Despite the legislation against Okada operations in Lagos, the operators have remained undaunted. During the regime of Babatunde Fashola as the governor of Lagos State, government came heavily on operators of commercial motorcycles, popularly known as ‘Okada’.
The state House of Assembly had rolled out legislation against Okada operations on some routes. Following this, officials of state government began to impound okadas.
The Fashola administration was moved to take the action following an upsurge in crime. On a daily basis, there were complaints about people losing their personal effects to robbers on motor bikes. Some armed robbers especially traffic robbers, at that time were known to have used okada as quick getaway.
Moreover, the increasing rate of accidents caused by the bikes became a serious concern. It was touted that a high number of cases of fracture and fatal accidents recorded in hospitals within the state were caused by reckless okada riders.
Orthopedic hospitals and many local bone setters were taking in patients on a regular basis. These were some of the ills that Lagos State wanted to curb. But from the situation of things currently, it can easily be said that the legislation did not work or was never enforced.
Today, it is estimated that there are well over 40,000 okada riders in the state. Despite the enormous harm they cause, they are growing in number. A few months back, the police in Lagos intercepted a trailer-load of youths from the North with large number of okadas invading the city. They were coming in to begin their business. They were eventually allowed to ply their trade.
The menace on the road is not however, only being caused by Okada riders; operators of Keke and danfo drivers are also in the same mold. They hardly obey traffic rules and they cause fatal accidents on a regular basis due to their delinquent way of operation.
Apart from the hazards of being knocked down or other dangerous styles of their operation, they lack decorum in their manner of approach to their passengers. They harass, threaten and challenge their passengers without provocation. They haul abusive words at their passengers and are generally uncouth in their dealing with people.
Sometimes, they deliberately refuse to give their passengers their balance, popularly known as “change” in local parlance. They also get physical with their passengers when arguments go to intolerable level.
Most of the accidents involving commercial cyclists, or danfo drivers are caused by impatience and non-observance of road signs and traffic rules. These have resulted in fatal accidents leading to death.
One pathetic case that took place recently involving a widow, eventually caused her untimely death. She was standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus, when suddenly a bus driver, moving with speed on a wrong lane (one way), knocked down the unsuspecting woman, almost severing one of her ankles. The woman was rushed to a nearby hospital where she died of complications, some days after. She was diabetic, which aggravated the situation. Similar cases are legion in the city of Lagos.
The springing up of cab and motorcycle hailing businesses is aimed at providing a better alternative to the crude okada and danfo operators. Many people are getting to patronise the new comers with some measure of comfort.
In Nigeria, the introduction of tricycles many years ago was widely publicised as a poverty mitigation gesture on the part of government since many unemployed youths and other individuals were expected to benefit from it through ownership at subsidised rates. Its coming received a rousing applause by many who had made up their mind never to patronise okada anymore.
Today, every nook and cranny of the city is bursting to the seams, as it were, by the three-wheeler. What was then generally accepted as a blessing has over time degenerated into a traffic nightmare for road users in Lagos. For the most part these days, Keke Marwa or Keke NAPEP operators are seen struggling to outdo the notorious Okada riders in recklessness on the road in their mad rush to beat the traffic, even when traffic is moving smoothly.
In the last few months the menace of Okada riders has increased in the Lagos metropolis. Robbery incidents involving the use of Okada has also up-scaled. The police and government are worried about the situation.
Just last week, robbers, operating on four Okadas shot dead a young man while on his way from work, late at night, and they went away with his money and valuable items.
Okada is a stubborn and aggressive machine. In a city that is increasingly getting congested on a daily basis, Okada comes handy because it navigates its way where other vehicles fail. This possibly is the reason many people still patronise the riders to convey them to their destinations in a jiffy.
In the city of Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, the commercial bus driver plies his trade as though he owns the entire road. He gives no consideration for other road users. They cause damage on people’s vehicles at whim without remorse.
Recently, Fidelis Espanyol, an entrepreneur in Surulere area of the state, was going out with his family in his fairly brand new car. Few metres away from his house, a ‘Danfo’ driver ran into his car and damaged it. As soon as it happened, the poor driver got off his bus and prostrated for Mr. Espanyol, begging profusely. His passengers also joined him to plead for pardon.
Eventually, the man was left to bear the brunt of the recklessness of the bus driver. They always get away with their reckless and careless driving, and this has become a pattern in Lagos.
Some of the bike riders and danfo drivers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told BDSUNDAY that the reason they are always in haste is to meet up with daily targets. They explained that it is so for those whose bikes or buses are on hire purchase.
“You know, these vehicles or bikes do not belong to the drivers or riders as the case may be; and we pay the owners daily, weekly or monthly. So, any hour missed or lost on traffic gridlock has eaten deep into what we should make for that day. For this reason, we struggle to make that money. The owner of the vehicle or the okada does not want to know if there is hold up on the road or not. He is after his money.
Calling for urgent enforcement of the traffic laws, since it may be difficult to ban outright Okada and Keke, a lady who asked not to be named, narrated her recent experience with a bike rider.
“I was on my way to shop this morning and decided to call a bike man to take me quickly to where I work since it was faster than waiting for a bus. Then the driver asked me if I had change, I told him I had N500 on me and he told me to ‘enter’.
“When I got to my destination and brought out my money, the bike man told me he didn’t have change and that I should go and look for change. Then I reminded him he told me he had change before I boarded, but he still insisted I should be the one looking for the change. After much argument, he pushed me to one side and collected the money from me, at that time passers-by came to my rescue and I explained everything to them.
“I was afraid the way he charged at me, and I wondered what could have happened if there were nobody around, because he threatened me in a low voice, ‘if I beat you here nko, wetin you go do?’ I collected my money from him and was able to get my change from him, but I got to work a little bit late; something I was trying to avoid. It is just that to ban Okada in Lagos is very hard the way things are now, the state government must consider proper enforcement of the traffic laws that are already in place,” she said.
Another Lagosian, Deborah, who also called for enforcement of the traffic laws to check the menace of commercial transporters, said she was not only pained by the recklessness of okada riders, but that of the tricycle operators. She wondered why such means of transportation is allowed in the first place, in a mega city like Lagos.
According to the business woman, the tricycle that is manufactured in India is used only to carry light loads, like crops and other farm produce. And even if they are used for human transport, they drive on walkway not on highways or main roads like we have in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State.