Okada riders protest.
By Gboyega Akinsanmi
Perhaps motorcycle operators, popularly called Okada riders, had thought that when Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, signed the new traffic law on August 2, that somehow, they would enjoy some waivers given the outcry that trailed the coming of the law, in some quarters.
However, they have now discovered to their chagrin that the governor was serious and he would make no exemption.
Despite the reservations in some quarters over the law, the government has soldiered on in setting the stage for the implementation of the law. In the last few weeks, it has mounted additional 15,000 road signs across the city, preparatory to the enforcement of the law in addition to the existing 10,000 across the state. All this was done to ensure that there would be no excuse to breach the law because of absence of road signs.
The exercise was enough sign to the Okada riders that the days of their highway lawlessness are about to end.
So, yesterday, many of the commercial motorcyclists gathered to express their disapproval of the law, which they have described as draconian and lacking in human face.
They barricaded the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, protesting against the new traffic law. They had gathered at the Abule Egba end of the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway to protest against the new traffic regime, which bars them from operating on 475 routes across the state.
The protest led to traffic gridlock in the early hours of Monday. The okada operators also accused security agencies of extorting and harassing them and urged the state government to call them to order.
But operatives of the Nigeria Police, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) were deployed in the area to restore normalcy on the road. They had a hectic time containing the protesters.
One of the protesters, Mr. Aliu Abubakar, said if the state government begins enforcement of the law, many of them would be deprived of their means of livelihood.
According to him, “Where do they want us to go? I have been operating along this route for the past two years. I have no other job; this is what I do to feed my family. The government should have a rethink. At least, it can give us some period of time to operate and not a total ban.”
Notwithstanding the protest, the state Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, expressed the determination of the government to enforce the law as soon as it is gazetted. He said in a statement Monday that the massive installation of road signs would enable road users to be more conversant with the signs and their significance and that the road signs would also assist them to know the various restricted routes for motorcycles and tricycles, designated bus stops, no parking, no trading, no waiting, no U-turn and no entry zones, among others.
He urged residents and visitors to the state to be conscious of traffic signs whenever they drive as it would further guide them on how to drive safely and make proper use of the roads.
He urged the residents to call 08174616936 to inform the state government on locations where they felt that traffic signs are needed.
Some of the roads where traffic signs had been newly installed include: Ojota - Kudirat Abiola Way, Maryland, Allen Avenue, Ogudu, Iyana Oworo – Toll Gate, Bourdillon, Mushin, Ojuelegba Roundabout, Surulere, Nathan Street, Yaba, Itire Road, Alausa perimeter and Funsho Williams Avenue.
Opeifa also appealed to the people to obey the road signs and ensure voluntary compliance with the new traffic law as the law was made to ensure sanity on the roads, safety of lives and property of residents.
He warned all the okada and tricycle operators to desist from operating on the restricted 475 routes across the state in their own interest, noting that any person found violating the law would be appropriately sanctioned.
For over two years, commercial cyclists have been barred from plying several highways within the Lagos metropolis, with road signs mounted on many points of such roads. But it has hardly been obeyed. Even law enforcement agents, including LASTMA officials, engage such cyclists to take them from one point to another on such highways the Okada riders have been barred, including even the Third Mainland Bridge.
The okada riders who have become a law unto themselves on the road have made driving on Lagos roads a nightmarish experience for many motorists. They not only endanger their passengers, they are danger to other road users. In fact, there is a ward at the Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, called ‘Okada ward’, where patients who are largely victims of okada accidents are being treated.