For commercial motorcycle operators popularly known as okada riders in Lagos State, South West Nigeria, their day of reckoning is at hand. Beginning from 1 September, 2010, the enforcement machinery of the Lagos State Government, in conjunction with the police, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the armed forces and the State Security Service (SSS), among others, will descend on them.

The aim is to get them out of the express and highways in the state as some riders are fond of plying the expressways in the state, with the resultant effect of many people being killed in their prime.

They are also found to be competing with trailers and other vehicles on the expressways, not minding the danger this posed to their lives.

Despite incessant warnings and enlightenment, okada riders remain deviant in their behaviour and exhibited acts inimical to lives of their passengers and even their own lives too, but the avarice for making quick money had driven many of them digging their graves by plying the expressways.

Statistics have shown that between January and May, 2010, several okada riders and their passengers have lost their lives through careless and dangerous riding on the expressways, while thousands sustained injuries.

Statistics reeled out by the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, showed that about 249 Lagos residents had been killed in various motorcycle accidents in five months, mostly due to carelessness of the riders.

Under this duration, about 1,763 accidents involving okada riders were recorded in Lagos State with 249 fatalities and with this, okada accidents constituted over 80 per cent of the number of accidents recorded within the period.

“In the Lagos area in the past five months, the statistics of accidents are January, 523; February, 376; March, 481; April, 619 and May, 556. Out of these figures, the following numbers are motorcycle-related accidents.

“In January, we had 357 okada accidents, representing 68.3 per cent; February, 256, representing 68.1 per cent; March, 369, representing 76.7 per cent; April, 391, representing 63.2 per cent and May, 390, representing 70.1 per cent,” Akpoyibo said, adding, “in further analysing the data, the figure for January include 47 cases in which there were fatalities, 213 cases of injuries, while 97 minor accidents were recorded. In February, 43 cases of fatalities were recorded, 123 cases of injuries and 90 minor accidents and in March, 42 fatalities cases were recorded, 238 cases of injuries and 89 minor accidents.

“In April, 71 cases of fatalities were recorded, 200 injuries and 120 minor accidents. In May, 46 cases of fatalities were recorded, 196 cases with injuries and 149 minor accidents.”

With these frightening statistics, the state government decided to take the bull by the horns and clip the wings of unscrupulous okada riders.

According to Governor Babatunde Fashola, there is no going back on clampdown on okada riders and to ensure that they did not ply highways in the state and violate traffic laws.

Under the new move, okada riders, as from 1 September, 2010, are barred from plying the Third Mainland Bridge, all bridges in Lagos, Ikorodu Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, the entire Lagos Island Central Business District and Victoria Island, among several other places. They are also not allowed to carry two passengers, pregnant women and school children, among others.

In preparation for the clampdown on okada riders, a forum was held last week, where many Lagosians contributed their inputs into the matter on the need to regulate the okada riding business in order to safe lives.

Alhaji Rafiu Olohunwa, Chairman, Lagos State chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW),  under whose umbrella okada riders belong, said “we shall follow what government said. Enforcement or not, we shall abide by the law. The government is right. Plying Third Mainland Bridge is a suicide mission. We want to appeal to government to release to us the motorcycles seized by the task force.”

Chairman, Motorcycles Operation Association of Lagos State (MOALS), Mr. Tijani Perkins, said security of lives and property was important and that it would not be proper for okada riders to ply the Third Mainland Bridge, saying that his members would obey government’s directives.

“I think every reasonable rider in Lagos State should know that we are talking about safety here. The highway drive is suicidal. Our members ply the Third Mainland Bridge, while they also ride against traffic,” he stated.

Chairman, All Nigeria Automobile Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA), Mr. Ade Ikuesan, on his part, said the restriction on okada riders not to ply certain routes across the state was in order and that his members would abide by the law, adding “what is at stake is life. Let us obey the law.”

Mr. Jonah Agu, Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Lagos State, stated that the need to preserve lives was paramount and that government should not compromise on that, adding that there was the need for training and retraining of okada riders across the state.

Representative of human rights group, Comrade Patrick Adelusi, said “when government said okada riders should not ply the expressways, it is because government does not want them to die.  Not many who ply the expressways are trained and they could knock you down. We want you to contribute your quota to your family and this law is not to take you away from your business, but for your safety.”