By Nwonah Olubukonla
In a bid to enforcing the extant laws in the State especially those bordering on environmental offences and restriction of operation of commercial Motorcyclist in certain routes of the city, the State Government recently impounded 4000 Okada Motorcycles which were taken to Olusosun Dumpsite, Ojota for crushing and recycling. This enforcement is ongoing and many more are being impounded daily.
Consequently, this news has generated a lot of controversial public discourse like “Why is Government banning Okada?”, “Is this the best option in this period of economic recession?”Etc. Coincidentally, this debate is all over the place; in commercial buses, motor parks, markets, homes, schools, offices, places of worship and of course in both the mainstream media and online platforms.
As I reflected over this matter, several questions came up in my mind: Why was Okada introduced in the first place? What are the benefits of this means of transportation? What are the hazards it posed to riders? Which outweighs the other, the benefits or the hazards? What efforts have been put in place by Lagos State Government before enforcing this ban?
Now, let’s critically analyze the issue, having these questions as guideline.
As a result of rapid urbanization and economic downturn in the Nigerian economy, cities like Lagos experienced sudden deterioration of road networks and intra-city public transportation became indescribably inadequate. In the 80s, unemployed youths took advantage of the use of Okada motorcycle, a swift means of transportation to convey passengers to their doorsteps and earn a living. Over time, this new line of business became more lucrative that the unemployed, both literate and illiterate, aspired to engage in it.
In order to ensure quick ride around town and avoid traffic gridlock, commuters don’t mind paying higher fare. Business is easily done through this means as little time is wasted on the road. Sometimes, couples about to wed have had to resort to Okada just to beat traffic
Unfortunately, the influx of Okada has brought a lot of issues in traffic control and management. The most crucial being that some of the riders are predominantly semi illiterates who do not pay needed attention to road signs, traffic lights in addition to not having consideration for other road users. Also, most riders are unlicensed and untrained. Some even start commercial riding after only few hours of training session. This deadly act increased vehicular accidents and complicated traffic congestion. According to the Road Traffic Collision Statistics for October 2016, motorcycle accidents accounted for 457 cases or 36 per cent of the total no of cases of accidents.
There have also been numerous incidents involving gang beatings, in which okada riders join forces and assault motorists after vehicular accidents. Fights have been known to escalate into pandemonium and vehicles are set ablaze.
It has also been observed that some Okada riders work long hours of within the range of 12-15 hours daily. They are also usually in a bid to meet set financial targets. The danger here is that, being human; they get tired but have to resort to consumption of alcohol and sometimes hard drugs for extra strength. This pressure also makes them so desperate to the point of plying all routes, including restricted ones.
Another common means of achieving their goal is through overloading. It is also not uncommon to notice under-aged Okada riders. This desperation has led to reckless riding and resulted in incessant accidents, even fatal ones. There are also several reports in the media relating to the use of Okada in perpetrating criminal activities such as robbery, rape and kidnapping.
With the steady development of critical road infrastructure across the state since 1999, the condition of roads across the state is getting better while traffic management is equally improving. Thus, the main motivation that makes commuters opt for Okada is really no longer there.
Presently, the administration Akinwunmi Ambode led government is leaving no stone unturned in a bid to improve commuting within the State. In 2016 alone, a total of 114 roads were either constructed or rehabilitated two per each of the 57 Councils in 2016. In a bid to consolidate on this initiative the administration has awarded contracts for the construction of a total of another 181 community roads across the 57 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the State.
Although, the decision of Government to ban Okada along certain routes in the state has not gone down well with some Lagosian, but over time the people would realize that it was actually meant for their safety.
Available statistics has revealed that accidents rate as well as casualty figures from road mishaps occasioned by okada related accidents have relatively reduced. A LASTMA data indicates that the number of persons killed in ‘Okada’ accidents in 2014 was 3 for the month of September and 1 for October. This is much lower compared to 14 deaths recorded in September and October 2013. According statistics from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, the enforcement of the new traffic law has greatly reduced the number of accident victims received in the hospital and has also reduced cases of daily emergency by 60 percent. This has freed more bed spaces to accommodate other patients, unlike before when Okada accident victim dominated the expansive ward denying other patients of medical attention and facilities. Similarly, the security situation across the state is equally getting better as Okada induced criminal activities have drastically reduced
On the whole, the anguish occasioned by Okada far outweighs its significance. While one agrees that in this era of dire economic stress, an outright ban on Okada could spell doom for those who rely on it for economic survival; riders could still make do with the routes that are not restricted by the law. To minimize the damage being done by Okada riders, the State traffic laws should be enforced to the letter and all security operatives and law enforcement agencies in connection with the enforcement of these rules must not in any way compromise with culprits.
Nwonah is of the Governor’s Office, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos