Time was about 10pm. But the illumination from shops and houses along the roads on both sides of the bridge could deceive anyone into believing it was day time. While residents of the mainland who were still at Obalende bus stop at that period were eager to return home to rest after a hectic day’s work, ‘residents’ of Obalende under bridge were just retuning ‘home’ to rest. They are mostly men and commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada riders in Lagos, southwest Nigeria and environs.
Some traders just then commenced commercial activities, displaying their wares freely by the roadside without any fear of arrest or molestation by men of of the Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, Brigade. Traders in this category include drug hawkers who displayed both expired and contraband, consisting mostly of pain relievers, multivitamins and libido-enhancing drugs.
Most of the drug hawkers under the bridge are mostly from northern Nigeria. One of them told P.M.NEWS Metro that he arrived the area a few minutes earlier and will display his drugs until the early hours of the following day. The young man who identified himself as Abdulmalik Yusuf from Paiko, Niger State, north central Nigeria said traders around Obalende bridge seldom sleep at night.
He said: “Sleep? We no dey sleep here o. I came here not too long ago. I go sell my medicine until 4 o’ clock. Then I go go back to my house, rest before I go come out again. Tomorrow night I go still dey here again.”
Abdulmalik explained that he and other drug hawkers prefer displaying their wares at such odd hours because no government official or law enforcement agents will disturb them. Asked how they get patronage, he promptly replied: “We dey get customers well, well. People around here no dey sleep. They move up and down till morning and they buy from us.”
In the same token, food sellers were everywhere around the bridge with local favourites like tuwo, rice, eba and amala.
Some bread sellers displayed their goods in cars or buses, while others arranged their wares on tablesand benches. Fruit sellers are not left out; pawpaw, water melon, orange, cucumber, tangerine and other fruits were readily available on both sides of the bridge.
Assorted drinks are also sold around the bridge by hawkers who sell soft drinks and bottled or satchet water. Some of them sell alcohol beverages, including spirits mixed with local herbs commonly called paraga. There are regular joints at the several motor parks around Obalende and one could help himself to any drink of his choice. Hawkers of local alcohol sokudaye move up and down with their drinks, while pepper soup sells for N100 to N200 per plate.
At a hotel near the foot of the bridge towards Dodan Barracks, scores of commercial sex workers trooped out of their rooms. With their skimpy and inviting dresses, they line up along both sides of the road, soliciting for customers. Sources said their charges depend largely on the time of the day. While they charged N1,000 for ‘short service’ they demand N5,000 per night.
The fees go down as the night progresses. They can go as low as N1000 till day break or N300 for short service because there may be no ‘business’ for them after day break. And they have to pay N300 per night per room as rent.
One of the traders under the bridge who identified herself as Iyabo, a resident of Lafiaji on Lagos Island, said majority of the men who sleep under Obalende bridge are okada riders. She disclosed that if our correspondent had visited before the clampdown on Okada riders, most of them slept on their bikes while only a few slept on the floor, beside the road or inside the mosque under the bridge.
“About two days ago, policemen visited this area. They arrested many okada riders and impounded their bikes. Since the clampdown, many okada riders have returned to the north or their home towns in the South. Only a few ones are left now. Those ones operate at night. Even then, they do not come near the bridge. They hide somewhere after the hotel near the foot of the bridge,” she explained.
Iyabo who was selling satchet water under the bridge as at 10p.m. said she would return home at about 11pm or before midnight. She stated that the clampdown on okada riders had affected sales under Obalende bridge because majority of her customers had left. The only few ones left operated along the few link roads where okada operations are not banned and a few recalcitrant riders operating on the prohibited routes.
She told our correspondent that the clampdown was not only on okada riders around Obalende or Lagos Island but also on the prostitutes in the nearby hotel. Iyabo said Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI and other security agencies recently arrested several commercial sex workers around Obalende bridge.
“Government saw the prostitutes as miscreants who harbor criminal in their hotels. They also constitute a nuisance with the manner they hawk their bodies on the roads. “What government wanted is for the commercial sex workers to restrict themselves to their hotel rooms. But they will never adhere to that instruction. You see them milling around,” she said, pointing to the directions of the ladies.
A Lagos state civil servant, Dare Ganiyu, also resides close to the Obalende bridge. According to him, he was at the mosque under the bridge to offer the Muslim last daily prayer (Ishai), and took time off to relax before returning home.
He identified people who sleep under Obalende bridge as mostly okada riders, a few travelers who arrive Lagos late and a few others who planned to take off early in the morning. Ganiyu reiterated the assertion by another respondent that most of the okada riders sleeping under the bridge have left for their states of origin in Nigeria, while nationals of Togo, Republic of Benin and even Ghana who were okada riders have returned to their countries.
He said: “Before the clampdown on okada riders, if you visit this place from 10-11pm, several okada riders used to sleep on their bikes. After the enforcement of the ban, most of them have relocated. The few ones you see around hide their bikes somewhere and sleep on the bare floor of the mosque, the pavement or anywhere they found a space around the bridge.”
He assured that there could be no security threat in the night. But he informed that at about midnight, the Imam or Muslim leaders will send out everyone sleeping inside the mosque. They will then sleep around the mosque until about 1a.m., the time for the first Muslim daily prayer.
“Those Muslim clerics abhor dirt. All the okada riders sleeping inside the mosque will be sent out when it is about midnight. Nobody will be allowed to sleep there till day break. Anyway, some of the okada riders will go where they hid their bikes and start work before 5am,” he disclosed.
Ganiyu said a few okada operators have evolved tricks to evade police arrest; one of their tricks, he said, was to stay away from bus stops and discharge their passengers before they reach a park or bus stop. And in most cases, they ride at top speed.
It was not an easy task getting the opinion of the okada riders sleeping under Obalende bridge. At about 10p.m, some of them were already snoring. Some used benches, others used pavements or the roadside beside the mosques as their ‘bed.’ Some of those who were awake denied they were okada riders, out of fear that the reporter could be a secret law enforcement agent.
But one of them who simply identified himself as Emmanuel claimed he arrived Lagos from one of the southwest states early this year. He was introduced to okada riding by his friend who assisted him to come to Lagos. But while his friend and his family lived in a remote village along the Lagos-Ajah-Epe expressway, he had no money to rent a room.
Emmanuel claimed that the ban on okada operations on major highways in Lagos had worsened his situation as business has declined seriously. Instead of returning to his state of origin, the okada rider said he planned to change to any other business that could assist him to rent a room in any part of Lagos, close to his business.
“Many of us (okada riders) are not happy with the ban because we see okada business as the only thing we could do. No need of any capital base and it’s very lucrative. There are some of us who conspire with armed robbers and other criminals like hired killers for the sake of money from okada charter,” he admitted.