Public order was breached between Ojota and Maryland after a street trader ran into a vehicle and died on the spot penultimate Wednesday. But with 48 vehicles vandalised and 15 suspects arrested, the Lagos State Government condemned the attack and said there was no justification for the breakdown of law and order. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes
About a fortnight, a mob of irate street traders and hoodlums descended on high-occupancy vehicles. At least, 48 of such vehicles that operate on the bus rapid transit (BRT) lane suffered varying degree of damage as a result. Contrary to what the miscreants thought, the vehicles did not belong to the Lagos State Government, but to Primero Transport Service Limited, the Ikorodu-CMS BRT operator.
The attack was undeniably spontaneous, though might not be unconnected with the frustration of thousands of youths that survive on street trading. But the root cause of Ojota violence was due to the untimely death of a street trader, Nnamdi John at about 12p.m. penultimate Wednesday. Nnamdi was not sick, neither did he have any premonition that he would not live to see the next day.
Like other days, Nnamdi was busy navigating road traffic between Ojota and Maryland, making frantic effort to market his wares. Unexpectedly, there was an alert that officials of the Kick against Indiscipline (KAI) were on patrol. Nothing more occurred to him than to escape being arrested. So, according to eyewitness, Nnamdi hurriedly fled; ran into a truck and died there instantly.
Seeing the body of Nnamdi, a 22-year-old indigene of Ebonyi State, lifeless on the road, violence broke out suddenly. Other street traders on the axis started attacking different vehicles. Also, street urchins and miscreants in and around Ojota and Maryland quickly joined the act of violence. Surprisingly, the mob never thought of attacking the truck of a bottling company that crushed Nnamdi to death.
But their target was high occupancy vehicles that operate on the Ikorodu-CMS BRT lane. According to an eyewitness, the mob targeted the BRT vehicles because the mob hurriedly concluded that the presence of KAI operatives in Maryland caused Nnamdi’s untimely death. Also, the BRT vehicles were the target because the mob thought they belonged to the state government.
At least, 25 commuters sustained varying degrees of injuries – some fatal and others mild. Also, scores of the bus drivers were bruised while two violently attacked. It took the intervention of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) with its Commander, Mr. Olatunji Disu, to quell the rage of the mob. If not for the intervention of RRS and Operation MESA, an eyewitness said, the damage would have been double.
Also, their intervention had led to the arrest of 15 suspects, which the state government said, would face justice. In a statement, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde explained the need to make the suspects face justice, which he said, became indispensable to serve as deterrent “to future occurrence. There must be consequence for every action – good or wrong.”
Contingent on the report of a preliminary investigation, the commissioner made some clarification. First, Ayorinde pointed out that the street trader wanted “to evade arrest from officials of KAI. He attempted to cross the road before a truck knocked him down.”
Also, the commissioner added that the truck that crushed the street trader to death was erroneously thought “to be a BRT vehicle. However, it was not a BRT vehicle that killed the street trader. It was a truck belonging to a soft drink company.”
Ayorinde equally revealed that the KAI officials were on patrol trying “to rid the state of street hawkers and traders in line with the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law, 2003.” He, therefore, cited section 1 of the law, which “restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis and section 8 which empowers the Special Court to seize and auction items impounded from street traders.”
The law is still functional and operative in Lagos metropolis, the commissioner noted. As a matter of fact, according to him, the law prescribes some punitive measures against any person or persons tried and found guilty of street trading and hawking in the metropolis. He, thus, cited section 10 of the law, prescribing“a fine of N5000 fine or three months imprisonment upon conviction.”
By the standard of law, therefore, Ayorinde argued that it was illegal “to trade or hawk on Lagos streets. The state government will not relent in ridding the state of illegalities, street trading and hawking.” On this note, he urged all street traders“to desist from these illegal activities because the state government will not be blackmailed and will ensure that public order “is not breached.”
Also, the commissioner issued a note of warning for street urchins, miscreants and hoodlums, who he said, were yet “to realise that the Ambode administration would not condone illegalities and hooliganism in any part of the state.” In strong terms, Ayorinde said the state government and the state police command “will not allow any act of civil disobedience. Also, those arrested will be dealt with in line with the law.”
But the implication of the outrage is indeed grave, not only in terms of loss incurred, but also in terms of providing requisite night services on strategic routes. In monetary terms, summarily, the Managing Director of the transport company, Mr. Fola Tinubu put the cost of loss his firm incurred due to the outrage at N139 million, which he said, was a major loss for the company.
For what THISDAY observed, the degree of damage actually varied. But in all, the managing director said his insurance firm had put the cost of repair at N139 million. He said damages on the buses “range from broken wind shields (front, sides and rear) to side mirrors. Some buses also had exteriors dented. The buses will be parked in our depot until repair works are fully carried out.”
In strategic terms, the helmsman disclosed that the firm had put paid to night service due to what he ascribed to the security of his staff members and commuters. He said the night service was introduced few weeks ago in line with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s 24/7 economy, noting that it was a major shift in the provision of transport services in Lagos State and even in Nigeria.
Tinubu, however, said the firm had “to ameliorate the disturbance to commuters. We have gone round major bus stops. We discovered that the commuters are now feeling the impact of the decision we took. But we are a private firm. We cannot provide our own police. We have to rely on the state. We believe the state government is working with the Lagos State Police Command to secure lives and property.”
What happened is not really about Primero Transport Service basically, according to him. He explained that it was about other investors who “are willing to invest in Lagos or in Nigeria. With what happened, no investor will like to inject fund into this kind of environment.” He thus said what the firm lost was undoubtedly a huge threat “to our investments in Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial capital.”
Specifically, the managing director pointed out that what happened to the firm “is a disincentive to private investment in Nigeria. The loss is a clear setback to investment drive. The citizens of Nigeria must be educated to draw a line between private investment and public assets. No amount of provocation justifies the destruction of our buses. We equally agree that no amount of money is commensurate to one life.”
Tinubu, therefore, reeled out how his firm had helped create jobs at a troubled time. By establishing the transport firm along, Tinubu disclosed that it provided over 2,500 jobs since November 2015 it started operation. He also disclosed the firm’s expansion plan, which he said, would create more jobs. But according to him, the business environment is a real disincentive to our expansion drive.”
In truth, the outrage has been a source of concern for all traditional rulers in the Ikorodu Division. For the traditional rulers, the onslaught was an additional burden. It was an additional burden because Ikorodu is the host of Primero Transport Service and that the firm engaged hundreds of Ikorodu indigenes. It was an additional burden due to the criminal activities of oil thieves and pipeline vandals, who the monarchs said, had brought some communities in the division under perpetual siege.
On these grounds, the monarchs vented their concerns about security situation, which they all acknowledged, was a huge threat to public order in the division specifically. At the inspection of the damaged vehicles, the monarchs expressed their frustration about security concerns in Ikorodu and its environs. The Ayangbure of Ikorodu, Oba Adewale Shotobi and the Ranodu of Imota, Oba Ajibade Agoro led other monarchs to the head office of Primero Transport Service to register their concerns.
After inspecting the damaged vehicles, Agoro lamented that the residents of Ikorodu and its environs “are the people that feel the direct impact of the act of violence that led to the damage of 48 high-capacity vehicles.The attack that led to the vandalisation of 48 buses was not justifiable,” although he acknowledged that the loss of life due to the accident could not be quantified.
In its entirety, the monarchs condemned the act of violence that breached public order between Ojota and Maryland. Consequently, they called on the state police command and other security agencies “to rise up to the rescue of Ikorodu people; nip in the bud all criminal acts in the division and ensure public order. Our investigation showed that it was not the BRT vehicle that killed the street trader.”
He explained that it was not the best option “to resort to illegal act to seek redress. We have laws in Lagos State. We should not trample upon our laws. If we all obey our laws, all these acts of violence will have been averted. There is a law that proscribed street trading and hawking. If this law was obeyed, the street trader would not have died in the first place and there would not have been violence.”
The monarchs explained their concerns about the Ojota violence. First, they said they were concerned because these buses “operate on our routes.” Also, they said they were the host of the transport company. Finally, the monarchs said the BRT infrastructure had been a source of blessing for Ikorodu people, citing how it had been helping them “to transact their businesses with ease. We cannot really quantify the loss.”
Aside, the monarchs gravely lamented the activities of the pipeline vandals in some Ikorodu communities. They all declared that it had become imperative for the police “to arrest the trend and re-establish order. We, traditional rulers, are helpless. There is little we can do to save the situation. The police authorities must come to our aid. Other security agencies must promptly intervene.”
For any reason, they said there “is no justification for any breach of public order irrespective of what happened.” Rather than engaging in illegal acts, they said there “are laws in place, which we can always resort. Also, there are also public institutions where we seek redress if our rights are violated.” On this note, the monarchs called on all residents“to always explore amicable means of settling differences rather than resorting to illegal self means of taking laws into their hands.”