RAGING WAR AGAINST COMMERCIAL MOTORCYCLE OPERATORS
By Emmanuel Edukugho
The drastic fall in standard of living and horrible decline in quality public transportation in the country were attributable to the emergence of motorcyles and tricycles (keke Marwa) as means of commercial transport for commuters in urban centres, cities and towns.
Mr. Thompson Gomez, a 67-year-old retired federal civil servant recalled with nostalgia his early days growing up and working in Lagos from 1950s to ‘ 80s when the city flourished with luxury commercial buses conveying people within the metropolis in some comfort.
“Motorcycles were hardly found on the roads except a few used by security men (soldiers and police officials) and few dispatch riders. To own a personal motor cycle was rare. Motorcycles were dreadful, Taxis and buses dominated the roads and it was fashionable to ride in them.
“Even some public buses were designated only for the use of school children only. To ride in Lagos Municipal Transport Service (LMTS) buses, Zarpas, Benson, Osinowo urban buses with disciplined, courteous, responsible drivers, and conductors were common for commuters in Lagos”, he told Saturday Vanguard in an interview.
“But things went upside down suddenly as these buses disappeared gradually with the surge of population, replaced with mini-buses – Danfo, Coaster, Molue (911 mercedes trucks built as buses, now becoming even extinct). They were not even enough to meet with increasing number of commuters. So came the influx of motorcycles with untrained and unlicensed riders to fill the vacuum. And so this phenomenon spread across most cities and towns. Today, the situaton has gone out of control.”
Due to the recklessness of Okada riders without regard for safety nor respect for traffic rules and regulations, several states have banned okada.
Okada or motorcycle accidents are usually fatal with victims either dead instantly or their legs amputated.
Most of the patients in Igbobi are victims of Okada accidents. Another dimension is their link with organised crimes – robbery, kidnapping, murder and ritual killing.
Since the introduction of the new Lagos State traffic law, okada riders are being hunted especially by police men.
Tim Okechukwu, a company dispatch rider had this bitter experience last Friday.
“I was coming from the office at about 8p.m. Just few metres to the gate of my compound, I noticed a bus trailing me behind, but I kept going not suspecting any harm. All of a sudden, the bus came behind me, two men believed to be police officers, pounced on my motorcycle, wrestled it with me and eventually carried the bike into their bus. I tried to plead with them that I am not a commercial motorcycle rider, showed them my identity card and that I was returing from work and about to enter my compound. But they won’t listen or believe me.
“They asked me to come to the police station tomorrow and drove away with my bike. When I got to the police station next day, I was asked to pay N30,000 before I can collect the motorccle. I was shocked. How can I get N30,000?”
There had been violent protest against the Lagos State traffic law prohibiting commercial motorcycle riders from operating in some areas. On August 2, 2012, the governor had signed into law, restriction of commercial motorcycles on 475 roads out of the 9,100 roads in Lagos State. Some of the restricted routes for motorcycles and tricycles are all the bridges, highways, and dual carriage ways.
According to Investigation, others are Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Apapa- Oshodi Expressway, Oworonshoki – Oshodi Expressway, Ikorodu Road, Funsho Willams Avenue, Lagos – Abeokuta Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Eti-Osa Lekki Expressway, Lagos – Badagry Expressway, Agege Motor road, Alfred Rewane Road, Ahmadu Bello Way and Agege Motor Road.
The Lagos State government vowed to prosecute all motorcycle operators and their passengers who violate the new traffic law.
However, the government expressed concern that despite the law and the enlightenment campaign, the commercial motorcycle operators are still plying the restricted routes, including bridges and highways with impunity.
According to Lagos traffic law, it is an offence of which a rider can be convicted for riding on restricted routes, or failure to wear standard protective crash helmets.
A rider found carrying more than one passenger, a pregnant woman, a child below age of 12 years or an adult with a baby, a heavy load placed on the head or acts obstructing normal sitting on the motorcycle will be deemed to have contravened the law. The passenger would also be liable and receive the same penalty.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, noted that traffic congestion and delays had continued to be compounded by the menace of motorcycle riders. He said that Okada riders were using unapproved motorcycles, those below 200 cc which violates the new traffic law.
Opeifa lamented that many innocent lives that could contribute meaningfully to the development of the state and the country had been wasted as a result of motorcycle accidents.
“Many children had become orphans, many wives had become widows while many husbands had become widowers as a result of such avoidable accidents.”
He pleaded with motorcycle operators and passengers of motorcycles to “voluntarily comply with the law as both riders and passengers could be culpable.”
It was disclosed that there are only two recognised associations for motorcycle operators in Lagos State. These are the Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State under the control of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association under the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
All unrecognised motorcycle associations in the state have been advised to affiliate with either NURTW or RTEAN.
There had been brutal clampdown by police on okada operators as their motorcycles are seized and the riders harassed and assaulted.
Some of the riders expressed willingness to comply with the law and obey it, but accused the police for not enforcivng the law rightly to the letters.
“Policemen now go into the hinterland leaving the highways to arrest motorcycle riders, impound their bikes by force and extort money,” said Tiola Adeyi who operates on the Iyana Era/Ilogbo route.
Bad governance helped to bolster Okada riding profession. Many educationally qualified persons have resorted to okada for lack of suitable employment.
An operator told Saturday Vanguard: “Since I left the polytechnic, I have not been able to get job with my HND. I decided to come to Lagos from Benue when a cousin gave me N100,000 and I used N70,000 to buy a motorcycle to do okada work. I’ve no regret because I can now sustain my family.”
Another one, Isah from Okene said: “I got financial assistance from a wealthy man in our town to buy okada and operate in Lagos. About five of us got such help and live in a room at Igboelerin village. All of us have paid back the money loaned to purchase our motorcycles. The business is good, but now things are getting rough for us in Lagos State. But if I get something better I’ll quit okada business.”
For now, the ban is not working in Lagos. Many of them still ply the expressways and riding with recklessness against one way traffic.
Okada riders in Lagos are estimated to be over 200,000 across the sprawling metropolis.
The commuters themselves are having difficulties adjusting to life without the services of the fast moving motorcycle operators.