THE decision of the Lagos State government to ban the operation of commercial motorcyclists on major roads in the state has generated a lot of misgivings that could lead to a complete breakdown of law and order, if not checked.
The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), has recently assented to a new stringent traffic laws that will soon become operational in the state.
The new law spells out the offences and punishments attached. For example, with the exception of fuel tankers and long buses, trailers are now barred from plying the roads between 6.00 am and 9.00 pm while commercial motorcycle operators are not to ply major trunks, such as Ikorodu Road, Funsho Williams Avenue, Apapa-Oshodi Express, Lagos-Badagry and Lekki-Epe expressways.
Motorists are also forbidden to make phone calls, eat, count money or engage in ‘other dangerous activities’, while on the wheel.
Pedestrians are also forbidden to cross the expressways as they are now to compulsorily use the pedestrian bridges. Violation of these laws attracts between N30,000 and N50,000 fines or imprisonment up to three years, among others.
Specifically, Section 3 (1) of the traffic law prohibits the riding, driving or propelling of a cart, wheel barrow, motorcycle or tricycle on the major highways in Lagos.
As the Governor has remarked, people who ordinarily should be law-abiding, suddenly flout every law immediately they find themselves behind the wheel in Lagos.
Therefore, to guarantee the free-flow of traffic and to ensure that the movement of investors coming into the state is not hindered, the introduction of the law becomes necessary.
Governor Fashola also lamented the rampant cases of accidents caused by okadas, making their unfortunate victims confined and bedridden in various hospitals and medical emergency centres.
The state government then moved ahead and barred the cyclists from plying 475 routes in the metropolis. Violent reactions had greeted the enforcement, which has resulted in the destruction of government properties by some aggrieved persons.
The restrictions of okada on the routes and the worsening fuel scarcity have made many Lagosians stranded as they were forced to trek to their destinations.
Although, the menace is not peculiar to Lagos State alone, it is the same story in other major cities across the nation.
No doubt, every attempt to sanitise and restore order to the chaotic roads should be embraced, especially going by the traffic situation in Lagos. That is what any responsible government should do.
But in doing this, the necessary environment should be put in place to ensure that the introduction of the new law is not an attempt at paying Peter to rob Paul.
The relevance of okada in the scheme of things cannot be over-emphasised, not only in Lagos but the nation in general.
Presently, the available modes of transportation infrastructure are inadequate for a city of about 20 million people.
The existing road is seriously under pressure as the Bus Rapid Transit services passengers often cramped onto the buses while many would-be commuters are always held-down in long queues awaiting the BRT buses for the next turn that may never come.
Alternatively, the Keke-NAPEP is just a bigger okada and does not offer much. It has only succeeded in increasing the average cost of transportation and traffic congestions within the city. They are equally operated by the same people of the same brains behind the operation of okadas, in terms of traffic law compliance.
Hence, in the absence of sufficient cars and buses, commercial motorcycles remain the most practical and easily accessible means of transportation which a large percentage of the populace rely on.
The astronomical rate of unemployment in the nation has led many young people to embrace riding of okada for a living.
Certainly,, the eventual ban will result into joblessness and increase in crime rate. Banning them at the moment portends grave social and psychological consequences.
Therefore, rather than throw away the baby with the bathwater, the Lagos State government should ponder over a few useful points.
To begin with, as a matter of urgency, it should suspend further implementation until when the case is thrashed-out in the court as the operators, under the aegis of the All Nigerian Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association, ANACOWA, had in the suit argued that they should not be barred- as some of the roads in the restricted list were federal roads – listed under the Federal Highways Act, cap F13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The claimants also argued that restricting their operations on the said roads would violate their rights to freedom of movement, guaranteed by section 41(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. With the subsisting litigation, the government ought to have waited for the outcome of the suit against the Lagos State Traffic Law 2011, before going ahead with the implementation of the traffic laws. On the details of the legislation, it has been argued that some provisions of the new law appear draconian. For instance, criminalising traffic offences is considered too stringent just as jail terms should only come in handy when a culprit’s lawless action causes injury or death.
In the same spirit, sentencing a person to prison for taking a one-way road in a rowdy city like Lagos – where transport generally is chaotic and road infrastructure is grossly inadequate – is deficient.
A recent study, “Compliance with Road Safety Regulations among Commercial Motorcyclists in Nigeria”, published in the Canadian Social Science Journal (Vol. 8 No.1) indicates that rather than focusing on the okada riders alone, a multi_faceted approach should be adopted in tackling the challenge.
The journal stated that there is total non-compliance with some rules such as minimum age limit, motorcycle capacity and number plate, while there are varying degrees of compliance with others, with respect to driver’s license holding, crash helmet usage, Highway Code awareness and number of passengers carried per trip, as well as the overhauling of the driver’s licensing scheme and improved enforcement by the agencies concerned.
The fact that about 42 per cent of motorcyclists are not aware of the existence of the Highway Code, which is expected to guide their conduct on the roads, is indicative of the fact that they did not pass through the theory and practical test required for issuing driver’s license. This is worrisome.
Most Vehicle Inspection Offices, VIO, in the country have been reduced to revenue generation outfits instead of safety promotion and inspection agencies. Testing grounds and facilities for the conduct of theory and practical sessions before issuance of driver licenses are no longer available.
Reliance on licensed private driving schools for the certification has merely shifted the corruption from the public domain to the private sector, which are usually not monitored in the sense that these private schools are really not equipped for the training of motorcycle riders.
The general overhauling of the licensing system should be done collectively by the responsible agencies such as the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, state Vehicle Inspection Offices and the Licensed Private Driving Schools.
The Lagos State House of Assembly should not be in a hurry but ensure that it does a thorough work as far as the new traffic law is concerned. It is an opportunity to pass a traffic law that will really address the needs of the state.
As a way forward, there should be concerted efforts at enforcement. The FRSC, Lagos State Traffic Management Agency and the Nigeria Police should deplore patrol resources effectively in order to ensure high compliance with traffic regulations.
The enforcement agencies should also flush out corrupt officers among them who collect bribes to circumvent enforcement, as the real test of the law will be in its enforcement. It is crucial to note that there would have been no need for the new law if the existing ones had been well enforced.
Over the years, what have bred lawlessness in Nigeria are simply impunity and endemic official corruption and bribery.
Some law enforcement agents are themselves law-brakers and clogs in the wheel of sanity. They flout the law of the land with impunity.
The role of media and public enlightenment should be fully engaged in conjunction with the commercial motorcyclist unions and relevant stakeholders to bring about the necessary sensitisation.
Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYIwrote from the Fed. Varsity of Agric.Abeokuta, Ogun State.