ban in the area.

The security operatives met resistance and this resulted in a clash with three okada riders allegedly shot dead. This prompted other riders to embark on protest, but they were subsequently dispatched by security agencies.

While the state police command deployed a detachment of mobile policemen and plain-clothed officers to maintain law and order, roads leading to Excellence Roundabout, Ogba Market and WAEC were blocked with vans of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) unit of the police.

Towards the end of last month also, some Okada riders operating around Lekki Phase 1 in Lagos were accused of attacking operatives of the Rapid Response Squad of the Lagos state police command. While gunshots were heard in the background in a video that gained traction on social media, a man accused the Okada riders of going on rampage and attacking policemen. 

With all of these happenings to the discredit of motorcyclists, it looks like the end is near for bike operators. The Lagos State Government has said it is placing the security of Nigerians first, as well as protecting the sanctity of the state following some of the decisions it has taken and is still taking towards motorcyclists. But some of these developments cannot be without their own problems.

While it is of a truth that motorcycles account for majority of the accidents on roads which regrettably has resulted in the death of many, the motorcycle business still remain a legitimate source of livelihood for many.

With the coming of these minibuses coupled with stringent rules heralding the end of motorcycles, where will their operators turn to?

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Restricting their activities in virtually every part of the state will not only worsen their conditions particularly in view of the present harsh economic realities, it will equally see a good number of them out of the business that has helped them keep body and soul together all through the years.

The ripple effect on the economy and country as a whole is far-reaching. It is a well known fact that unemployment has worsened crime in the country. The current spate of kidnappings and banditry are attestations.  

More so, those hazy fees and charges that members of the National Union Road Transport Workers collect from them at every junction act as spur on for them to misbehave, and they extend the attitude towards every other sub-national body or authority. In most situations, they go home with little or nothing having remitted the bulk of their daily earnings to these state transport unions.

Besides, not every okada operator is a miscreant. Some okada operators are forced at gunpoint against their will to aid a particular criminal or gang in perpetrating a crime. 

As regards blaming motorcycles for traffic jam, Lagos ordinarily is congested with a population of 14, 368,000. 

With over 5 million cars and 200,000 commercial vehicles on the roads (when the national average is 11 vehicles per kilometre), Lagos daily records an average of 227 vehicles per kilometre. So can it be the 200,000 commercial vehicles that are responsible for the traffic jam?

The railway projects underway should come handy to solve some of these problems.  There should be a way to address some of these issues without these stringent measures with consequences for the innocent few and the state.

Except the government has intentions of employing them to ride the new minibuses or something similar, the move could be another fire in the oven.