By Adekunle Adekoya
ABOUT 48 hours ago, riots broke out in Dei Dei Market area of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, after a woman was killed in an accident involving a commercial motorcycle (okada), and a vehicle. Trouble erupted when a crowd of traders gathered and questioned why and how the woman would die and the okada rider escaped unhurt.
One thing led to another, and before anybody could get a grasp of what actually happened, the situation had degenerated into a clash of ethnic groups, leading to killings, and arson. Men of the Fire Service trying to put out fires were not spared; their station was attacked and equipment vandalised. Mohammed Bello, FCT minister, also confirmed that no less than four people were killed in the incident. That was in Abuja.
Last Thursday, in Lagos, a sound engineer, David Sunday Umoh was lynched and burnt on Admiralty Way, Lekki area of Lagos by a mob of okada riders, at the end of a dispute over N100 difference in the fare. Umoh, a member of Legacy 360 band, met his untimely death while attempting to mediate between his colleagues, Phillip Balogun and Frank, and a bike rider who were arguing over N100, which snowballed into a mob attack. Phillip Balogun and Frank are still lying unconscious in the hospital.
Just yesterday, the Ojo Barracks area of Lagos, along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway suddenly became a no-go area following disturbances that arose when okada riders engaged men of the state task force. People scampered for safety, while vehicular movements suddenly thinned out.
These are just some of the mayhem triggered by the okada phenomenon. While it can be said that Lagos hosts the nation’s largest number of okada riders, it is nevertheless a national problem because there is hardly any town or village in all the 36 states and FCT that people don’t use okada as a means of transportation.
In Lagos, problems arising from okada transportation are becoming insurmountable. Readers may wish to recall the October 29, 2021 edition of this column with the headline: Time now to tame the okada menace. As a result of the Lekki incident, the Lagos State Government announced a total ban on okada operations in six of the state’s 20 local governments — Ikeja, Apapa, Surulere, Lagos Island, Lagos mainland, and Eti-Osa local government areas, effective June 1.
Banning okada in six local governments of Lagos State is partial and elitist; these six LGAs are where the wealthiest people in the state live. Okada riders in these areas will simply relocate to the remaining areas, where the less-privileged live. Does it mean that lives of poor people also do not matter? Are they good only for votes at election time?
I see this response by LASG as knee-jerk, and will not endure. It must be recalled that the Lagos State Government has repeatedly imposed partial or full bans on okada. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu first announced an okada ban in January 2007.
His successor, Babatunde Fashola also announced his own ban in March 2017, while Akinwumi Ambode added his own later same year, in Novemebr 2017. Babajide Sawo-Olu followed with a ban of his own in February 2020, and has now re-banned okada in May 2022. The bans will not endure because the problems that generated the okada phenomenon have not been tackled.
Major of the problems is the issue of unemployment; it is one of the easiest ways out for able-bodied men desirous of honest ways to earn a living. Indeed, university graduates, including holders of masters’ degrees are listed among okada riders. Another thing is that most of the access roads in the residential suburbs of not just Lagos, but other states as well remain unmotorable, and as such, unattractive for buses to ply, leaving the terrain free for motorcycles. Some roads are so bad that even okada do not want to go there. Ask people in Gberigbe area of Ikorodu.
But life cannot go on like this because the okada riders have become a law unto themselves. They do not obey any traffic rules, drive against the traffic, ignore traffic lights, and have refused to wear crash helmets, another regulation imposed by government. They colonise junctions and intersections, which they illegally turn into their parks, from where roadside markets develop to create traffic jams.
What is worse is that they just buy their motorcycles and come onto the roads to start business. Apart from that, many of them are under-aged, unlicensed drivers, in blatant violation of the law. Most of them are not registered and the owners are unwilling to register. I can bet this month’s pay that no government in our country has a database on commercial motorcycles and so, do not even have the basic premise from which to regulate. Are we in a jungle? Are there governments or not?
Let it be borne in mind that these okada incidents are just beginning, and will continue for as long as the transport sector is left in the hands of society’s most rapacious elements. They will continue, bans or not, for as long as roads remain parlous, and for as long as there is no regulator in the road transport sector. If aviation has Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and other regulatory organs, water transport has NIWA, NIMASA, NPA and others, rail has NRC both as operator and regulator, why is there no regulation of road transportation?