By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Lagos dropped the ball. That is what happens when politicians play for selfish political reasons. Lagos had Okada nuisance under a firm leash in 2013. It had seized and destroyed thousands of offending motorcycles. Then the 2015 elections drew close. And Lagos played shortsighted politics.
It’s now like a locust invasion. They ride on flowers, they ride on side walks. They defy every law.
If they went about their business trampling on the things that made the town beautiful alone their nuisance would have been bearable. We could have put up with their refusal to obey traffic signs and lights. But they will drive recklessly and yet when they get involved in a road traffic accident they will mob the owner of the car they have damaged. And because they can form a solidarity mob in seconds, the police always appear helpless against them.
In Lagos, you cant drive a neat car. Once you run into a traffic jam, an impatient Okada man will kiss you from behind or caress you from the side. And if you raise eye brows you will be insulted by his colleagues who will tell you to ‘take your useless car commot for road.’
A car hit an Okada who attempted a suicidal U-turn on a road in Festac town, some months ago…. When the man came out to help the bleeding Okada man he was mobbed by other Okada riders who arrived the scene in droves. His car was vandalized.
And this has become a daily occurrence.
Recently, a woman driving in Amuwo Odofin estate attempted to make a right turn. An Okada man driving recklessly , unmindful of the indicator light on the car in front of him , overtaking the woman from the right side, ran into the woman’s car. And damaged it. Ten minutes after the incident, the crying woman had to be rescued from the hands of Okada men who had pulled their daggers on her . The woman who should have made the reckless Okada man fix her car , was forced by the mob of Okada riders to pay the Okada man.
It’s been said that if the devil wants you in real trouble, he will send you a drunken okada rider who will run into your car and break his head. If he dies, then only God can save you from his professional colleagues because the police can’t. And many men, so tested by the devil ,have suffered untold consequences in the hands of Okada mobs.
But I think Lagos waited for too long. And the ban placed on Okada isn’t wide enough.
How would anyone justify letting Okada men roam Festac town and engage in daily rampages? Festac has wide roads and is an ideal place for intra estate mini buses. So what exactly is the Lagos State Government really up to?
Lagos waited until all Okada men that have been chased away from other towns in Nigeria congregated in Lagos. When the new ban kicks in, what will these folks who came to Lagos as a place of last resort, who have developed a sense of entitlement to impunity, then do?
In many residential estates in Lagos, Okada is akin to rat infestation. They destroy flowers. They break barricades. They respect no rules, no boundaries. They foist on the estate “me first , tomorrow doesn’t matter” ethos of the jungle. And the real harvest is not only in vandalization of aesthetics, but in rampant crimes and many broken bones.
A check at the crowded Igbobi Orthopedic hospital showed that most of patients were victims of Okada road accidents. It is the same story at the Ijaw waterside in Amuwo, the turf of native bonesetters.
Okada isn’t just a nuisance , it’s a public health emergency.
The Lagos state government abdicated responsibility at a critical point. Sometime in 2013 the then governor Fashola banned Okada from most roads in Lagos . He didn’t just ban , he enforced the ban. But as 2015 election drew close , Fashola looked away, relaxed the ban. After 2015, Ambode didn’t find the courage to enforce any laws against the Okada riders. And that was when the mess proliferated, when the sore turned into a gangrene. Okada men feeling outlawed , but allowed to be , grew lawless.
Lagos State Government could have prevented the dilemma it has created for itself. In the last three years , Lagos being the only major town that allowed Okada in the country has swallowed more Okada men than it has capacity for. Lagos must now vomit some of them if it must breathe. But human beings can’t be vomited and mopped up like beer. I hope Lagos will not aspirate.
Lagos sent out the wrong signals. Lagos was betrayed.
What will Lagos now do with the hundreds of thousands of youths who will become jobless in the coming weeks?
Lagos must find a way to retrain Okada riders and license many Uber- type companies to run healthy and regulated Okada business. That way Lagos may kill many birds with one stone.