Despite the total ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles on some major roads in Lagos State, some operators are devising ways of returning to the roads, Ajibade Omape writes
Out of the blue, motorcycles became a mode of transportation in Lagos State. The activities of commercial motorcyclists started from the suburbs and gradually extended to major roads. Motorcycles became a choice mode of transportation for all categories of people, especially when they needed to beat the gridlock that characterised the major roads. From the mainland to the island, they became one of the features of a mega city.
Largely unregulated, the mode of transportation gradually acquired a life of its own, attracting all manner of ills to the city. In its trails were many residents who lost their lives in accidents that characterised the deadly activities of motorcyclists who operate on major roads side-by-side heavy-duty vehicles and cars. Some who managed to escape were left with broken arms and legs among others.
Besides this, the motorcycles also became ready tools in the hands of criminals who needed to operate and flee the scenes without being held down by traffic jams. They compounded the city’s security situation.
Irked by these and more, the state government decided to wield the big stick.
In May 2022, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, banned the operation of commercial motorcycles on highways in six local government areas and local council development areas. The governor announced that the ban is “indefinite and total.”
The six local governments listed by the governor were Ikeja, Surulere, Eti-Osa, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, and Apapa. The ban followed the February 2020 restriction placed on the activities of commercial motorcycles.
Sanwo-Olu said the government decided in line with the State’s Transport Sector Reform Law of 2018 to immediately address the chaos and menace created by the operations of Okada in the listed areas. He told the police to enforce the order without compromise.
In August 2022, the governor extended the ban to four more local government areas and five local council development areas. The additional councils where the total Okada ban was pronounced included Kosofe Local Government, Oshodi-Isolo Local Government, Shomolu Local Government, and Mushin Local Government. Others were Ikosi-Isherri LCDA, Agboyi-Ketu LCDA, Isolo LCDA, Bariga LCDA, and Odi-Olowo LCDA.
With the ban, security agents went after defaulting motorcyclists, arresting them and impounding their motorbikes, most of which were later crushed. Sanity suddenly returned to the roads.
One year down the line, however, it appears some motorcyclists are already making a return to the roads, daring the government and security agents.
This reporter visited some of the affected local governments and noticed the gradual return of the motorcyclists, although they still operate with fear of being apprehended. It was also observed that in some of the places visited, security agents in mufti were the ones operating the commercial motorcycles with the confidence that the principle of esprit de corps would not allow their colleagues in uniform to arrest them. It was however noticed that compliance was still very high in some other areas.
The areas visited included Ikeja, Surulere, Oshodi, Mushin, Eti-Osa and Lagos Island.
At the popular Computer Village area in Ikeja, commercial motorcyclists were seen operating unhindered when this reporter visited. Their huge presence was noticed around the new bridge in the area. They were seen conveying passengers from one end of the new bridge to the other and other locations close to the Computer Village.
None of them were willing to speak with our correspondent out of fear that he might be an undercover security operative.
On the popular Oba Akran Road in Ikeja, however, our correspondent noticed that no commercial motorcycles were operating on that axis. Although, he saw a few motorcyclists who sped past without stopping to pick up passengers.
“Bikes are very scarce in this area. Many of them won’t even stop to pick up passengers. Anytime they stop, they will charge you exorbitant fare and you will have no choice but to take a bus instead,” a resident simply identified as Adebimpe told our reporter.
Fear of policemen
During a visit to the Ajah area, our correspondent noticed commercial motorcyclists operating around the Ajah and Addo areas of Eti-Osa Local Government. They were however in constant fear of policemen and task force officials.
“We work with fear; policemen are always impounding commercial motorcycles. Even when you decide to give them money, they will still impound the bikes and threaten you with arrests.
“Since the government said we should not work, we don’t make money like before and the union leaders still ask us to pay fines for working,” a commercial motorcyclist, Ajayi, managed to tell our reporter before he zoomed off.
Another motorcyclist, Adamu, who had just dropped off a passenger, indicated his interest in speaking with our correspondent after listening to Ajayi speak.
He said, “It’s not easy but we try to escape the police every time. I have a wife and two children, and I am the only one who provides for the family, the police will not let us work in peace.
“I know that the government says we should not work, but we have families that need food. The police and the government should please consider us because we need the money to feed our family. I will stop this okada work if I secure another work.”
In the Surulere area, our correspondent noticed a few commercial motorcycles moving within the streets with passengers. No commercial motorcycle was seen on the major roads.
“The bikes rarely work; they are mostly inside communities like Marsha-Kilo, and Aguda. When any commercial motorcycle got caught by the police, their motorcycles got seized.
“These motorcyclists usually collect money before any trip so even if they get caught halfway, they would have been paid the fare,” Peter, a resident of Aguda, who spoke told our correspondent.
Compliance in Mushin
When our correspondent visited the Mushin area, only a few motorcycles that were seen were not conveying passengers.
“Commercial motorcyclists have not been working since the ban. Sometimes, you see them pass and you try to stop them, but they refuse to stop for fear of police and Lagos task force officials,” a resident who identified himself as Olajide said.
Our correspondent learnt that commercial motorcyclists operate in the night on the island.
“Since the ban on okada, it’s been difficult to go to places within the area; it is not every time you want to take a bus. Some riders usually wait till it’s dark so they can operate without being arrested but it’s on rare occasions because they have not been working,” a lady who identified herself as Amarachi told this reporter.
Contacted, the Director of Public Affairs, Lagos State Task Force, Raheem Gbadeyanka, said although his men impound motorcycles every day, there will always be some riders that will want to play smart.
Gbadeyanka said, “We impound bikes almost every day, and it’s not possible to have a crime-free society, so you will still see a pocket of them being smart. You can see that their activities have reduced now. In fact, over 80 commercial motorcycles were impounded around Lekki last week, and another 20 were impounded around the Apogbon side last week as well.
“To arrest one okada is more difficult than catching an armed robber. They don’t take into consideration the safety of their passengers. We operate in patrol vans and it is not easy to maneuver like commercial motorcycles.
“We have had a situation where a passenger fell from a bike because the rider wanted to escape. So, we have to be very strategic. We are at Fagba, we are at Mushin, we can’t be everywhere at the same time. Sometimes when you see a truck of goods coming into Lagos from neighbouring parts, they hide these commercial bikes under the goods they bring in and it’s not our duty to stop those vehicles. Please help us relay the message to the public that commercial motorcycles are banned and they should not risk their lives.”
When contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, who said he was in a meeting, referred our correspondent to the Nigerian Police Force Complaint Response Unit.
An official of the CRU who identified himself simply as Oluwafemi said, “The state police command is working round the clock to effect the ban on commercial motorcycles.
“The state commissioner of police has instructed that on no account should any policeman be seen using his motorcycle for commercial purposes.”