The dynamics of Okada ban in Lagos – BusinessDay

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The path to the ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles popularly called ‘Okada’ on certain routes and areas in Lagos had been a bumpy one. It was a battle that the state government was determined to win. And to ensure it wins. The government had mustered everything, including the enactment of the much-criticised and or commended Lagos Road Traffic Law 2012, to finally humble the agitating commercial ‘Okada’ operators.

Since 2007 when the current administration assumed office, a number of measures, at different times, had been adopted to curtail ‘Okada’ within the state metropolis. One such measure was the restriction of ‘Okada’ operations to between the hours of 6:00 am and 10:00pm and barring them on express roads and in highbrow areas including Ikoyi and around the state secretariat, Alausa Ikeja, through executive order.

For the state government and ‘Okada’ operators, the romance has been that of mutual suspicion as either party can always spring a surprise. In the build-up to the passage of the traffic law in 2012, following a steady rise in robberies and accidents involving Okada, there had been series of meetings and discussions between the officials of the government led by Kayode Opeifa, the commissioner for transportation and the representatives of the ‘Okada’ association.

Opeifa, at different occasions, had confirmed the cooperation of the ‘Okada’ operators with the government towards the making of the law. Those meetings were followed by the deliberations on the floor of the state House of Assembly which also organised a public hearing to seek the inputs of the general public and the ‘Okada’ riders themselves before passing the law which bars ‘Okada’ from 475 roads including bridges in Lagos.

However, barely a month after the law was passed and signed by Governor Babatunde Fashola, the ‘Okada’ riders under the aegis of All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA) dragged the state government to court, and through their counsel, argued against attempts by the state to stop them from exercising their economic right and from making use of highways belonging to the federal and not the state government.

The case was instituted at the Lagos High Court on behalf of the ‘Okada’ riders by their counsel, the late Bamidele Aturu, who pleaded the court, among other things, to declare that the state government has no power whatsoever to make any law to regulate traffic on any of the federal roads. The ‘Okada’ operators also sought a declaration that “the major highways in Lagos listed in Items 1-11 and other parts of Schedule II of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law No. 4 of 2012 are federal roads within the meaning of the Federal Highways Act, cap F13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.

In enacting the all encompassing Lagos Road Traffic Law, as it affects ‘Okada’ operations, the state government maintained it was meant to address carnages and avoidable deaths in ‘Okada’ accidents which had reached a frightening dimension within the state metropolis.

Months after the law came into force, Opeifa, had claimed a drastic reduction up to 95 percent in ‘Okada’ accidents in Lagos. He had also pointed to a 32-percent reduction in traffic offences and sharp decline in robbery with ‘Okada’.

“We have recorded 32 percent reduction in the rate at which people commit traffic offences. “We have also recorded 35 percent decrease in accidents involving other vehicles and 95 percent reduction in just ‘Okada’ accidents.”

Ademola Lawal, the zonal commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), had corroborated Opeifa when he said: “The Lagos Traffic Law is helping to get safer roads.  With the restriction of ‘Okadas’, drivers can now drive on Lagos roads without thinking that someone can destroy one’s side mirror.”

Also, Obianyor Ocee, an orthopaedic surgeon, had confirmed a reduction in the number of motorcycle-related accidents in Lagos State. Ocee, who heads the Emergency Medical Department of the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, attributed this to the full enforcement of the traffic law in the state.

According to the statistics Ocee had made available, there was a decrease from 183 recorded between June and August 2012 to 130 between September and November that same year. Ocee said those in the age group of 15 to 44 years accounted for the high rate of accidents, saying people in the age range were still active and indulged more in riding motorcycles.

“Definitely, banning them takes a lot of them off the roads, thereby resulting in less accidents occurring,’’ the consultant said, adding that in terms of economic gains, the amount of money invested or spent in treating the patients could be saved and channeled towards other needs.

He added that man hours, the period of time the patients spent on admission in the hospitals, would have also been reduced and people would have been more productive.

“Ordinarily, when a patient comes in with a fracture of the major bones, like the tibia and fibula of the legs, he will remain in the hospital for about 12 weeks, which is three months, before the fracture heals. A lot of man-hours would have been wasted. However, if we do not have such accident occurring, the man will at least work and still remain productive,” the consultant said.

However, last week, some members of the state House of Assembly sponsored a motion seeking to a review of the traffic law.  And depending on which divide the pundits belong, political, economic, social and security reasons have been adduced to either support or condemn the move by the state lawmakers who are pushing to cut down on the number of roads the commercial motorcycles are currently disallowed to operate.

For the ten lawmakers sponsoring the motion, and they include Ajibayo Adeyeye who is the House majority leader, Sanai Agunbiade (Ikorodu 1), Bisi Yusuf (Alimosho 1), Moshood Oshun (Lagos Mainland 2), Rotimi Olowo (Somolu 1), Mudashiru Obasa (Agege 1), Adebimpe Akinsola (Ikorodu 2), Hakeem Masha (Lagos Island 1), Olumuyiwa Jimoh (Apapa 2) and Gbolahan Yishawu (Eti-Osa 2), the motive is basically to put paid to what they see as continued harassment of ‘hapless Okada operators’ by security agents particularly the police who are fully taking advantage of the law to exploit and extort the ‘Okada’ operators.

The lawmakers while making case for the review argued that the police were misapplying the law. According to them, the traffic law was aimed at reducing recklessness on the part of road users and not for the purpose of exploitation by those to implement it. They contended that given the way it is being applied, the law enforcement agents including the police and LASTMA have gone out of control and this should not be allowed to continue.

According to them, their move is motivated by constant complaints from the ‘Okada’ operators in their constituencies about police harassments and intimidation even on approved routes, just as they called on Fashola to reach out to Umar Manko, the state commissioner of police, on the need to urgently call his men to order. The lawmakers argued that it has become imperative to revisit the list of the restricted routes so they could be amended where possible to avoid the conflicts between the police and commercial motorcycle operators.

One of the lawmakers, Agunbiade complained that the mode of implementation of the law by the police was giving the state government a bad name.

As expected, there have been reactions from the public about the move by the law makers to review the law.

Olagbebikan, a resident, reacting to the development, said: “one really hopes that this move is in the overall interest of the people and not a political strategy to win the votes and support of that group at the expense of sanity on the roads and lives of the people”.

Similarly, Babajide another resident of Lagos, said: “Reviewing ‘Okada’ ban on some selected roads in Lagos by the House of Assembly with respect to addressing the alarming rate of abuse and harassment of ‘Okada’ riders by the law enforcement agents should be seen as a proactive response by a responsible government and not outright politics. In as much as I agree that it might have some political undertone due to the timing considering the 2015 election, it should still be appreciated. It is part of the beauty of democracy as enshrined in the flexibility in decision taking as it concerns the governed.

Ade Ipaye, the state attorney general and commissioner for justice, told BD SUNDAY that the issue was more of complaint by the ‘Okada’ operators against harassment and extortion by law enforcement agencies and not the review of the law to expand the scope of their operations.

According to Ipaye, who admitted himself had received a number of petitions from the public against the manner of enforcement of the law, the issue at hand would require sitting down with the leadership of the security agencies to see how it is resolved.

However, he added that if the state lawmakers taking a second look at the traffic law see the need to prune the number of roads that the ‘Okada’ riders are barred “they (lawmakers) would need to bring forward a proposal to the executive who will look at the merits and or demerits of such proposal”.

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