RAGING WAR AGAINST COMMERCIAL MOTORCYCLE OPERATORS
By Ishola Balogun
A trip to the National Orthopedic hospital, Igbobi, Lagos will reveal a pathetic situation of victims of Okada accidents. Destinies altered as many on clutches cried in pain as a result of severe orthopedic injuries, while others with spinal cord injuries groan helplessly on wheel chairs.
Before the October 20 government restriction of Okada on highways in Lagos, about 65-70 percent of accident victims who have varying degrees of bone injuries were said to have been caused by Okada accidents.
Many also believe that the fly-on attitude of the operators especially on the highways constitute grave danger to the lives of other road users just as they were seen to flout traffic rules at every point.
But not many see the decision of government to restrict the operations of Okada especially on the highways as a welcome development.
While some argue that it will further compound the problem of movement of people from one point to another bearing in mind the inadequate public transportation system especially when commuting from the highways to the hinterlands; others opined that it will further worsen the problem of unemployment as many of them will be thrown out of jobs. Others on the other hand see the government approach from the perspective of ensuring safety and sanity on the roads.
Reacting to some of these views, the Commissioner of Transport, Mr. Kayode Opeifa said the decision was taken by the people of Lagos. “Everyday, the traffic situation in Lagos keep rising and we all the time stressed the security facilities in the state.
The people of the state keep telling us that the traffic and safety situation are not getting any better with the Okadas still on the road. On September 5, after the signing the traffic bill into law, we had an agreement with the unions of Okada where they requested for three things. One, that we should delay the implementation time, a review of some of the roads; and a request to meet the Governor.”
He explained that the roads on which Okada have been restricted are all major highways, the dual carriage roads and some single lane roads in the list of the 475 roads. According to him, “these are the roads we have adequate transport system.
Some were added by the Local government authorities. So, it is not that the executive sat and took the decision, it was in collaboration with the CDAs, the Local Government authorities, and when it got to the House of Assembly, they also took out some and added some.
So, what we have is a collective agreement of the views of the people of Lagos. We also indicated that in all these roads, should there be a situation, where there is lack of public transportation, the Hon Commissioner should review,” he stated.
Opeifa opined that Okada has since remained unregulated simply because it had never been part of the public transportation system. “It arose as a result of social economic issues. It started with Babangida administration and since then it remained unregulated. Akwa Ibom state tried to regulate it, designing helmets, jackets, but they later stopped it.”
Contrary to the claim of outright ban of Okada in Lagos, the transport Commissioner stated that it was not an outright ban, it was a restriction. “We have not banned motorcycle out rightly; we have only restricted them on 475 out of 9,100 roads.
It means it is just about 6 per cent of roads in Lagos are restricted. These are dual carriage roads, major roads and other roads we have public transportation system. Reeling out some of the roads, he noted that Ikorodu road, Mile 12, Ojota, Mobalaji Bank Anthony, Awolowo road, Ogunlana drive, Adeniran Ogunsanya, 3rd Mainland Bridge, Eko Bridge, are unsafe for Okada operations. “…aside the fact that there is public transportation on these roads, they are not safe for a vehicle that is not protected.
Motorcycle is not protected. If somebody touches you while on motion, you may fall and that may be fatal. We don’t want any more deaths on our roads. If we can prevent it, why not do that,” he explained.
Harping on safety, he said: “I doubt if there is any family who has not had injury as a result of Okada or any one whose friend or acquaintance has not had Okada accident.”
One of the arguments by the Okada operators is that they were used for the election and dumped thereafter, distributing helmets to them before the April 2011 election.
Reacting to this, the commissioner said: “Giving helmet is what we hold as a social responsibility and there are a lot of companies that we have encouraged to give them helmet. It is meant towards ensuring that they are safe when operating. And that is what section 3 of this law says.
So, we have not done anything strange in January to April 2011. So, if you need to do the business, you must be encouraged to operate safely,” he stated.
He wondered why the hullabaloo on the government step towards ensuring safety of people in the state when some other states have tried it and outrightly banned it. “Some states like Kwara, Delta, Rivers state including FCT, have all done it.
While these states were banning them, they came down to Lagos and we did not say,’ no, don’t operate. What we said is that there must have to be restriction. We have not banned okada but we have only restricted their operations.
I know no one will like to have his child on motor bike on the highway. It is unsafe and unreliable,” he noted.
On the problem of inadequate public transportation which could have assuaged the pains of movement from one place to another, the Commissioner analysed thus: “We have over 7000 yellow buses on Lagos roads, we also have 1500 Bus Rapid Transport, by our calculation, they pick about 1.5million people moving at a time.
This occurs at the rush hour between 7am and 9am, after then, many of them go to Ojuelegba, Oshodi, Ojota to park. So, we don’t have to keep increasing the number of buses. It depends on the demand and supply theory.
And even in the rush hour, people move in one direction and vehicle most times will not want to come back empty. So, we have to apply what is called special redistribution of resources.
You will not get to equilibrium. Let me give you this analysis, if you leave for Marina, through the busiest road in Lagos which is 3rd Mainland bridge, because it moves, it takes you about one hour from Ikeja to Victorial Island. When you are coming back around 4:45pm, it will take you about 45 minutes.
You will go through traffic at four points and spend about 5 minutes at each point and to you it looks like three hours. I have tried it several times. Each time I tried it, I call the traffic radio. The issue is that we are too much in a hurry.”
He agrees that lack of training is part of the reasons why Okada operators consistently flout traffic rules. He insisted that the manufacturers of the okada never intended it for passenger movement, adding: “regardless of the training they had, the urge to make more money set in, so, they become aggressive.
That is why you always see them always in a hurry.” and that is why on some of the busiest roads like Allen, we have restricted them.
They requested for an extension of time for them to fully comply with the law. The second thing they asked for was a review of the road, asking to be allowed on single carriage roads, (inside the neighbourhood) pending the time they will finally find their way out; while their third request was that they wanted to see the governor.
On the issue of extension, on September 5, we meet every Friday, until October 20 and on the roads, we asked them to go and study the roads and pick the ones they want and come back to us. So far only the Alimosho branch signaled interest asking for Abaranje and Iliyasu roads.
They also requested to meet with the governor, and they all met him except one of them, ANACOWA. And the rest said they were more convinced why they should leave the road.
The organised Okada group was not involved. There are two unions – Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, (RETREAN) and NURTW. There are other ones who are not recognised and yet they collect dues. You cannot collect dues when you are not a trade union under the Trade Union Act.
So, some of them stayed away out of power struggle. The one led by one Aliyu, ANACOWA is not recognised, he is not known in Lagos, he is not even known in Abuja where he claims he has authority to operate in Lagos.”
“When the governor met with them, we gave them the option of agriculture where we train graduates for one year, and at the end of the training, we provide them land and we give them money.
The third session training is currently going on. We also gave them the option of skill acquisition. We have 17 skill acquisition centres in Lagos.
Then the third option is the micro finance, we have gotten some few ones who have shown interest already. We told them to go back to their union, and introduce these things and come back with the list of interested persons, we will train them and set them up,” he explained.
On the enforcement of the law and seized bikes, he said, it is not true that bikes seized were crushed. “That is not true, no bike was crushed. The law is clear on this matter and we are going to do what the law says.”