GUEST Column by Dr Bisi Olawunmi
The coming into effect on Saturday, February 1, 2020 of the Lagos state government ban on Okada motorcycles and tricycles in six local government areas, major highways and bridges signals a new dawn in transportation sanity in metropolitan Lagos. It is a measure that is overdue. There is a sort of lunacy and hara-kiri which attend the operation of these fellows which defy both reason and common sense. Well, there are those who have argued that even common sense is not that common, after all. I want to believe this applies to okada riders, particularly, given the brazenness with which they flout every road safety regulation. They often act as a people on suicide mission, ready to take others along, willy-nilly. The consequences of their lawlessness manifest in avoidable hundreds of deaths of their passengers, with several others suffering permanent disabilities from serious injuries sustained from okada ‘accidents’. Motorists are not spared the lawlessness and violence of okada riders. If an accident involves an okada rider and a motorist, okada herds would descend on the motorist in physical assault, sometime leading to death, even where the okada rider is in the wrong. Okada riders’ menace, also manifest in their complicity in crimes, has turned Lagos into a city where the law of the jungle holds sway.
A responsible government cannot perpetually indulge this level road brigandage. Predictably and understandably, there has been a clamour for review of the ban by vested interests which have been complicit in the menace constituted by okada riders and keke drivers, until the state hammer fell on the loonies. They push figures of millions of jobs which would be lost and millions more, who as dependents of the okada riders, would be at risk of poverty. These are untenable arguments when contrasted with the incalculable loss of lives and horrific injuries arising from the riders’ lawlessness. Before now, successive governments in Lagos state have made efforts to tame the wild ways of these okada riders but politics and lack of will power had stood in the way of resolute enforcement. This seems to have engendered in the riders a feeling that they are untouchables.
There is the scary security dimension of the okada riders in Lagos. Lagos is practically under invasion by undocumented, locust okada riders, creating a security nightmare. A few years back, the Lagos state government attempted an enumeration of residents of Lagos, their demographics, age, gender, ethnic groups, religion and residence.
It was shut down on the puerile, infantile arguments that the state had no right to conduct such enumeration which was touted as a federal government preserve and also that ethnic identification negates federal ethos. Could the ban therefore also be a strategic, preemptive policy to avert an imminent security meltdown ? The Lagos state government needs to revive that enumeration exercise to know the number of people it has to plan for and their demographics. It is an exercise whose time has come, given the visa ban on Nigerians by the American government on the basis of lack of credible identity management database in the country. You want to ask : How can a state government be prevented from knowing details of people living within its territory ? One often wonders – those millions of people daily streaming about in metropolitan Lagos, where do they sleep at night ? A state government has a right to know.
Of course, the Lagos state government has had knocks from professional do-gooders, one of who is Oby Ezekwesili, former Education Minister, the doyen of #tag campaign, who has jumped into the fray. She had tweeted on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 describing the ban as a case of “empathy-deficit in our public governance”. She had added : “ As a leader, even if your people don’t care for themselves, you have a duty to care for them”. Well, this is a case of logic-deficit because what the Lagos state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had done with the okada and tricycle ban is to care for and save the people from themselves as many residents even encourage the recklessness of okada riders in the eternal hurry of Lagosians to get to destination. It should be gratifying to the Lagos state government that many people are clamouring for extension of the okada and tricycle ban to their communities.
The dirtiness and raggedy dressing of okada riders make them human environmental pollutants !! At the first and third gates of FESTAC Town, Lagos, the chaotic congregation of a huge number of okada riders constitutes an eyesore that deserves the attention of the state government. No doubt, pressure would be brought on Governor Sanwo-Olu to review the policy, especially the timing, ostensibly to ameliorate the temporary hardship brought on the people by the ban. But the angst about the okada riders had been on for years and the bike investors and okada operators associations have been unable to instill discipline in the okada riders. Lagos state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, has indicated the resolve of the state government not to review the ban and its preparedness to defend the ban up to the Supreme Court. This is reassuring and the state government is urged to remain resolute. But then, considering the penchant of politicians for sacrificing principled stand for political expediency in Nigeria, can Governor Sanwo-Olu withstand the heat ?
Dr Olawunmi, media scholar and former Washington correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria.