The administration of former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, SAN, it was that restricted commercial motorcycle riders (okada) from plying major highways in Lagos State.
The state Ministry of Transportation at the time had cited incessant occurrences of road accidents leading to loss of lives and properties as well as causing traffic gridlock on the highways as necessitating the enactment of the law.
The major highways, as published, include Lagos Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Oworoshoki Oshodi Expressway, Lagos Ikorodu Expressway, Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, Babangida Boulevard, Eti-Osa-Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos Badagry Expressway, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa Lekki Coastal Road, as well as some bridges, all made the list of the restriction order.
Lately, however, most of these major highways have been observed to accommodate these motorcycles and this has continued to be a serious source of concern to citizens of Lagos State because accidents resulting from motorcycles are still very much evident every passing day.
Citizens now wonder whether or not the ban has been lifted unannounced or, as is being suspected by motorists, the appropriate officials have just decided to neglect their duties and watch the Okada riders ply the roads – for a daily income fee?
In a sharp defence by an official at the Ministry of Transportation, Alausa, Ikeja, “It is wrong for citizens to think that the task force is not doing their job.
The operation of arresting and confiscating offenders’ motorcycles is still ongoing, only that it is not possible to apprehend them all in a short period of time.”
The official, who spoke in confidence, declared that Lagos State Government maintains five dump sites where the seized motorcycles are usually kept.
“The major site is at Olusosun where all seized motorcycles are eventually destroyed,” she said.
Operators speak In a series of interviews with commercial motorcycle operators in Lagos State.
35-year-old Kabiru Adedeji, who plies selected routes in Agege area, confirmed that the task force operatives still apprehend them, “Even though they are doing it the wrong way. “It is only the major roads in Agege that we are restricted from plying, but police officers target riders in the inroads and minor lanes in Agege to arrest and seize our motorbikes. After they seize motorcycles, they then demand for bribes to release the motorbikes.”
Another Okada rider, Augustine Clement, a father of four children, said he has to feed his family and the motorcycle is the only source of livelihood for him. “Motorcycle is the easiest way to survive in this Lagos. Without capital, your brain is useless,” he told our correspondents.
“If you have handwork and you don’t have the capital to establish yourself, it is nothing. I’m doing this Okada business to get capital in order to establish a better business for myself.”
Clement further stated that the motorcycle business has its own troubles and the taskforce men make big business from seizing their motorbikes anywhere they see them.
His words: “Most times, task force men will disguise themselves by hiding inside danfo buses; then raid Okada riders inside streets that are not restricted.
“Other times, they will send touts to corner Okada riders; the touts will serve as a distraction, then the police will swoop down on the riders and arrest them with false or irrelevant charges.”
Clement further narrated his experience in the hands of a Divisional Police Officer who demanded a N10,000 bribe before his motorcycle was released.
Clement also disclosed that the task force only created imaginary dump sites to fool the public. “Seized motorcycles are usually resold either to the owner at rock bottom price or to any interested buyer. They do not destroy the motorcycles as they claim,” he said.
He, therefore, appealed to task force officials to stop being biased in their arrests of Okada riders and seizures of motorcycles because “places like Oshodi expressway and some others are still being plied by Okada riders and the operators are usually allowed to operate on the arrangement with the police.”
Unskilled migrants, an issue – Police
One other area of note, our reporters found out, is the rise of unskilled migrants into Lagos State who go into commercial motorcycle business as soon as they arrive in Lagos.
A top female official at the Ministry of Transportation in Lagos told The Daily Times that people migrate to Lagos everyday with the sole aim of making money without any skill whatsoever.
“Immediately they arrive, the first business they venture into is Okada riding since it is the fastest way to generate daily cash, and they do this without bothering to learn the stipulated regulations guiding the use of motorcycles as a business.
“This makes them breach traffic laws and yet they complain that the road managers are cheating them, whereas most of the faults lie with them,” she added.
She concluded that motorcycle riders should endeavour to have knowledge of the restricted roads and bridges in order to avoid accidents, false accusations of robbery, embarrassment and eventual seizure of their motorcycles.
An elderly motorcycle operator, Mallam Bashiru, who conducts his business activities around Lagos Ikorodu Expressway said Okada riders are still being arrested by the police and task force officials.
“When they cannot catch us legally on the restricted roads, they come after us wherever we are operating lawfully,” he said and gave graphic details of a day in the life of a commercial motorcycle operator in Lagos: “Because of the way they harass and extort us every day, some of the Okada riders are no longer afraid to ply even the restricted roads, because they know that it will only cost them some amount of money when they are caught by the appropriate authorities.”
Bashiru further revealed a culture that has become a tradition in every day dealings with law enforcement officers. He told The Daily Times that if their motorbikes are seized by some task force officials, the victims may not be able to “negotiate” and claim it back (although that depends on the task force officials on duty).
But if motorbikes are seized by police officers, it is a matter of bargaining to take your motorbike back. “On our side, our own responsibility is to recognise the police officer or officers that we fall victim into his hands and we claim it as soon as possible.
On a lucky day, the police men themselves don’t want you to waste time in reclaiming your bike back, but if, peradventure you delay and they take the seized bikes into their custody at Alausa, the victim is required to pay higher bribe for the release.
Yet if you cannot pay the higher bribe, they sometimes sell off the new motorcycles out. This is the cat and mouse game we have to live with if we must operate our business within or outside the so-called restricted roads,” he said.
Every policeman has a price On the price tag (though negotiable) they reportedly pay to recover their seized motorcycles, Bashiru said the least amount they allegedly pay to police officers as bribe to claim their motorbikes ranges from N3,000 to N5,000.
“But it depends largely on the police station and officer Okada riders fall victim to, because if they (the police) are the very hardened and greedy ones, they could demand N10, 000 for each motorcycle.”
On a parting note, Bashiru said: “Every police officer has his price, adding, “Okada business is good; it helps many families to survive in these hard times. At least, one can always meet his family’s daily needs and pay some school and electricity bills, even with all these harassment and extortions.”
Meanwhile, a traffic policeman along Lagos Badagry Expressway has faulted the claims of the motorcycle riders. The policeman, who insisted his name be left out, accused Okada riders as being the greatest law breakers.
“When Okada riders are caught on this expressway, they try to bribe us with money and other material things which some of us refuse. We are not the ones demanding for bribes, they are the ones begging us to take bribe.
“Also, we truly have dumping sites for the seized bikes; you can go there for confirmation if you are in doubt,” he said.
Confirming the development, a LASTMA official, who spoke in confidence, told our correspondents that throughout his working years, “Okada riders have been responsible for most of the atrocities in our present society, which include robbery, fraud, kidnapping and the ever increasing road accidents.”
Atolagbe Tawakalitu and Babalola Mujeeb