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Twice in two days – as recently as two weeks ago – two chief security officers in Lagos State spoke publicly about “going tough” on commercial motorcycle (Okada) operators who have once again become a menace in the city.
The first of the declarations was by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at the 2016 First Quarter Town Hall Meeting held in Ikorodu on Thursday, April 14.
After delivering the heart-warming news that the state government will formally sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with investors for the construction of the proposed 4th Mainland Bridge before the end of May, Ambode responded to complaints about activities of the Okada operators.
Throwing the challenge back to his audience, he asked if they would support a total ban on that mode of transportation. Unsurprisingly, majority of the stakeholders at the meeting answered in the affirmative.
Responding, the governor said, “I’m encouraged by this very transparent, credible, free and fair affirmation which I just got from the people. From the response, many of the people in this hall are in support of a total ban on Okada.”
What followed was a declaration that “all the security agencies in Lagos including the police, Task Force, LASTMA and others, to start with, are hereby directed to fully enforce the ban on Okada between Mile 12 and Ikorodu.”
The second public declaration came on Friday, April 15, the day after the Town Hall Meeting.
Ambode had presided over the monthly Security Council Meeting. High on the agenda was the activities of Okada riders and the security implication of their unrestricted operation.
Briefing Government House correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, which was attended by all security agencies in the state, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, betrayed the soft side of Ambode which perhaps explains why he wields the big stick with caution.
When asked about the governor’s directive that Okada should not ply the Mile 12-Ikorodu route, the police commissioner said: “You see, there is need to have the buy-in of members of the public in all these. The council considered the need for us to still tell the citizens that in as much as we want to enforce, there is also need for members of the public to wilfully comply with extant laws of the state. When they comply and conform to the laws, it will be easier for security agencies to enforce. Where the law says there should not be street trading, people should not patronise street traders; where the law says Okada should not ply certain routes, people should not patronise commercial motorcyclists in those areas.”
I am however sorry to break it to you Mr Commissioner; Okada operators and their customers will not wilfully stay off unapproved routes. As at the time of writing this article, commercial motorcycle operators have taken over the BRT corridor, not just between Mile 12 and Ikorodu, but as far as Ojota.
Ambode’s words that “anyone caught flouting this directive will have their Okada impounded and we would prosecute such people as well before the court” have proven not to be enough deterrent. It is time to appeal to something more than people’s conscience. Enough of Mr Nice Guy.
It should come as no surprise that stakeholders at the Ikorodu Town Hall Meeting were overwhelming in their support for a total ban on commercial motorcycle operators. The truth is that there was never any meaningful restriction of Okada movement in that part of Lagos. At the height of the clampdown by immediate past Governor Babatunde Fashola, the two-wheelers from other parts of town simply joined their colleagues in Ikorodu.
From TOS Benson Road to Ijede Road, and Isawo to Odonguyan, Okada riders were king of the road. The undisguised backing of some ethnic leaders rendered the police helpless to a large extent. Matters got worse with the unofficial window given to riders in the days leading to the 2015 general elections.
Using isolated cases of harassment of Okada rider by policemen and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials as excuse, some members of the last Lagos House of Assembly made a case for the review of the Lagos Traffic Law. They argued that law enforcement agents had gone out of control and that should not be allowed to continue.
Taking a cue from that “concern”, Okada riders returned in large numbers to major roads in Lagos. Occasional rides by men in uniform metamorphosed into full-blown defiance by others who knew that the restriction could only last for so long. And like a man choosing his battles wisely, Fashola was measured in his response. With his administration on the last lap of an eight-year race, the former governor was compelled to look the other way.
The result was an upswing in crime and needless accidents in the state. That was one of the major challenges Ambode faced immediately after his swearing in. Actress, Ireti Doyle, and many other are proofs of the havoc robbers wreaked in the early days of the current administration.
Having found his feet and his government almost on cruise control, Ambode, like a blacksmith, has been hitting at the menace of Okada riders as a major challenge in crime control in Lagos. The deadly Mile 12 clash in March is traceable to commercial motorcycle riders. So is the activities of criminals in Ikorodu for which a joint police and military action was launched.
Whatever gains there are of allowing unrestricted movement of commercial motorcyclists are defeated when compared with the health and security implications that come with it. And with fears that Boko Haram elements may find their way into Lagos, the time is now to enforce the law guiding Okada operations in full.
Ambode owes Lagosians that much. And the people owe themselves a duty of care to support the government in its vow to deal with errant Okada riders.