Due to the intractable traffic challenges confronting most Nigerian cities, the advent of commercial motorcycles as a means of transport was hailed as a welcome necessity. This was particularly the case in traffic jam-prone Lagos where commuters spend hours in traffic on account of frequent gridlock.
Indeed, over time most Lagosians came to see the commercial motorcycle, popularly called Okada, as the preferred means of transportation, especially if you are in a hurry to get to your destination.
For them, Okada is more preferred because it is considered convenient, fast and readily available. But years after, the story has changed with many Nigerians, based on their personal experiences, now perceiving Okada operators under the conflicting definition of the good, the bad and the ugly. So, despite the once popular argument that the Okada is a welcome transportation option as it helps a good number of Lagos residents to beat the harrowing traffic jams that often characterise Lagos roads, there is a growing feeling that its disadvantages far outweigh the advantages presently.
The reason for this is not far to seek. The increasing recklessness of Okada riders has led to more lives being lost daily in Lagos, apart from the high number of those who sustained permanent disabilities as a result of accidents on commercial motorcycles. For instance, it has become the habit of some Okada riders to brazenly block the road, in the process denying access to other road users. Whenever they are challenged, they gang up and attack the aggrieved motorists.
Besides, the security threat posed by some of these riders cannot be overlooked. Lagos, with an estimated population of 24 million still continues to attract more people on a daily basis due to its economic and socio-political importance in the country. Many of those flocking to Lagos are from states where the use of Okada has been banned and they see the metropolis as a convenient haven to continue their commercial motorcycle business. But the belief in some security quarters is that some of these people are criminals operating under of guise of Okada to carry out criminal activities and thus, worsening the security challenges in the metropolis.
Victims of Okada accidents narrate ordeals
A victim of Okada recklessness, Sekinat Akitoye, a caterer who lives in Ikorodu, has a bitter story to tell. According to Sekinat who has been in and out of orthopaedic hospitals for a while, her present predicament started about four years ago. Narrating her ordeal, she told Vanguard that on an ill-fated day she boarded a commercial bike from Ita-Faaji to Tafawa Balewa Square, TBS, to catch up with the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, to Ikorodu; unfortunately, she ended up in the hospital as the bike was hit by a car.
She said: “Four years down the line, I am yet to recover from that terrible experience. I couldn’t catch up with BRT on that day; yet, I landed in the hospital and since then I have spent all the money I have in seeking treatment. I have done series of operations within four years, but I am yet to regain my health.” Sekinat who spoke with Vanguard from her hospital bed, added: “My sister, it is so painful. As I speak, I have been referred to another hospital and a friend of mine asked me to speak to a journalist in case help would come my way. I need money to offset certain bills, feed and stay alive. Doctors told me I need N5m to regain my health,”
The story of Esther Alabi Tope, another victim of okada accident, is equally pathetic. In her case she did not board any bike but was hit while crossing the road to board a bus to Ikorodu Garage from Omobitan Street Igbogbo area of Ikorodu. This happened on April 25, 2021 and she is yet to regain her health since then. In an emotion-laden voice, she said: “I worked as a sales girl. Please, okada is not good and should not be allowed in any community. In fact, I cannot recommend it as a means of transportation. I have been at home since April and I can’t walk or go to work despite two surgeries I have undergone.”
Another okada accident victim, Mr. Owolabi Stephen, an aluminium fabricator, told Vanguard: “My leg was amputated a week after my wedding. I patronised okada daily due to the nature of my work; but that was before the incident of December 2019. It is so painful in the sense that it happened a day after my wedding. On that fateful day, I was going to a client’s site to install a job. I boarded a bike from Ijede to Radio bus-stop, by Ota-Ona, Ikorodu. The rider of the bike I boarded tried to overtake a tipper but failed; the tipper crushed my leg. Though I am not bed ridden, I can no longer go out regularly or to far distances because of my health condition. My leg was amputated a week after, at the General Hospital, Ikorodu.”
Mr. Ogunjobi Olusanya Ezekiel, holder of a Higher National Diploma, HND, in Mass Communication, also has pathetic story to tell about his experience with okada. He informed that on account of his inability to secure a job, he started anchoring events and also bought a motorcycle on hire purchase to do brisk business to meet up with his financial obligations. He also shared his ordeal, saying: “I reside in Oshogbo, Osun State. On that fateful day of October 22, 2020, I was on my bike but did not know how I found myself at Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, LAUTECH, Osogbo, and a doctor there told me how it happened. He told me that a bike that was being chased hit me; that I fainted and was rushed to the hospital by Good Samaritans. He also told me I had multiple fractures on my hand and left leg and a deep cut on my head. I have visited many hospitals, including Wesley Guild Hospital, where the doctors insisted I must go for CT scan at their main hospital complex in OAUTH Ile Ife. I have been to Paragon Orthopaedic Specialist Hospital also in Osun State.
“I spent about three months in the hospital before I was discharged and I still attend medical check up but couldn’t overcome my health challenges as I speak. Last week Thursday, I went for medical examination and the doctors discovered another complication that made them recommend that I should be re-admitted for a minor surgery. It is so painful that I cannot go out without an aide. I have been attending physiotherapy sessions for about 16 weeks. I cannot quantify the expenses so far. Where do I start from. The deep cut on my head took about six months before it got healed and I was placed on all sorts of antibiotics since then.”
Bade Sogunro said he does not want to be reminded of the incident of April 2021 which has almost rendered him blind. He said: “I had been enjoying good sight until I had an accident on a bike which almost made me lose my sight. My doctor advised me to wear glasses as the last option. I had an appointment in Apapa, having left my home in Alakuko where I boarded a bus. However, it took us three hours to access Oke-Odo from Alakuko where I disembarked and picked a bike to Oshodi. But shortly after we got to Ikeja-Along, the okada rider was involved in a lone accident due to over speeding. The okada rider died on the spot, but sympathisers rescued me and took me to the hospital where I spent a lot of money for my treatment and recovery. If not, I would have died.”
Also sharing his experience, Isaac Akpojaro, who lost a family friend to an okada accident on Marine Beach, said: “He left Apapa for Costain to cash some money at a bank when the accident occurred. The okada man was to take him to his destination and back. They were on their way back when the rider tried to navigate in-between two trucks on Marine Beach due to the traffic gridlock. Unfortunately, the trucks suddenly began to move and the okada fell under one of them. The rider survived the incident. “The most unfortunate thing was that nobody knew the bike was carrying a passenger. We had been to different hospitals and mortuaries before somebody referred us to the accident scene five days later. His body was taken to the village for burial”.
Statistics of Okada accidents
Statistics show that between 2016 and 2019, over 10,000 motorcycles accidents were recorded at the General Hospitals alone. This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by private hospitals. Also, there is a total of 600 deaths resulting from these incidents till date, according to the Lagos State Government. Some who narrowly escaped death have indelible scars to show for mounting motorbikes, while others, among who is a single mother identified simply as Modupe, is still undergoing treatment at the hospital. In her case, she never boarded a motorbike, but was knocked down while crossing the road at Jakande Estate, OkeAfa area of Lagos, on August 27, 2019. Since then, she has been at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, over her inability to clear bills for her treatment.
Available record in the state Police Command revealed that, from January – May 9, 2021, the statistics of accidents are: January – 90; February – 76; March–101; April–84 and May–34. Out of these figures, the following numbers are: motorcycle related accidents: January – 64 representing 71.1 per cent; February – 50 representing 65.8 per cent; March – 101 representing 78.4 per cent; April – 66, representing 70.2 per cent and May – 20 representing 83.3 per cent.
In further analyzing the data, the figure for January include: 41 cases in which recorded fatalities, 18 cases with injuries, while five were just minor accidents; in February 37 cases of fatalities, 10 cases with injuries, while three minor accidents were recorded; March had 58 fatality cases, 16 cases with injuries, while six were minor accidents; April include 42 cases in which there were 11fatalities, 16 cases with injuries, while eight were just minor accidents; up till Friday, May 7, 2021, 14 cases of fatalities and four cases with injuries, while two minor accident were recorded. Summary of okada accidents, injury and deaths between January-May, 2021 were: Number of accidents in January, 64, number of fatal, 41, number of serious, 18, number of minor, five, while February were: 50, 37, 10, 3; March, 80, 58, 16, 6; April, 66, 42, 16, 8 and May1-7, shows: 20, 14, 4, 2.
The emergence of okada business has undoubtedly and inadvertently increased the rate of road accidents in the State. This has led to the loss of lives and in many cases, permanent disabilities to victims as enumerated above. The high rate of okada accidents was attributable to the lack of requisite training, impatience, flagrant disregard for traffic rules and regulations by operators among other reasons. Another undesirable consequence is the use of okada for criminal acts as earlier stated. Available records revealed that, 218 serious crimes were perpetrated with the use of okada from January, 2021 till May. Out of this figure, 92 were robbery in traffic, 26 were foiled armed robbery, 38 were cult activities; while 18 were murder incidents. In the same vein, 78 suspects were arrested, 58 arms were recovered, 480 ammunition were recovered while 320 okadas were impounded in connection with various criminal and traffic offences committed with the use of okada.
Okada and rising insecurity in Lagos
More challenging, however, is the security threat posed to the state by these commercial motorcyclists. A majority of crimes are perpetrated by okada riders, because it comes handy as a getaway vehicle after crimes are committed, according to police sources. And worst still, with the clamp down on Boko Haram members, bandits and other criminals across Nigeria, are believed to have gradually started infiltrating into Lagos as their ideal destination okada business.
The recent statement credited to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu,while appraising the security situation in the state during a stakeholders’ meeting, seems to bear this out. According to him, a majority of violent crimes in the state are committed by armed hoodlums who operate on motorcycles. Many Lagosians have bitter stories to tell from their encounters with criminal okada riders, who snatch bags, rob people in broad day light, carry out gang attacks, apart from carrying out kidnapping, burglary, as well as engaging law enforcement officers in violent confrontations and often get away, because most of their bikes don’t have authentic plate numbers.
Odumosu painted a very graphic picture of the nuisance okada riders in Lagos constitute with a review of their activities between January and May 9, 2021, where he reckoned that 192 Okada riders lost their live in 280 accidents, noting also that, “The number of deaths recorded in road accidents and crime committed with the use of okada across the state, had assumed a worrisome dimension.”
According to him, records at the disposal of the Lagos State Police Command indicate that in January, 90 Okada accidents occurred; 76 in February, 101 in March, 84 in April and 34 in May (May 9 to be precise), and the number is expected to rise. He said okada accidents were often because of recklessness and lawlessness, with some riding on the opposite direction of the roads and making dangerous manoeuvres.
Like most other concerned Lagosians, Odumosu advised the Lagos State government to put in place stringent measures to address the negative activities of the commercial motorcycle operators, saying:”Okadas are being illegally used as a veritable means of conveying hard drugs from one point to another. The consequences of spreading of hard drugs and its consumption are better imagined than said.” In another revelation, the Lagos police chief said between January and early May, 320 commercial motorcycles were arrested in connection with 218 cases of criminal incidents in which 78 suspects were detained and 480 guns of various calibres seized from them.
As a result of the popular patronage of commercial cyclists, criminal elements have infiltrated their ranks. While masquerading as transporters, they use the opportunity to rob and kidnap unsuspecting members of the public, as well as commit other forms of atrocities and swiftly disappear from the crime scenes. For instance, in June last year, an armed robber operating on a motorcycle in the Ikorodu area of the state was arrested by officials of the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad, RRS. The robbery suspect, Sodiq Rasaq, was arrested at Ijede Junction, Ikorodu, as he was fleeing the scene of the incident.
The suspect, in the company of an accomplice, Quadri Yusuph, had robbed a confectionery seller of N20, 000 at about 5 a.m. They thereafter stabbed their victim twice in the hand when he challenged them. Luck ran out on them when their victim raised the alarm (as they were fleeing), which led to their interception.
Again, in October 2019, in the same Ikorodu area of the state, operatives of the RRS arrested three suspected Okada robbers. The suspects, Emmanuel Michael, 24; Moses Ogeh, 27, and Ojonugwa Ojomeje, 29, were arrested in the Ita-Maga area of Ikorodu after they posed as policemen and hijacked a motorbike from its owner. As at the time of arrest, two of the suspects – Ojomeje and Ogeh were caught in Mobile Police (MOPOL) vests and police fez caps. The trio while dispossessing the rider of his bike for not having “complete papers”, told him that they were police officers from a nearby police station. Last year, a Police sergeant attached to one of the commercial banks along Ogunlana Drive, Surulere, was shot dead by two armed men, who rode on a motorbike as they fled after robbing Bureau de Change operators.
Accomplices of armed robbery gangs now operate in Okada, as they reportedly ride ahead of armed robbers escaping from a robbery scene so as to pass information on police locations and movements with the use of through GSM phones and thus aid them to evade arrest. At other times, they conduct surveillance around selected persons, private and government facilities and other targets, before calling in the operational arm of the gang to strike. In most of these cases, security operatives have fallen victim as they are found to be attacked to decimate and destabilize them before going for their target. It was also on record that, hoodlums/cultists move about in large numbers on Okada mostly not registered to carry out attack on rival cult groups or reprisal on rival cultists and other criminal activities. This usually makes it impossible to track them. In the same vein, hoodlums riding on okada now invade residential areas, especially at night, to rob innocent citizens, while kidnappers also use okada to ferry away their victims in most cases. Records have shown that they frequently snatch phones and bags from unsuspecting members of the public at bus-stops and crowded areas and disappear into thin-air in a jiffy before report could get to security agencies.
Lagos State government response
In response to the increasing loud outcry over these unsavoury developments, the State government was prompted to take action to curtail the excesses of Okada riders in the State. Its response came in the form of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law No.4 in the year 2012. Schedule II, section 3 of the Act prohibits Okada operations on all major highways in Lagos State, viz: Lagos-Ibadan, Apapa-Oshodi, Oworonshoki-Oshodi, Lagos-Ikorodu, Lagos-Abeokuta, Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa/Lekki-Coastal Road, among others. As part of the restrictions, the state government had banned the activities of Okada and tricycle operators on key roads, highways and local government areas. Also, the operation of Okada was restricted on all bridges in the state and selected major roads in all the local governments, including all Central Business District, CBD, while Okada operation was limited to 10.00pm in non-restricted areas. This legislation and other extant laws regulating traffic in the state were religiously being enforced by the police and other relevant Federal and State government agencies.
Sadly, while it was expected that, the stringent measures put in place by the government and the vigorous enforcement carried out by the security agencies will bring an end to the nefarious activities perpetrated by Okada operators, the reverse has been the case. The gains already secured by restricting Okada riders to certain areas were truncated during the #EndSARS crisis.
Since then, the Okada riders are becoming more daring in their operations. They often violently confront security agencies with dangerous weapons whenever the law is being enforced. The state government claims have have impounded over 5000 motorbikes through its State Taskforce on Environmental Offences and other Police formations in the state. Some of the already taken measures by the state government to rein in the activities of the Okada in the state include, outright ban in some areas like Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki corridor, among others, as well as some bridges, including the Third Mainland Bridge.
Most stakeholders who spoke at a recent security meeting, submitted that the activities of those using Okada as means of public commercial transportation be urgently and seriously reviewed by the State Government. On its part, the state police command has strongly advised the state government to immediately review the current guidelines on the operation of Okada as a means of commercial transportation and take decisive legal and administrative steps and policies that will curb their traffic, criminal and other nefarious activities in the state.
Propensity for lawlessness
“Finally, the Command, on behalf of all other security agencies in the state, hereby, assures all law abiding citizens residing in the state of their security. They should go about their lawful activities without any let or hindrance. They should be rest assured that, all security arsenals/personnel in the State will continue to be deployed to protect their lives and properties,” Odumosu stated.
But according to Governor Sanwo-Olu: “We have noted with dismay the fact that Okada riders are disregarding and flouting the restrictions we imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis. In this same vein, we have also observed with dismay the ongoing war between Okada riders and our law enforcement agencies. This propensity for lawlessness is not who we are as Lagosians. The Lagos State Road Traffic Law, enacted in 2012 to safeguard the lives of people and to maintain law and order on our roads, is the legal backbone for the restrictions put in place early last year and designed to curb the okada menace in the state.”
Reiterating the commitment of his government to the maintenance of law and order, Sanwo-Olu stressed: “Our mission of attaining a Greater Lagos can only be achieved when we all resolve to live in an orderly manner. Consequently, and based on all that we have seen and experienced in the past couple of weeks, as well as the increasing threat posed by the activities of okada riders to the safety and security of lives, we will in the coming days be announcing further changes to the parameters of motorcycle and tricycle operations in the state.”
To facilitate enforcement of the planned ban, the state government is already deploying various technologies in this regard. It has completed more than 1,800 kilometers of fibre optic cables which are being laid across the metropolis to create a statewide broadband network. When completed, it is expected to support the deployment of Close Camera Television, CCTV cameras that will help ensure that high-risk crime areas are kept under round-the-clock surveillance.
In addition, and as part of efforts to embed more technology into the security architecture, Lagos recently launched the use of body-worn cameras for law-enforcement agents in a bid to enhance the capacity and productivity in fighting crime.
According to Sanwo-Olu, his administration will be re-launching the Lagos State Residents Card very soon to ensure that the database of residents is kept up to-date. “This database will form a critical part of our security architecture, as it will ensure that we know who is who, at any point in time,” he said.
As part of measures towards the banning of Okada, two weeks after the security stakeholders meeting, the state launched 500 buses for the First and Last Mile Buses that will ply inner roads and safely get commercial passengers to their final destinations. The aim of the buses which were yet to commence operation is to alleviate the pain associated with the restriction of motorcycle and tricycle operations. The programme is expected to generate employment for the okada riders that will be displaced by the outright ban on their operations who will be employed as operators of the Last Mile Buses id so wished..
As part of plans to phase out the okada mode of transportation, Sanwo-Olu said more personnel will be recruited into the Lagos State Neighbourhood Corps, LSNC, to increase their coverage of the state, at community level. Also, while awaiting deployment of more policemen to Lagos, the state government has commenced the implementation of the Community Policing initiative, which involves the recruitment of more than a thousand Constabularies in the first phase, working in partnership with the Nigeria Police Force, NPF.
“We would like the Inspector-General of Police to make available more personnel and equipment for deployment to Lagos State. We will on our part support as much as possible with allowances and logistics support.
“If you see something alarming or unusual, please report it to the authorities. We cannot build the robust security architecture we want without strong grassroots intelligence. I urge you all to remain vigilant and strive to be security-conscious at all times,” Sanwo-Olu stated.
Monarch, others want Okada banned
Ayangburen of Ikorodu Oba Kabiru Shotobi in his submission wanted Okada operators banned in Lagos if the war against insecurity must be won.
He said: “Now is the time to ban the activities of okada riders. I have often told the governor that the right time might not come if we keep waiting for alternatives which might take forever; now is the time to stop the menace of okada riders who are very lawless.”
State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Stephen Adegbite, who corroborated Shotobi, said Okada and trycycles, popularly called “Keke Napep” should not be part of the megacity plan. According to him, the activities of transport unions must also be checked if the state must secure residents and property. He said: “Okada and Keke Napep should be banned; they cannot be part of the megacity. Nigerians should do away with lawlessness and obey rules and regulations which are made to ensure our safety.”
Lekan Bilyaminu, who represented the youth council said the practice of relaxing laws whenever elections were approaching must stop. He stated that the smart City initiative should be a youth conversation and encouraged the government to carry youths along.
Bilyaminu, particularly, admonished the state and security agencies to shut unapproved local bars and joints as they provided avenues for youths to engage in social vices. This, he said, would help win the war against illicit drugs and substance abuse prevalent among the youths who have taken to okada riding.
National Vice President of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Mrs. Oyinkan Olasunoye, said there was need to overhaul the school system and the upgrade and up skill graduates. She insisted there must be a standard law which will be binding on everybody irrespective of status or affiliations. Olasunoye also said political interference in transport union affairs must stop.
The Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, reacting to the July deadline as earlier pronounced by the governor, said: “You remember that Mr. Governor said he would not leave Lagosians without an alternative. We are pushing out the First and Last Mile buses, which will ply the routes on which we have okada now. The plan is to have 5,000 of them; we are doing 500 now. We are also reviewing and collating facts and figures on Okada accidents and crimes”, adding that the pronouncement will be made in due course.
By Kingsley Adegboye, Olasunkanmi Akoni and Bose Adelaja