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Hail A Bike, Return Of Okada To Ease Traffic In Nigerian Cities?

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Okada

***Enforcement Officers To Effect Compliance On Restricted Routes-PPRO

Lukmon Akintola

Lagos

The ideology that gave rise to Uber has given birth to bike hailing services announcing the arrival of Gokada and Max Okada in Nigerian cities.

Coming to ease traffic congestion in Nigeria; it has attracted mixed reactions, as some consider it a welcome development, while others kick against it.

For car owners living in urban areas, it is a curse of a sort, as the fear of scratches on their cars is another reason to worry, while those living in rural areas consider it a blessing.

For a lot of people, motorcycle popular as Okada in the southwestern part of Nigeria is very essential. The reason is not farfetched from the endless traffic jam inherent in most metropolises across the country.

To get to a destination within the shortest possible time, the best bet is to engage an Okada. Readily available, all you need to do is to hail the next one and pronto off you go.

Such was the craze for Okada, as a means of transportation that by 2012, it had become the quickest means of transportation in Lagos State. However, it came with its challenges; it has also been described as the deadliest means of transportation.

A visit to major hospitals in Lagos State, especially the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Yaba, revealed countless cases of broken and amputated limbs of victims of Okada aided accidents. Hardly would a day pass without a mention of a fatal accident involving an Okada rider. Such was indeed the situation.

Plying almost all routes in the state, and without consideration for distance, they became the King of the roads, as they were easily spotted on nooks, crannies and expressways alike.  Asides the accidents that users were exposed to, a lot of people fell victim of thieves who used Okada as a means of getting away after robbery operations.

On daily basis, victims recount gory experiences of how Okada has often been used by a gang of thieves to rob in most cities. In some other cases, female victims are either molested or raped.

Struggling to overtake between two cars and trying to overtake trucks become common sights, as a lot of future prospects have met their untimely death from Okada accidents.

Such was the situation that made Lagos State government to intervene by placing a ban on Okada on 520 roads.

With the ban came some extent of sanity, as the number of Okada on roads reduced drastically. This was as a result of a special task force going all out to enforce the law.

In their thousands, Okadas were impounded by the state government in its effort to clamp down on the excesses of riders in the state and save its citizens from the jaw of death.

Chairman of the Lagos State Task Force on Enforcement of Road Traffic Laws, Olayinka Egbeyemi, painted a clear picture of how the task force has been enforcing the law against Okada on major Lagos roads.

He revealed how 163 Okadas were impounded and 29 riders arrested by security operatives during an invasion of 2nd Rainbow located along Mile 2 in 2017.

Aside from that operation, there have been several other operations since then. On March 24, 2018, in Ojodu Berger, Lagos, a task force made up of hundreds of police officers raided the Berger Okada Park.

During the operation, hundreds of bikes were impounded amidst alleged sporadic gunshots.

Another operation took place in Mile 2, during which 98 Okadas were impounded, while 14 riders were arrested and arraigned before Magistrate Lateef Owolabi of the Lagos State Mobile Court.

With the impound of Okada and the prosecution of riders becoming the order of the day, a gradual switch to tricycle also known as Keke NAPEP began.

The rush for tricycles, however, didn’t totally eradicate Okada from major roads, as till date, some adventurous ones are still known to ply the highway.

While this is enough risk on its own, the fact that there is a new rush for Okada like in the years before its ban is frightening.

A visit by Saturday INDEPENDENT to selected parts of Lagos State revealed a massive resurgence of Okada. Places known to be once dominated by tricycles are now taken over by Okada leading to questions of how busy the task force has been in such areas.

The sight that greeted Saturday INDEPENDENT on Wednesday, February 13, at Ikeja Along, a popular bus stop located along Agege Motor Road, Lagos was shocking. It was a sea of Okada riders struggling to find their way to and from Oshodi.

Carrying two passengers, the sight was one which required a lot of prayers to prevent a bizarre incident, as they struggle to find their way out of the maze of traffic.

In Bolade, Oshodi on Thursday, February 14, Saturday INDEPENDENT saw a handful of new motorcycles confirming that they had just been bought and were ready for business.

In Agege, a suburb of Lagos State known as the hub for selling Okada, it was business as usual, as several sellers were spotted busy assembling, testing and selling them off when Saturday INDEPENDENT was there on Thursday, February 14.

Despite the tons of Okada that have been impounded by the task force, one is forced to wonder what has led to the resurgence.

Speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT, Veron, who had just alighted from an Okada said that it was always a rough journey from Ikeja Along to Oshodi because of the construction work on the road, while acknowledging the fact that the number of Okada plying the road had almost outnumbered vehicles.

On her path, Temilola Aboderin, boss of an Ajah-based fashion house Temmy Designs told INDEPENDENT Newspaper that it is unfortunate that the government that made the law prohibiting Okada riders on major roads has forgotten about what led to the ban, as it is now almost becoming business as usual in some areas of Ajah. According to her, Okada is not the only means of transportation that the government needs to look into, as deaths from tricycles is also on the rise.

“Okada was always like this in the past before the law was made in 2012. After the law, some sanity came, as riders were aware they could easily be arrested and prosecuted. But now, it has turned something else, as they now struggle with cars on the road forgetting that they have just two tires and a car has four. The need to enforce this law as it used to be done can’t be overemphasised.”

When Saturday INDEPENDENT visited Kosoko Street, Ojodu Berger, Lagos it was business as usual for Okada riders, as several were seen courting customers. Interestingly, the park had been raided by the task force in the past.

Kosoko Street leaves a lot to imagine, as Okada riders basically struggle between passersby, commercial buses and cars to access the roads.

“Okada in this area operate outside the law, as bikes drop patrons right on the road. They tell car drivers to wait while they drop passengers. They hit people on the road and ask them if they can’t see, don’t you use your eye, this is Lagos you have to be smart. These are popular languages with Okada rider on this street. Most people coming from Akute, Alagbole and other localities close to Lagos State go through Bakare or Oremeta, as an optional route to access Berger, as the road is always blocked. Policemen from Lagos State occasionally pick these Okada riders and after a while, they release them, of course, something would have exchanged hands. Most of them return to the road barely hours and at most a day after they are picked, and the same chaotic situation continues. They are hardly concerned about being arrested because they know that they will settle and come back to work,” Ola (not real name) told INDEPENDENT Newspaper.

Indeed, there is a resurgence of Okada in Lagos, and this development comes just a couple of years after the riot act was read by the Lagos State government.

The situation has however been blamed on continuous migration into Lagos from other states and the little or no training needed to ride an Okada.

Aminu Kareem, Chairman of Onosa Okada Park in Onosa Town, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos State explained why Okada riders are becoming so copious in Lagos. He told Saturday INDEPENDENT that the job is one which is readily available because it requires no training of any sort. A lot of people are also looking at investing and Okada business is one place to start. It is cheap to buy and a lot of riders are available, especially the Hausa boys from the north and Yoruba boys from Iseyin. So, basically, if you can ride an Okada, you already have a job, he said.

According to him, Okada in Lagos will only continue to increase no matter the level of enforcement.

Like Kareem, the Lagos State Police Public Relation Officer, Chike Otti, blamed the return of Okada on an influx of new migrants into Lagos State.

According to him, “you know that Lagos is a cosmopolitan city, someone in his village in Ebonyi State is thinking of coming to Lagos to do Okada business. Another person in some other parts of the country is also thinking of coming to Lagos to start Okada business, so the first thing they do the moment they land in Lagos with the little capital they have saved is to go to Oyingbo or Ebute Metta to pick up an Okada at maybe N80, 000 or N70, 000. That is why it appears that enforcement is not effective. We are doing our best, we are enforcing the law every day, but we cannot stop them from going to the market. What we can do is simple. If you buy the machine and put it on a route that it shouldn’t be, we will impound it and you would face the law. Our Commissioner of Police, CP Zubairu Muazu has directed the people charged with enforcing that particular law to mop up any motorcycle seen on any of the restricted routes.”

The return of motorcycle on Lagos roads is however not peculiar with typical Okada alone, as a new breed have been born.

Commonly spotted on the roads including highways, they are readily available in places like Computer Village, Ikeja, Lagos

They are app-based Okada such as Gokada and Maxokada owned by tech companies.

Unlike the typical Okada rider who uses mostly Bajaj and Boxer, the new entrants are different.

Gokada, one of the first to hit the market uses bikes with 200cc and above engine capacity, as recommended by Lagos State government.

Described as a tech company leveraging on experiences in logistic to solve the major issue in Lagos State which is traffic, Gokada’s operation has not gone unnoticed in the state.

Offline Marketing and Partnership Manager for Gokada, Akinwale Afolabi, explained the advantage they have over regular Okada.

According to him, “we have an advantage over regular Okada riders. It is not just the conventional bikes that we use. The engine capacity is 200cc as approved by Lagos State. Our riders are also not rookies; these are guys that have nothing less than 25 years’ experience in logistics. So, they understand Lagos roads, they have routes, they have customer service experience and also understand the traffic rules. What we also do is that we have a training institute where we train our riders, and we are in collaboration with security and traffic agencies such Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Federal Road Safety Corp, the police and the rest of them. Another advantage is that we have comprehensive insurance on our bikes for the rider and customer while you sit on the bike.”

Asked if he was aware that Gokada riders also ply some of the 520 roads which Okada are restricted from, Afolabi said “For us, we believe that Lagos is a megacity and for a mega city like Lagos we are meant to have different means of transportation to make life easier for the people. As it stands today, we have the conventional Yellow Buses, BRT, Lag Bus and a little of ferry. We believe that it is our own responsibility to make life easier for Lagosians and that is why we came up with this. Yes, there may be laid down laws with some of these things, but we believe that with consistency and with regulation we can make it open to the government that this is not just Okada, this is transformation, this is a free traffic Lagos idea. So, that is what we are doing. We are not a transport company, we are a tech company leveraging on our experience in logistic, e-commerce as well as in other sectors to solve the major problem in Lagos which is transportation.”

Asked if he didn’t consider the fact that Gokada plying restricted roads are committing offence, Akinwale said “It is not the issue of offence. Most of these government regulations are as a result of people’s yearnings, people’s feedback. We are all the government, we vote them in and our feedback decides the next policies, so it is as a result of devices attached to conventional Okada riders that we have these issues. As time goes on, the government will come to see that what these guys are doing makes sense, people are becoming to accept them and they are beginning to change the face of this means of transportation. I will give you an example of BRT. We had molue familiar to those based in Lagos. So the government came and said lets rebrand this particular sector, you understand that molue takes more people and the pricing is cheaper than the conventional 14 seater bus, so they came up with the idea of ticketing and it’s already working.  We believe that this is a particular sector which the government needs to look into. But if we leave it to government alone, it might not really give us the desired outcome, but if it is a public/private partnership, it will work and that is why BRT is working, the blue boss along Ikorodu road is also working. We believe that with time, we will get to realise that this whole process is a good one. It will interest you to know that we were at the last stakeholders meeting held to stop traffic congestion in Lagos State.”

Asked how Gokada regulates their riders to ensure they don’t end up with attributes of regular riders like snatching phones and bags, he answered thus: “as I said, it’s an app-based system. For you as a customer, before you take a ride, you must have added the app, we have your details, we have real-time tracking on all of our guys, these are not just people that we pick on the road, we have orientation process for them and there are psychological tests that we do for them. We test them to know if they can even ride the bikes and again because they have experience in logistics, we verify their working experience to say okay this guy is responsible. Aside, there is continuous training for them. So, we have different methods in place to ensure that they do the right thing,” Afolabi said.

Okada

There are however those who frown at app-based Okada and think that they are being given preferential treatment by the police and task force.

Bukky Mendes, a lawyer wondered why law enforcement officer tends to ignore the app-based Okada and go after the conventional ones despite the fact that they ply the same roads that are considered restricted by the law.

According to her, if a regular Okada rider commits an offence by plying a road he is restricted from, any other bike who does the same should be given equal treatment. For anyone to be exempted is not fair and such should be frowned at.

Reacting to this, Otti said “Lagos State Police Command has never relented in enforcing the Lagos State Traffic Law of restricting bikes popularly known as Okada in all the routes they are not supposed to ply. It is work in progress. It is not something we do today and stop tomorrow. So, if there is an increase in bikes on the road, it is not police that bought it for them. It is people that go to the market to buy it. The person you arrest today is not the person that you will arrest tomorrow.”

Reacting to the resurgence that has been noticed in Lagos State of recent and the new tech-based Okada who have become popular in Lagos State, Egbeyemi said “Right now, we are covering the entire Lagos because of the rallies and campaigns. We don’t want hoodlums to hijack anything or attack anybody. So, our enforcement right now is minimal, I would say that it is like 10 percent. Our effect might not be well felt unlike when we focus on people following one way, BRT lanes. So, Okada, they are having their free time.”

Be that as it may, the resurgence of Okada in Lagos State should not be handled with kid gloves knowing the extent of damages it caused and the death it left in its wake prior to its ban on selected roads.

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