Sunday Magazine

Okada: Battling daring undocumented riders in Lagos

Menace of commercial motorcycle operators popularly known as Okada riders in Nigeria is a multipronged jeopardy. Their character is the same anywhere they are found, especially in Lagos, where irrationality, violence, and abusive temperament among others, are the hallmark of their recklessness. In spite of the latest ban on Okada activities in the state, they are still emboldened to operate on the prohibited routes. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

• Riders shun gov’s order, ply restricted routes

• We want total ban, restrictions have failed –pedestrians, commuters

• Motorcycles assembled in Mushin, Oshodi, Festac –Investigation

• It’s necessary evil –Trader

• ‘There’ll be zero tolerance for defaulting Okada riders’

 

Before now, people stayed off the road to avoid being run into by an out of control Okada rider. Earlier, pedestrians climbed pavements and road barricades to escape Okada’s ‘onslaught’ but nowadays, Okada riders climb the same walkway, drainage slabs and pavements to give footers everlasting disabilities, while many others couldn’t live to tell the story.

 

At that time, people used to advise their loved ones against riding on Okada to forestall possible loss of life or any part of their delicate bodies to Okada accident or yield to such temptation of patronising them because one is running late for a meeting; an invitation that may lead to a permanent disability. T

 

oday, you don’t need to ride on an Okada to get killed or injured or have your bones broken; Okada riders struggle with pedestrians over right of way on the walkways. In many cases, they sound their horns for the pedestrians to, perhaps, jump into the open drainages for them to access the walkway.

 

Even with the pedestrians not being safe on the streets, the motorists have had their own share of unpleasant experiences with these ill-mannered and uncontrolled Okada. As a motorist, you might be so unlucky to pull by, at the roadside to get something done and get smashed by a marauding Okada from nowhere.

 

Many have been sent to their early graves under the watch of the helpless government and its enforcement agencies just because they stepped out of their vehicles, which has been a regular occurrence in Lagos as Okada riders appear to know next to nothing about safety signs and roads designation.

 

The case of a senior journalist, Bamidele Johnson, is still fresh in the mind. He was almost killed by a reckless Okada if God wasn’t on his side that fateful evening, when he was swept off his feet, taken up to the sky, and slammed on the impervious tarred road, bruising his body as well as his face.

According to him, he sustained multiple fractures at the base of the skull, multiple fractures around the eye socket and nasal cavity, swollen gums and chipped teeth, swollen shin and bruises aplenty after being hit by an Okada speeding down the street without headlight at about 7:20pm, few months ago.

 

Seeing what happened to him and hearing testimonies of those who came to his rescue, he believed that he cheated death. If not, he would have been dead or one eyed or even laced with another form of permanent disability. His eyes could have been worse affected if he had worn his glasses, as lens fragments could have pierced anything in their way to hurt his eyes, owing to the intensity of what had happened.

He said: “I had parked and stepped out of the car to cross the road. With no headlights and no streetlights, I did not see him and he did not see me. I got hit on the hip, probably launched into orbit, with the impact sending the whole of my 90 kg plus crashing.”

 

He added: “The left side of my face slammed onto the tarred road. For a brief while, I was unconscious. Somebody threw a bucket of water over me. When I came round, I felt fragments of my teeth in my mouth and I had to spit them out.”

 

After a while, Bamidele regained his consciousness and noticed some frenzy around him. Many women, led, by the one in front of whose shop he parked his car, were yelling.

 

He could hear a call for some violent action against the commercial motorcyclist, who, perhaps, wasn’t injured. Although, the passenger on the Okada, who also got slammed on the ground like Bamidele was in some degree of discomfort, no attention was paid to him. Rather, all the attention was focused on the rider, a Northerner. It was like a brewing Hausa/Yoruba clash, according to him.

 

When the Okada rider was asked why he rode without headlights, he said the bulb stopped working a few days back, a statement that angered the predominantly Yoruba crowd the more. He continued: “I was not interested in that. The pains were intense. I did not know the extent of the injuries and was desperate for treatment.

 

One of the women asked if there was anyone that I thought should be notified. I told her my wife and gave out her number. “My wife, with whom I’d spoken about five minutes before the accident, was called and she concluded that a scam was afoot. She was called again and she demanded to speak with me.

 

“My jaw was already heavy and painful. I spoke through the pain. She drove down and called my colleague, who lives nearby and she dashed down to join us as we headed for the hospital. She actually drove.” At the hospital, Bamidele was given first aid and advised to have an X-Ray, which he wasn’t able to do till the next day. He was driven home eventually, where sleep was hard to find.

 

Rather, pain kept coursing through everywhere affected. “My jaw was stiff,” he said, “It was when I went to have my bath that I knew I had bruises in so many places and they were lowimpact because I wore a pair of jeans.

 

“With my stiff jaw, there was no chance of chewing anything. I had a cup of beverage, using just a side of my mouth, just before taking the drugs I took from the hospital. They were painkillers, anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic and a few others that I can’t remember their classification.

 

“At about 2am, I drifted to sleep. I woke up around 5am, with immense pains, especially around my left eye and jaw. My head also ached, throbbing. Food was pap, something I’d not touch in normal circumstances. It, however, met the need to take drugs. “I had the X-Ray in the morning and when the result came, it was condensed into contusion/ concussion and head injury, with advice that I should have a cranial scan.

 

“I had the scan and it yielded more worrying outcomes: Post-traumatic brain contusion/ concussion, left blow out fracture, multiple base of the skull and left craniofacial fractures involving left maxillary walls, left zygoma, left nasal bone and left craniofacial soft tissue contusion with haematoma.

 

“I took the result to the hospital, where I was told I had been massively fortunate. A number of friends advised that I seek a second opinion, which I have been doing at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), my haunt in the last couple of weeks.

 

“After examination, I was referred to the LASUTH Eye Institute. I have been assured that the blood in the eye will clear up with time, with the drugs prescribed.

 

They also insisted that I visit the maxillofacial unit, which can make the call on whether a surgery is needed for the fractures. “In the meantime, I have become very scared of Okada, which seems to be the plaything of kids as young as 14. Are they licensed? I doubt if there is even any strict licensing procedure.

 

“Is there something the government can do to reduce mishaps of this sort? There has to be. I have a silly assumption. I assume that there is a spirit, a malevolent one, in the Okada.

 

It works this way: However mildmannered you are, the day you start riding Okada is the day you will start believing you are invincible and will do stuff that even a drug-addled person would not do.”

 

Thus, Okada restriction, otherwise ban in Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria, is a well  thought public policy for environmental sake and masses’ sanity, believing the policy would be backed by action, not to go the ways of other restriction orders in the past, which didn’t meet their objectives.

 

“With Okada in our environment, no one is safe, not only as a result of accidents but they constitute a serious security threat to the entire society.

 

Traffic robberies are made easy with Okada in place, especially snatching of pedestrians’ bags, obtaining people’s valuables at gun-point,” said Gloria Odunze, a mother of three.

 

She added that bad roads and not passable ones by motor vehicles become their escape route when these heinous acts have been perpetuated, saying that in many cases, robbers on Okada are on the standby with their engines turned on, waiting for a successful robbery to take the loots and robbers off the scene. Sunday Telegraph learnt that apart from the everlasting injuries Okada riders inflict on their victims, robbery is made ease with them.

 

The Lagos State Government confirmed that Okada riders are being used in perpetrating traffic robberies, carjacking, kidnapping, and conveying arms among other nefarious activities.

 

At the formal launch of the first and last mile bus scheme few weeks ago at Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said those were some reasons for the state government’s latest restriction of Okada and tricycles in certain areas and local governments in the state, apart from other reasons of killing and maiming citizens.

 

He said restriction is about improving and guaranteeing the security of lives and properties of Lagosians, saying that the alarming statistics of fatal accidents recorded from the operations of Okada in the state between 2016 and 2019, as well as the exploitation of Okada for the facilitation of crime across the metropolis can no longer be ignored.

 

He noted that the persistence of these activities led to a Town Hall Meeting last month, where issues of security in Lagos, with various stakeholders cutting across the fields of law enforcement; Civil Society Organisations; Labour Union Leaders; Royal Fathers and Religious Bodies, were extensively deliberated.

 

The governor noted that among the various issues identified as the root cause of the increase in crime rate in the state, the lingering menace of Okada riders being used to perpetrate traffic robberies, carjacking, kidnapping, conveying arms, as well as other nefarious activities, were notable.

 

“The goal is the full implementation of a safer and more efficient alternative transport solution that takes out the need for Okadas and replaces them with the ‘First and Last Mile Bus Scheme (FLM) buses, thus curbing the incidence of Okada-related crimes and robberies,”

 

Mr. Sanwo-Olu said. FLM is a transformational Bus Reform Initiative launched recently to take care of commuting between the main transit corridors and the hearts of the communities, where the bulk of the people reside and where the high capacity buses would normally not pass through.

 

Sunday Telegraph learnt that the new FLM Bus Scheme has been outlined into seven zones including, Zone 1 which covers Ikeja and Ketu; Zone 2 covers Oshodi, Mushin, and Surulere; Zone 3 (Berger, Yaba and Oyingbo); Zone 4 (Lagos Island, Ajah and Ibeju Lekki); Zone 5 (Iyana-ipaja and Agege); Zone 6 (Mile 2, Iyana-Iba and Ajeromi); Zone 7 (Ikorodu) and Zone 8 (Epe and Badagry). Sanwo-Olu said there will be a zero tolerance for defaulting Okada riders, who insist on riding their Okada within the restricted areas, insisting that his administration will be charging the law enforcement agencies to strictly enforce this restriction and will go hard on recalcitrant persons, who persist in flouting the restrictions.

 

“We will continue to monitor and assess the situation over the next one-two months and tweaking our response appropriately to ensure that ultimately, we are winning the war against crime and criminality associated with Okada. If we do not see any improvement, we will have no choice but to go for a full and complete ban on Okada activities in the state,” the governor added.

 

Today, it’s a punishable offence for any Okada and tricycle to ply any of these restricted areas, which include Surulere; Lagos Mainland; Lagos Island; Ikeja; Eti-Osa; Apapa; Apapa-Iganmu; Coker-Aguda; Itire-Ikate; Yaba; Ojodu; Onigbongbo; Lagos Island East; Iru-Victoria Island; Ikoyi; and Obalende.

 

Other prohibited areas are the 11 major highways in the state which are Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Apapa-Oshodi Expressway; Oworonshoki- Oshodi Expressway; Lagos- Ikorodu Expressway; Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway; Third Mainland Bridge; Eti-Osa/ Lekki-Epe Expressway; Lagos-Badagry Expressway; Funsho Williams Avenue; Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa Lekki Coastal Road.

 

Meanwhile, anyone who has seen where foreign Okada riders, and their northern Nigerian counterparts, attack innocent passengers with knives, or motorists with stones, clubs and pieces of broken bottles, will support a total ban on their activities in Lagos.

 

It was once said that Lagos is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, owing to the influx of these undocumented northerners and immigrants from Nigeria’s neighbouring countries, especially those with questionable characters.

 

According to Sunday Telegraph’s investigation, these foreigners, who could hardly speak English, initially stopped in the North, specifically Kano to learn Hausa language before moving down South to take up jobs as Okada riders.

 

In most cases, they do not reveal their real identities to anybody and cannot communicate. Unofficial figures show there are hundreds of thousands of Okada riders between the ages of 15 and 22 who are now in Lagos alone.

 

They live in inner city centres and in remote corners of the state like the far-flung Festac, Satellite Town, Ikeja, Oshodi, Oke Afa, Ajangbadi, Ajegunle, Agege, Yaba and pockets of disused spaces in A-list urban areas. Recently, a resident of 3rd Avenue, Festac Town, Ifeoma Anyanwu, was stabbed on her belly for dragging her bag with one of the Okada riders at night.

 

The 32-year-old graduate of Philosophy from the University of Lagos, had attended an audition at Abeokuta, Ogun State, and was returning to her home in Festac when she boarded the bike of a bike with criminal intent. She had arrived at Festac around 10pm, coming through Ikeja; she had taken a bus to Alakija, from where she hired an Okada. Unknown to her, the Okada rider was armed with a dagger.

 

She was going to 3rd Avenue but instead of taking the straight route of 2nd Avenue, the Okada rider took the lonely and dark 7th Avenue. Suddenly, according to her, the Okada rider held on to her bag, dragging it while shuffling his Okada as he tried to turn around to enable his passenger to fall off the bike. Sensing he had lost the bag, the rider pulled out his dagger and stabbed her and ran before the residents came to her rescue.

 

Sequel to this development, a security expert, Omoki Oviewhe, said the fearlessness of Okada riders to commit crimes are being emboldened by some strong names in Nigeria to be doing these unlawful acts. He said:“I believe that there are people sponsoring them to Lagos and in Lagos because the moment you take them to the police, the next moment, they are back on the street again.

 

Apart from that, where do these people have money to buy one Okada for N300, 000? “Majority of them do not speak English and don’t even know where they come from. It’s a terrible situation in Lagos because when you see them during and after Friday mosques, you will be marveled.

 

Any right-thinking government should do something about this situation.” He noted that they constituted a serious security threat in the state and the country, adding that they do not value lives and therefore should be treated without kid gloves.

 

“It appears the culture and religion wherever they are coming from do not value human life and it’s more worrisome when they derive pleasure in killing innocent people. “In the time of insecurity in the country, especially evident in the works of Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen invasions, movement of people should be thoroughly monitored because terrorism is a across boarder crime.

 

“We are not saying that they shouldn’t come in but there is the need for their movement to be documented and character profiled with the police. We don’t even know where these people are from, where they sleep and their names. It’s bad in a situation like this.”

 

However, during Sunday Telegraph’s visits to some of these restricted areas of the state, there is fear that this will end the same way of others as Okada activities found on the restricted areas still remain the same and there was nothing to show that an order has been given out except for the few areas where their activities have been on pause to observe the law enforcement’s disposition in carrying out their responsibilities.

 

Despite the governor’s hard words, Okada riders at Oshodi-Mile 2 route; Oshodi-Ikeja along; Mile 2-Orile; Lagos-Badagry, Ikeja, Ojota and Maryland among others, still have their uninterrupted business as usual. While some Lagosians are scared that the restriction may fail again like the previous ones, some Okada users decried the governor’s restrictions on the areas that Okada is the only way out; areas that have perennial traffic gridlock.

 

A businessman in his early 50s, Victor Okafor, who shuttles between Ladipo in Mushin and Wharf in Apapa in search of daily bread, said restriction of Okada in Apapa is crazy and does not make any common sense when articulated trailers have taken the road, saying that the only space left is where the Okada meanders through.

 

“Restricting Okada on Apapa road doesn’t make sense to me. If you say Oshodi-Mile 2, I will not argue because the road is smooth and good. Everybody can enter the bus but where will the bus pass in Apapa? Even the so-called FLM buses, where will they pass?

 

“What I expect the government to do is to create roads and make all routes free like Oshodi-Mile 2, bring down the transport fare to technically edge the Okada out of the business. If the road is good and free, and the buses collect N100 for instance, people will naturally enter buses which have more advantages over Okada that collects N300, except the person is a lunatic.

 

“Lagos should build more roads, make roads free and make the transport fare affordable, and Okada riding will die a natural death, especially for the sake of security. These people are a threat to everybody but then, due to the government’s failure, they are necessarily evil.

 

“Go to Igbobi Orthopedic Hospital and you will see that we don’t really need these people around us. We see deaths on a regular basis here. So, I didn’t say the government shouldn’t ban Okada but let us do roads for us to ease the suffering. We have suffered so much in this country.

 

” Bola Ladi, who sells fuel (Black market) at 7th Avenue, by 72 Road Junction, Festac, nearly fought with one of the Okada riders before our correspondent for wanting to urinate in the gutter beside the table where she displays her wares.

 

While she was trying to sell fuel to a customer, the Okada rider came, zipping down but the lady urged him not to urinate there as the smell from the canal troubles everyone around there coupled with her table had been taken away by the local government, which accused her of urinating and defecating in the canal. “These Okada people are very annoying and senseless.

 

They do not pay house rent in Lagos, yet they mess up everywhere. They defecate and urinate on the roads and streets leaving everywhere stinking and producing discomforting stench. Look at where this one came to urinate. I thank God that they will soon leave this state. We need a total ban not restriction because it has failed,” she said.

 

According to Mr. Segun Itse, who works at Ketu but closes late at night, he is forced to enter Okada from Ketu to Berger for N800 due to Lagos traffic.

 

He lamented how stressful his work is and wondering how he is going to cope with the new ban by sitting in Lagos traffic for hours before getting home after a stressful day at work. “I am pleading with the Lagos State Governor to reconsider our position as Lagosians and lift the ban on Okada.

 

After a stressful day at work, I close work by 7pm and sometimes, 8:30pm. There is usual traffic on my way to Berger, and I can’t add to it by sitting in traffic for another two hours.” Mr. Ogun Bashiru, a messenger for a consulting firm, told the Sunday Telegraph that Okada has been his saving grace since the beginning of his job.

 

“When I first started this job in 2019, I didn’t always meet my work deadlines due to traffic, and I was almost fired as a result. However, despite the fact that I dislike the idea of taking an Okada on the Highway because of the way they ride restlessly, I decided to give it a try, and I’ve never missed a deadline since,” he said.

 

In the case of Oluwatobi Abe, a trader who deals on phone accessories, he spoke on how he uses Okada for his everyday activities, including running from Ketu to Ikeja to convey his goods from Computer Village, and how Okada has been helpful.

 

“I’m heartbroken because I’ve gotten into debt because of the Okada ban. I only go out at night to do small jobs, so that I don’t get caught during the day. I implore the federal authorities to look into the situation in whatever manner they can,” Mr. Dan Weke appeals.

 

It would be recalled that Lagos had had many failed Okada bans and restrictions. Instead, more bikes are coming to Lagos. In fact, there are more motorcycle assembly plants in Lagos currently being manned by northerners.

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