Restriction on okada/keke: How men in uniform have defied order

The recent restrictions of motorcyclists, popularly called Okada and Tricycle operators, better known as Keke Marwa, appear to have been rubbished by some men in uniform, who have now assumed the responsibility of the commercial riders. ISIOMA MADIKE, who went on tour of some of the affected LG As and LCDAs, returned with a story of how many of these officers operate with impunity

 

It’s been suffering and smiling for many Lagos residents since February 1, when the Lagos State Government commenced the enforcement of its new traffic law restricting the operation of commercial motorcyclists, popularly called Okada and Tricycle operators, known as Keke Marwa.

Many residents of the mega city have been having a distressing time since the restrictions came into force. People move about with what is now known as “Otrek” from one point to another, even when there seem not to be full compliance in some of the places monitored.

There have been long queues also at bus stops even though extra transport was laid on, while some people now walk for miles. Okadas and Keke Marwas are the most common form of public transport in the city of over 20 million people, which is notorious for traffic jams.

The authorities said the restrictions were needed because of safety concerns. The restrictions however, did not include private bikes and tricycles used by delivery companies. After the initial bravado by the state government to enforce the law, which led to seizure of a sizable number of Okadas and Keke Marwas belonging to offenders, some men in uniform, especially the police and army, have now assumed the responsibility of the commercial riders.

The inability of the law enforcement officials saddled with the responsibility to apprehend these defiants appeared to have emboldened them to continue plying the restricted routes with impunity. Some of these police and army men have continued to flagrantly ignore the restrictions in the local government areas (LGAs) and local council development areas (LCDAs) as many of them were seen picking and dropping passengers, especially on Ikorodu Road, regarded as one of the longest and busiest highways in the city. Pockets of these new “commercial” riders were also seen operating between Maryland and Ikeja as well as the local airport vicinity despite the presence of enforcement policemen in those areas.

This reporter, who went round parts of the city, observed how these uniform men freely ferried passengers between Mile 12 and Ojota New Garage where road construction is currently ongoing, ACME Road in Ogba and between Ogba and Ikeja via Adeniyi Jones Avenue.

There were those who equally ply the Ikeja-Ojodu Barger axis through Agidingbi Road. When confronted at Ojota BRT Bus Stop, one of the men in uniform, who were picking two passengers at once, boasted in pidgin English, saying: “If any of them triam, we all go die here. Dem no dey fear? Who born them?” The restrictions, which came into effect last week, are supposedly being enforced by several security agencies, though with widespread criticisms. While the government has maintained its resolve not to back down on the move, some Okada riders, who are encourage by the attitude of the defiant men in uniform, seem to have teamed up with them to flout the law.

These noncompliant riders were seen on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Herbert Macaulay Way and other restricted routes. They also ply the everbusy Agege Motor Road as the police and government officials appear to have gone to sleep.

Their activities are more pronounced at Pen Cinema, Agege, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, and Fadeyi-Maryland routes. On Iju Road, the story is the same. They operate on the prohibited routes and constitute nuisance as usual in defiance to the law; likewise at Fagba and Abule Egba areas, where they operate with latitude. The areas these riders are restricted from plying are, Apapa LGA, Apapa Iganmu LCDA, Lagos Mainland LGA, Yaba LCDA, Surulere LGA, Itire-Ikate LCDA, and Coker-Aguda LCDA. Others are Ikeja LGA, Onigbongbo, LCDA, Ojodu LCDA, Eti-Osa LGA, Ikoyi-Obalende LCDA, and Iru-Victoria Island LCDA, Lagos Island LGA and Lagos Island East LCDA.

They are also restricted on some highways and bridges, including Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Osho-di Expressway, Oworonshoki-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, Lagos-Badagry Expressway.

The Bridges are, Iyana-Ipaja Bridge Agege, Dopemu Bridge Agege, Airport/Ikeja Bridge, Agege Motor road/Oshodi Loop, Oshodi, Dorman Long Bridge, Ojuelegba Bridge, National Stadium Flyover, Apapa-Iganmu Bridge, among others.

The state government though has given reasons for the measure, ranging from the recklessness on the part of the riders leading to accidents and deaths, as well as incidences of criminality associated with some of them.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, reeled out a scary figures arising from accidents by Okada and Keke operators. According to him, from 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone. He added that this number excluded unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. For the deaths, the figure is no better, as he said that reported cases were over 600 as at date. Omotosho added: “Also, the rate of crimes aided by Okada and Keke keeps rising.

They are also used as get-away means by criminals.” Many, even among government critics, have somehow bought into this argument. Those, who are aligning with the restrictions policy, have alleged recklessness among some Okada and Keke riders with a number of them said to have got involved in crimes and criminalities.

This fact, they further said, is difficult to fault by any objective analyst. Okada riders in particular, according to this line of thought, involve in these incidences of menace. Most successful robbery operations on traffic and against people coming out from the banks or other business transactions in the state, others pointed out, are known to have been carried out by people on bikes. Many of them are also known for driving against traffic and flouting traffic signals and regulations.

However, they are seen by residents of the state as necessary evils, who they patronize because of inaccessibility of some parts of the state or the debilitating traffic that can at times, take longer hours to get to.

These factors of safety and security account for those who support the government on the restrictions. Afrobeat singer, Seun Kuti, has also reacted. The music star took to his Instagram page on Tuesday, where he expressed his disappointment at the reactions the restrictions of the use of Okada has been getting in the state. According to him, Nigerian professionals have shown their true colours again as largely oppressors in waiting.

He said: “Children dying in the hospital every day, they don’t care. Miseducated and undereducated children, they don’t care. Police brutality, no outrage, but tell them to walk from bus stop to the office, oh no, the worst has happened!

“If you wish for your children or loved ones to be Okada and Keke riders, please raise up your hands. We know these aren’t jobs. We pacify those we have failed with slave labour and slave wages and we are ready to fight for them to continue slaving away.”

In the meantime, Governor Baba jide Sanwo-Olu, has inaugurated 14 commercial ferries at the Badore Ferry Terminal, Ajah. The boats, according to a statement from the governor’s office, can take up to 40 to 60 passengers at a go and will commute to Ikorodu, Ebute Ero, CMS, Badore and Ikoyi areas of the state. While assuring Lagosians that before the end of the year the boats would be increased to 30, Sanwo-Olu said more than 500 buses would be injected into the state transport system to ease transportation problems. Sanwo-Olu, while justifying the restrictions, said: “We will sustain this on Okadas and tricycles, mainly because of security and safety reasons.

Security and safety of citizens is paramount to any government. As a responsible government, we will not fold our arms and allow any security breach in the state. “We will continue to ensure the safety of our people on all fronts.

There have been reports of serious security breaches and safety concerns in areas where these operators ply. We had to respond to these concerns because life and safety matter to this government.” In spite of all these however, criticisms have continued to trail the restrictions.

For instance, a two time minister and former Vice President of World Bank, African Region, Oby Ezekwesili, in her disapproval of the law, described the restrictions as “the futility of trying to tackle poverty.” According to her, all the present government achieves daily is to “heap hardship on the masses.” She added: “In one move, the Lagos State government increased unemployment, transport price inflation, latent insecurity and traffic. It seems the only thing they’re experts at is designing unhappiness.” But, Ezekwesili is not alone on this plank.

The Chairman, Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Engr. Adedeji Doherty, has called on Sanwo-Olu, to reconsider the recent decision on Okada and Keke Marwa from plying some major roads and bridges in some parts of Lagos. Like Ezekwesili, Doherty warned that the sudden loss of income occasioned by the restrictions can easily create hardship as well as unnecessary and very serious security challenges in the state.

This was just as he urged that with the restrictions now in place, the state government must ensure it accelerated “the commissioning and implementation of the Lagos light rail network as any other palliative would just be temporary.” According to the PDP chieftain, the state government should have considered the significant disruption such restrictions would create bearing in mind that around 70 per cent of Lagos residents use bikes and tricycles as a means of transportation. Activist and lawyer, Tope Akinyode, has also sued Sanwo-Olu, for banning Okada, and Keke Marwa in six LGAs and nine LCDAs, according to Punch report.

Akinyode, the report said, joined the Lagos State Government, the state Attorney-General, the Speaker and the House of Assembly in the suit. In the reported suit with number, TEMP/5013/2020, Akinyode, who is also the National President of Revolutionary Lawyer’s Forum, asked the Ikeja State High Court to declare that the restriction on Okada and Keke NAPEP was illegal and at variance with sections 41 and 44 of the 1999 Constitution.

He equally sought an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents or their agents from enforcing the Transport Sector and Reform Law, 2017. The activist said in a supporting affidavit in support of the motion on notice that the enforcement of the new law had caused serious traffic congestion and untold hardship to himself and the people of Lagos.

He said the constitution guarantees freedom of movement and the right to own property and it would be wrong to criminalise the use of Okada and NAPEP. Some of the operators of the popular ride hailing firms have been speaking too. The Chief Executive Officer of Gokada, Fahim Saleh, for instance, was quoted to have said that he invested money to lift poor Nigerian homes. Saleh said that Gokada was not just business to him but a mission.

In a video message posted on the @GokadaNG Twitter handle, he advised against stifling innovation with the restrictions, which includes transportation service app like Gokada. According to him, the riders of Gokada were not in the business just to make money but rather to eke a living and cater for their families.He said from day one, Gokada had prioritised safety, providing their riders and the passengers with helmets certified by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).

He said: “I know I have been a little bit quiet as of recent event with the motorcycle transport restriction in Lagos but I’m just trying to process it and figure out how exactly what to speak on the topic. “I mean it’s tough for an entrepreneur, who is trying to innovate, who is investing his money.

This is not my country. It is a country I feel has amazing potentials and amazing people and there isn’t the opportunity to shine. The drivers that ride Gokada, every one of them wasn’t there because they just wanted to make money. They were there because they have families. They have children, they had dreams.

“They wanted to start businesses. They wanted to go to school. They couldn’t find jobs. Gokada wasn’t the final place for their lives. It was a stepping stone for them to get to their next endeavour and we are hoping that a lot of these drivers wouldn’t be drivers forever.

”We are hoping that we could place them in higher jobs within Gokada and create a beautiful community, which was developing slowly, and it was really something that moved me to the point that I was okay putting all my money, all my everything. What I tell you is that Gokada is not just a business to me, it’s a mission and every point of that mission was always playing safe providing jobs. We did something that nobody has done in the market. We provided Helmet that is DOT certified.” Tricycle drivers are not left out of the current lamentation. Mrs Ego Uchenna, who plies the First Gate-Pen Cinema route, told this reporter that she resorted to driving Keke when her husband lost his job and could not get another one.

While describing the restriction as “a policy to stifle the hapless masses”, Uchenna asked: “Do the government want some of us to go prostituting? Should we now encourage our husbands to start armed robbery as there is nothing else to do? The action of the state government is devastating on many families, to say the least. “I must say that the policy formulators in this state have not been fair to the poor. They should have considered the number of jobs this tricycle and Okada have created in the state.

How many jobs has the state government created in the last eight years? Have they considered the fate of the companies and their staff, dealers, sub-dealers, operators, park chairmen and all other people connected directly or indirectly to these businesses? What happens to their families? This action is the height of wickedness.”

Meanwhile, some aggrieved Okada and Keke riders at the Iyana Ipaja area of the mega city reacted violently in the early hours of Wednesday, disrupted normal activities as they barricaded major roads in the whole of Alimosho LGA also.

The Okada riders, had, before then took to major roads in Ijora area, making burn-fire on the road, and impending free flow of traffic. The protest, which reportedly left a child dead at Iyana Ipaja, also dented the state government as one of its LASTMA vehicles was burnt to ashes. The developments caused pandemonium in the areas as motorists drove against traffic to escape from the rowdy situation. Gunshots sound reportedly rented the atmosphere also as passers-by ran in different directions.

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