She bursts into tears. Kehinde Balogun, a patient at the emergency unit of the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Lagos was among the last victims of accident by commercial motorcyclists (popularly known as Okada), just before the ban. She has been writhing in pain on her hospital bed, ruing her patronage of the commercial motorcyclists.
For anyone who has ever visited the hospital, it will be easier to understand why the Lagos State Government is adamant on banning the operation of the commercial motorcyclists on 475 roads within its metropolis.
According to the state government, not less than 619 people had either been killed or seriously injured in commercial motorcycle accidents in the state in the last two years.
Statistics from the police for Lagos also revealed that a total of 513 fatal accidents recorded in the state in the last two years were caused by the commercial motorcyclists. According to the record, out of this number, 305 happened between January and December 2011, while 208 of the fatal accidents happened between January and June this year.
Despite the clamour and protests by the commercial motorcyclists, who during the week went on the rampage and vandalised over 40 buses belonging to the state government, the Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has said no looking back on its decision, which it said was taken to save lives.
In a statement yesterday, Fashola said: “Several people have lost their lives, limbs, arms or become maimed for life through the reckless activities of the commercial motor cycle operators, so what the law has prescribed was that they can no longer ply the major highways like the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road and other selected roads and bridges in the state.”
Beyond the accidents, motorcycles, the state added, have been used for armed robbery operation. “Our record revealed that of the 30 armed robbery incidents recorded in the state between the months of July and September this year, 22 of them involved the use of commercial motorcycles,” the governor said.
Details, according to the record, show that of eight robberies that occurred in July, seven involved the use of okada, while okada was also used in 10 out of 14 robberies in September and five out of eight robberies in August.
All law enforcement agencies in the state, including the police, army and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), have backed the government’s resolve to limit the operation of okada on the state roads.
The police on Wednesday warned that the newly promulgated traffic law has come to stay and would be enforced strictly, even as they assured Lagosians that adequate preparations had been made to secure their lives and property during the Eid-El-Kabir celebrations.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Umar Abubakar Manko, at a briefing after the weekly State Security Council meeting, chaired by Fashola, expressed dismay that the commercial motorcycle operators have caused much damage in the state, noting that the police would not succumb to blackmail in enforcing the law.
He said: “Motorcyclists have done so much damage in Lagos State. I am the Commissioner of Police and I am telling you from the point of knowledge that most of the armed robberies that we recorded were carried out by these (commercial) motorcyclists. People go to the banks to collect money, they will hang around banks, they will hang around people’s houses, take their belongings, collect their money, even in traffic holdups.”
As part of efforts to rally support for the government in the implementation of the traffic law, Fashola has been engaging Lagos residents in dialogue to let them understand reasons for the ban.
Speaking at an interactive session with members of the Metropolitan Club in Victoria Island, he had accused supporters of unregulated operation of commercial motorcycles in the state of hypocrisy.
The governor also took the enlightenment programme to army officers at a session chaired by the General Officer Commanding 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Kenneth Minimah, where he urged them to go beyond obeying the traffic law to enforcing it since it is a legitimate law made by the state.
Fashola was also at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Conference and Exhibition Centre in Alausa where he interacted with members, urging them to assist government in the implementation of the law by educating their staff and business partners. According to the governor, voluntary compliance to the law will bring sanity to the roads and reduce travel time and the time for doing business.
As the state begins the enforcement of the traffic law that restricted the operations of okada riders within Lagos metropolis, the commercial motorcyclists have devised various ways, including a legal battle and protests, to force the government to back down on the restriction.
The okada riders’ association has faulted the enforcement of the law during which about 3,000 motorcycles were impounded and accused the government of being insensitive.
Their lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, told a Lagos High Court on Wednesday that “many of them (Okada riders) have been suffering from this draconian action of the government to restrict the motorcyclists from operating on federal highways. We are therefore asking the court to grant us an accelerated hearing of the substantive suit.”
The suit, filed by the commercial motorcycle operators under the aegis of the All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA), want the court to declare Section 3(1) of the new Lagos Traffic Law, which prohibits the riding, driving or propelling of a cart, wheelbarrow, motorcycle or tricycle on the major highways in Lagos, as unconstitutional. In addition, the commercial motorcyclists are seeking a declaration that the defendants have no power ‘whatsoever’ to make any law to regulate traffic on any of the federal trunk or highway roads.
They argued that restricting their operations on the affected roads would violate their rights to freedom of movement, guaranteed by Section 41(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. Besides the suit, the commercial motorcyclists resorted to self-help on Monday when they marched on the streets of Lagos to protest the enforcement of the ban.
A Lagos resident, Ms. Taiwo Akala, said: “The state government needs to think ahead always in matters that touch on the living condition of the masses. The ban on okada, while it may be in the interest of everyone, should have been given a deep thought so that the government would have provided another alternative before it starts the enforcement of the law to cushion the effects on the people.”