BY IKENNA ASOMBA
In less than 11 days, it will be two years that the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, signed the Lagos Traffic Bill into law, banning commercial motorcyclists, popularly called Okada riders, from plying 475 major routes within the state metropolis.
Fashola, irked by what he described as the incessant deaths caused by accidents involving okada riders, had on August 2, 2012 signed the law, with the intention of ensuring safety and orderly flow of traffic within the metropolis.
But barely two years after, barrage of criticisms and condemnations have continued to greet the increasing number of death of Okada riders and their passengers, with others sustaining varying degrees of injuries, caused by the alleged high-handedness and inhuman strategies employed by men and officers of the State Police Command and other law enforcement agencies in enforcing the law.
The recent officially recorded tragic death occurred July 6, when a commercial motorcyclist and his two passengers, met their untimely death, as they were knocked down by an on-coming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), at Awoyaya bus-stop along Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos.
The sad incident occurred when the bike operator reportedly tried to escape from having his motorcycle impounded by a team of policemen chasing him, in order to enforce the traffic law.
Against this backdrop of deaths, the Police authorities have been urged to call their men and officers to order, to cut down on number of casualties.
However, before the bill was signed, Fashola had during the inauguration of the 32-member Lagos State Security Committee, in the last quarter of 2011, lamented the growing rate of Okada dead victims. The governor noted that it was high time the Lagos State government addressed the unfortunate accident head long.
Barrage of condemnations
Meanwhile, in what has been described as the alleged incessant assault and extortion of their members by some policemen and other law enforcement agents, commercial motorbike operators under the umbrellas of the National Commercial Motorcycles and Tricycle Owners and Riders Association, Motorcycle Transport Union of Nigeria, All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association and Okada Riders Welfare Association had severally gone on strike to protest their plights.
Fatal assaults of Okada riders by policemen
November 6, 2012
At about 10.52am on this fateful day, an Okada rider, whom eyewitnesses said was a member of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, was allegedly shot dead by some policemen at the Ilupeju by-pass area of the State for flouting the state Road Traffic Law.
The okada rider, who was said to have been shot on the chest was rushed to Teju Hospital adjacent the scene of the incident by passers-by but reportedly died before he could be treated, even as the policemen immediately fled from the scene after the act.
January 9, 2013
In what came few weeks after the brutal shooting of an Okada rider by some Policemen in Lagos, this heartbreaking incident occurred in the morning of this day. Eyewitnesses account had it that an Okada rider was allegedly shot dead at the popular Ile-Zik bus-stop, off the Oshodi-Iyana Ipaja road around Ikeja Along bus stop of the State.
The victim reportedly died instantly, while his passengers suffered serious injuries.
June 4, 2013
On this day, Vanguard reported that Police at Ikotun, area of the State, in a bid to enforce the traffic law were allegedly always knocking down okada riders on sight, just to demobilise them and impound their motor-cycles.
Incidentally, when Vanguard called the Governor’s Office, one of the media aides, who pleaded anonymity, said the concerned police officers were on their own.
August 20, 2013
On this day, protests by okada riders and other sympathisers which continued for about two days brought
human and vehicular movement to standstill at Ikorodu, following the alleged shooting of an okada rider identified as Lekan by some policemen, when he allegedly resisted seizure of his motorcycle.
Lekan, who was said to be married with five kids and the only surviving child of his parents and a student of Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, met his untimely death in a bid to make some money by operating the commercial motorcycle, while the six months strike embarked by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, lingered last year.
The policeman reportedly shot the deceased thrice before the patrol team sped off in their vehicle, but other okada riders pursued the policemen and caught them at Agric area of Ikorodu. The policemen were allegedly attacked and the particular one that shot Lekan was badly injured.
Save for the intervention, of the Area Commander, Ijede Police Command, ACP Amos Marcus, the situation would have turned violent, as the mob for two days protested the death of the victim who died at Ikorodu General hospital, before doctors could attend to him.
January 15, 2014
Commercial motorcyclists on the noon of this day, disrupted human and vehicular movement at Works roundabout along Ahmadu Bello way, Victoria Island, Lagos, while protesting the shooting of one of their members by men of the Nigerian Police.
Eyewitnesses reported that the shot Okada rider was rushed to a nearby hospital.
March 13, 2014
Eyewitnesses account spotted a police officer and an okada rider engaged in a fight along the Fatai Atere road, Mushin, over an alleged impounding of his motorcycle for refusing to part with a bribe.
April 21, 2014
On the morning of this day, a motorcycle rider was reportedly shot dead by a policeman in Ketu close to the under bridge bus stop.
According to sources, present at the scene of the act, the shooting was caused by a little argument between the victim and some policemen.
It was also reported that the irate policemen who saw the Okada man lying in the pool of his blood began firing shots into the air to clear way for the escape of the policeman who allegedly fired the shot. The sprayed bullet it was said dispatched all the angry youths who were set to carry out jungle justice on the alleged shooter.
July 6, 2014
Also, on his day, a commercial motorcyclist and his two passengers, met their untimely death, as they were knocked down by an on-coming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), at Awoyaya bus-stop along Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos, while the bike operator tried to escape from having his motorcycle impounded by a team of policemen chasing him, in order to enforce the State traffic law.
Friday Okon, an okada rider, who plies the Ajegunle routes said: “Infact, the way we are being maltreated like armed robbers by policemen in the Ajeromi Divisional Police Headquarters, Layeni Police Post, Tolu Police Post and the Trinity Police Station is becoming worrisome. What is so annoying is that these policemen even chase us to the mechanic workshops where we repair our bikes, including our homes where we park our bikes after work.
“Okay, the governor said we should not ply expressway again, and many of us don’t do it since then. So, why are policemen still disturbing us within streets in Ajegunle. Each time one is arrested we are meant to pay between N5, 000 and N10, 000 to bail our bikes. I can’t imagine how long I will continue to suffer like this because I am an okada rider going about his legitimate trade.”
Also, lamenting the massive clampdown on his members by policemen and LASTMA officials, Lagos State Chairman of Motorcycle Owners Association of Lagos State, MOALS, Mr. Tijani Pekis had declared that government cannot totally ban commercial motorcyclists in the state because of the prevailing unemployment situation in the country.
“If Governor Fashola is actually serious about checking the menace of Okada riders in the state, let him provide them all with jobs. This is the only way to check the excesses of the few ones spoiling our business,” Pekis said.
The MOALS chairman declared that the ongoing onslaught against his members will not achieve the desired objective, stating that it is becoming counter productive.
Also speaking to Vanguard, the Programme/Advocacy Coordinator, Network Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN FOUNDATION, Okechukwu Nwanguma, noted that countless complaints about police harassment were rampant in states, where the state government has been coming down hard on commercial bike riders.
Nwanguma said: “Since the coming into effect of the Lagos State Traffic Law, the police in Lagos State have continued to go beyond the limits of the law in the enforcement. On daily basis, some police officers lay ambush for okada riders, chase them beyond the areas where the law prohibits them from operating. Driven by their propensities for corruption and the impunity that protects them, the police daily harass okada riders, arrest them, brutalise and extort ‘settlement’ money from them. Many okada riders have been dehumanised, injured or killed in the process.”
However, following complaints by residents, over the high-handedness of police officers in enforcing the traffic law, the Lagos State House of Assembly, LAHA, condemned the over zealousness of some police officers in the implementation of the law.
They had called on the state Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, to stop his men from messing up the law and exposing the state government to ridicule by their actions. They also called on the police authorities to investigate all inhuman actions meted out to residents of the state by the police.
When taken up over the allegations against men of the state police command, the spokesperson, Ngozi Braide, after much prompting sent a text message saying; “You need to see me in the office for adequate discussion on these issues that you have raised.”