RAGING WAR AGAINST COMMERCIAL MOTORCYCLE OPERATORS
BY CHARLES ADINGUPU
For sometime now, commercial motorcycle operators are being hacked down by a special task force raised by the government to enforce the “no Okada on Lagos Highways’ Law. However, some of the riders narrated their ordeals to Saturday Vanguard
In the struggles of this life, man is not discouraged because he clings to the hope the Lord has in store for him at the end of the conflict. A trust without boundary. But this may not apply to Udeme Efiong who is left under the merciless whip of fate. His anguish lies on the far side of the world as his only means of livelihood, motorcycle, otherwise known as okada was recently impounded by policemen and Lagos State security agents.
For a long while, Udeme who hails from Akwa Ibom, stared at the empty sky. Perhaps, searching for words to convey his anguish. His tattered clothes, unkempt hair both combined to describe his predicament. But at last, he broke the unusual rhythm of his silence to Saturday Vanguard.
“After my ordinary national diploma (OND) way back in 1996, my parents were too poor to enable continue with my education. I searched endlessly for a job without success. But in 2007, I got employment as a security officer in a pharmaceutical firm. Eight years afterwards, the firm went underground and since then, I’ve been riding okada to maintain my family as well as cater for the immediate needs of my aged parents. Today, the Lagos State government seized my motorcycle for not obeying their laws,” he lamented.
Yet, another okada operator, Jude Ebube whose motorcycle was impounded at the ever busy Ikorodu road was left in an embittered and pessimistic world. This father of four who was left in horrid pit lamented to Saturday Vanguard. “How can I pay school the fees of my children, house rent, as well as provide feeding allowance?,” he queries rhetorically.
Jude who admitted raking in a whooping sum of eight thousand naira on daily basis from his okada business, threatened to go into armed robbery since all his struggle for survival has come to nut.
For Toafik who plies his trade at Ketu-Alapere, the okada business has become very boring. On each passing day, Toafik and his colleagues were harassed by men of the Nigeria police. “The government banned us from plying the express way. Yet, policemen from Ketu police station would not let us be. By 7 pm, they waylaid our colleagues and demand N5,000 ransom from us otherwise, your motorcycle will be taken to Alausa. I’ve fallen prey on three separate occasions, and I’ve decided to search for something else to do,” he said.
Just a year after he lost his job with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Yusuf Haruna Olademeji resorted to join the foray of commercial motorcycle operators. For the literary study graduate and secretary general of ANACOWA, Lagos State branch, the recent law on okada riders, has left him with a heart of bitterness.
“The restriction of our operations has widen my predicament. Already, I’ve five children, two of them are in the university while others are still in primary secondary school. Now how do I pay their school fees talk less of the house rent and feeding,” he said.
ThankGod, Umanah last Tuesday, flew off his motorcycle to escape arrest and subsequent seizure of his commercial motor bike at the Ikorodu expressway, Ojota. Yet, he was not lucky enough, as that bold adventure left him with a fractured knee and broken arm.
Again, the ruthless task force officials made away with his bike to an undisclosed destination.
For 29-year old Ahmed who operates at Owode Onirin, Ajegunle, his commercial motorcycle bike was impounded by some unknown policemen at the Ikorodu police station.
“I went to buy fuel and on my way, a police officer accosted me and bundled my bike to the station. He demanded for N30,000 as condition for the release of my bike. Otherwise, it will be moved to Alausa for onward destruction,” he said, I’ve to borrow the requested amount of money to reclaim my motorcycle.”
At Mile 12, Yusuf lost his finger to the rampaging okada task force officials in addition to his motor bike.
According to an eye witness account, Yusuf was only cruising on his brand new okada when a member of the task force used an iron rod to hit his hand. He fell off his motorcycle, whimpering in the pool of his blood on the concrete floor but the task force officials ignored him, and bundled his motorcycle into waiting Toyota Hilux truck and sped away.
Also at the Island, no fewer than two thousand motorcycles have been impounded by the dreaded task force officials.
Again, at Ebute Metta, about eight okada riders are currently receiving treatment at different hospitals in the metropolis.
A commercial motorcycle operator domiciled at Iddo, Oyingbo, disclosed that police and task force officials harassed them on daily basis even when they keep to the rules.
“Once it is 7pm, the police rushed to our park to impound our motorcycle bikes. Those whose bikes were seized were asked to pay N5,000 before they would be released to them,” he said.
At Irawo, Saheed’s motorcycle was battered with the butt of the police gun when he attempted to escape arrest for operating at 7.15p.m.
“The head lamp of my motorcycle was smashed and the right side of the traffic light shattered. I was lucky not to have sustained any injury even though I successfully escaped,” he said.
Commercial motorcycle operators at Okota still have their tale of woes as not less than 2,000 motorcycles had been impounded by both the police and task force officials of the Lagos State government.
An investigation by Saturday Vanguard revealed that five okada operators are currently recuperating at different private hospitals in the area.
At Ejigbo and Ikotun, two okada operators who now move about with fractured arms, courtesy of task force officials and policemen, vowed to quit the okada business upon recovery.
But in Ketu, the arbitrary clamp down on okada riders by men and officers of the Nigerian police from the Ketu police station has made them to be more alert.
“Once it is 7pm, the police will lay ambush and started picking our members for no reason. We pay N5,000 to the police before the okada is released to the owner. So far, about 25 members had fallen prey to their traps. We don’t ply the expressway, yet, they (police) won’t let us to work in order to feed our family,” one of them ventured to say.
The modus operandi of task force officials
Just like the Mau Mau of pre-colonial Kenya, the Lagos task force officials and men of the Nigerian police force ambushed unsuspecting okada riders at street corners to impound their motorcycles.
Ketu – At Alapere, police officers unleashed terror on okada riders. The high headiness they displayed during arrest of commercial motorcycle operators, spoke volume of the horror they, okada riders were exposed to.
From Demurin to Alapere, plain clothes policemen positioned themselves at strategic corners in the street waiting patiently like a dog to hack down okada riders.
“The union, Okada Riders’ Welfare Association watched haplessly as their members were hurled into prison and their bikes confiscated arbitrarily.
Ojota – Plain clothed policemen stood at ease at the ever busy Ojota expressway to hack down okada riders on motion.
The same scenario was replicated at Irawo, Owode. But this time, uniformed policemen stood at the end of Ondo Street by 7pm everyday extorting money from okada riders. This unpleasant experience has become the rule applied virtually in the entire Lagos city.
When two elephants fights, it is the grass that suffers. The lingering fiasco between okada riders and Lagos State government has left over 90% Lagos commuters stranded at various bus-stops across the city. The perennial fuel crisis in Lagos has further compounded the transport situation.
A stranded commuter at Owode said he paid N400 to an okada operator to get to Ojota as against N150.
“Okada riders are necessary evil. Government cannot just do away with their services. I paid N500 as okada fare from Awolowo Way at Ikoyi to Adeola Hopewell,” said Mike Ofor.
The restriction of okada riders’ operation has proved once again that commercial buses in Lagos were grossly inadequate as on daily basis, stranded commuters wait for several hours for buses to get to their destinations.
Okada unions in disarray
Investigations by Saturday Vanguard during the week, showed that the nine okada riders’ union associations in Lagos are in disarray. It was alleged in some quarters, that the present state of affairs in the unions was an orchestrated plan by the Lagos State government to create confusion in their respective camps. The Lagos State Chairman of ANACOWA, Aliu Wembe told Saturday Vanguard that two of the unions are currently partnering with the Lagos State government to hoard okada riders.
According to him, this unholy arrangement precipitated the recent riot at Fadeyi as okada riders who went on rampage resorted to vandalised BRT buses and other Lagos State government’s properties.
“Members of MOALS, Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State felt betrayed by their chairman when the government started impounding their bikes contrary to what their leaders told them earlier on,” he said.
At the Ojota axis, okada operators accused union officials of under-hand dealings.
“They (union officials) are only interested in collecting the daily N400 ticket fee but not in our welfare. No union officials can claim being of help to any okada rider whose bike was impounded,” a commercial motorcycle operator made bold to declare.
Okada new style of operation
“Since man has learnt to shoot without missing, the bird has also learn to fly without perching.”
For okada riders in Lagos, they now ply their trade with different tricks. At Igodo, some of the commercial bike operators now dressed like corporate dispatch riders. They are decked in complete suit and tactically canvassing for passengers.
It is not possible to make ends meet by operating within the ambit of government mapped areas. Hence, our fare is very high,” an okada rider told the Vanguard.
“These days, we operate our business with the fear of being arrested or losing your motorcycle to ruthless task force officials. It takes a lion’s heart to remain on the express,” said Adeleke, an okada operator.
Used and dumped
It is a common knowledge that politicians employ the services of commercial motorcycle operators during campaigns. But they served as canon folders only to be dumped at the end of their political campaigns.
“Another election will still come and Governor Fashola cannot use us again as he did in his last campaign for votes,” Adeleke said.
Ironically, most government poverty elevation programme centred primarily on the purchase and distribution of motorcycles to indigent Nigerians. Yet, this group of persons have become albatross in government developmental programmes.