One never really anticipates that the issue of the ‘ban’ of commercial motorcycles popularly called ‘okada’ in Lagos could become a major subject of discourse at this point in time. But then, this is Nigeria! It will be recalled that the Lagos Traffic Law was signed into law on August 2, 2012 by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. An aspect of the law restricts the operations of commercial motorcycles operators in 495 designated strategic highways and routes out of a total number of 9,700 available routes within the metropolis. The import of this is that the law does not in any way ban the use of Okada. Rather, what it does is to regulate the activities of commercial motorcycle riders in the state. Presently, there are more than 9000 routes in the state through which okada riders could effectively operate within the confine of the law.
Being a government that takes a scientific and methodical approach to governance, the enactment of the law restricting okada operation in the state, was primarily meant to protect the interest of the public. It was enacted to ensure that people do not ride on okada along routes that could put their lives and those of others in jeopardy. Universally, one of the major responsibilities of government is the protection of the lives of its people. Hence, the Lagos state government is only performing one of its constitutional duties in restricting okada activities in the state.
Without a doubt, the misery and grief that okada has brought into several homes in Lagos, and indeed across the country, is not unknown to many. Available statistics from the Lagos State Management Authority (LASTMA) reveals that not less than 619 people were killed or seriously injured in okada accident between 2011 and 2012. The breakdown shows that 107 people died while 512 sustained serious injuries. Among the dead were 71 males and 36 females. In 2011 alone, 47 people were killed while 98 others sustained serious injuries from okada accidents. And, between January 2012 and October of same year, the statistics shows that 63 people were killed while 59 sustained serious injuries.
Aside safety issue, there is also a security angle to the whole okada issue. A 2012 police report showed that out of the 30 armed robbery incidents recorded in Lagos between July and September 2012, 22 involved commercial motorcycles. According to the report, it was obvious that out of eight robberies that occurred in July, seven involved the use of okada, while it was also used in 10 out of 14 robberies in September and five out of eight robberies in August of same year. Looking at these available facts and figures, there should be no controversy about the fact that the operations of okada in the state need to be regulated for the common good of all.
Besides the agony and grief it brings upon its victims, the lawlessness of okada riders on major highways is quite nauseating thereby making commuting a harrowing experience. Therefore, to guarantee the free-flow of traffic and to ensure that the movement of investors coming into the state is not hindered and put at risk, the introduction of the law becomes necessary. No doubt, every attempt to sanitise and restore order to the hitherto chaotic on most of our roads should be embraced, especially going by the traffic situation in Lagos. That is what any responsible government should do.
To underscore how unpopular okada has become as a mode of transportation across the country, the Federal Capital Territory and over 15 other states have similarly promulgated laws regulating the activities of okada in their respective states . Some of these states are Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Edo, Katsina among others.
Presently in Lagos, government’s regulating efforts in the sector is yielding anticipated dividends. 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 2012 was 3 for the month of September and 1 for October. This is much lower compared to 14 deaths recorded in September and October 2011. According statistics from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASU, 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. A recent study reveals that out of 30 armed robbery incidents recorded in Lagos between July and September 2012, 22 involved in commercial motorcycle. According to the records it was obvious that out of eight robberies that occurred in July 2012, seven involved the use of Okada while it was also used in 10 out of 14 robberies in September and five out eight robberies in August of same year.
Consequently, it is important that Lagosians cooperate with the state government in ensuring the success of the Lagos Traffic Law since it was mainly enacted to protect the people. Life is a precious gift by God. Self preservation is, therefore, the responsibility of every human being. Self-preservation is keeping you alive, either physically or psychologically. The desire to stay alive is a natural instinct in every human being. The restriction placed on okada in the state is about preserving lives. We must, therefore, collaborate with government to preserve lives. The difference between animal kingdoms and human societies is that in the latter laws are made to regulate human conducts in order to avoid the creation of a state of anarchy.
It is in view of the critical nature of public transportation to the overall effectiveness of other sectors that the state government has been particularly focusing on the sector to meet the yearnings of the people. The commitment of the state government to improving the transportation sector in Lagos is very defining because it affects the prices of goods and services, improves quality infrastructure, defines how easily the children can get to school and, indeed, the productivity of the entire economy.
Addressing the transportation and traffic challenges of a complex metropolis like Lagos has been a major priority of the Lagos state government. Initiatives such as Lagos Traffic Radio, BRT, modern taxi cabs, improved ferry services, light rails, LASTMA, Lagos Traffic Law, roads redeveloping and modernization, among others, therefore, represent a positive indicator of laudable attempts to improve the face of public transportation in the state.