TIJANI Salako, an estate surveyor and property agent on Palm Avenue, Mushin, Lagos, is one of the many people who see the move to ban the operations of commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada, in the state as wrong and counter-productive.
‘Banning okada business in Lagos is a serious issue,’ he told The Moment On Sunday. ‘I’m aware of Governor Babatunde Fashola’s plans to put the railways back on track and open up water transportation as well constructing and repairing roads as palliatives before the ban.
My fear, however, is that the new routes will not absorb the hundreds of thousands of okada riders in the state.
‘In the beginning it was the Igbo people who had stayed long in Lagos, mostly those who had lost their businesses to the state council on Yaba and Agege railway lines, that started riding okada. Later, Yoruba, Efik and other southern states’ citizens, as many as were unemployed and those who lost their jobs joined the business.
‘But for a long time now, a new set of riders surfaced from the core North, who neither speak nor understand English; there are Chadians, Togolese and even Sudanese among them; they don’t even know the routes so passengers have to direct them.
They are now everywhere in Lagos, on the Island, and on the mainland and the suburbs. Those boys are the problem I foresee; if the ban takes effect and they suddenly become jobless they will become dangerous.
They cannot return back to the North because there was nothing there for them to do in the first place and Lagos State Government cannot evacuate them from the state. They will steal; they will kill and maim to survive. Can Fashola’s government curtail them? That is the thing to consider before you consider a total ban.’
Sylvester Agwu, from Imo State, says okada is the only stable business he has done for many years. His words: ‘I don’t know what they want ordinary people like us to do again to survive. I was selling leather works at railway line, Yaba, when government people seized our wares and drove us away.
I started to raise money again by selling Gala and other things in the traffic but they raided us all the time and some of us were sent to Ikoyi Prison because we didn’t have money to give to police. Because of that I went home and raised money to buy okada in 2007.
‘Despite all the wahala, it is still better than not doing anything at all; I pay for my room and support two of my brothers in school because I don’t want them to suffer what I have been suffering in Lagos since nine years that I came here.
Now Lagos State Government wants to ban okada! If government bans okada, what are they providing for us to do so that we can live peacefully in our own country? Abi, after we vote for them, they don’t care about us again and they just want to scrap us like that?
‘I beg, tell them to leave poor people alone; the problem of this country is not ordinary people like us – it is people in government who steal public money in billions; we hear that senators and government people built their personal refineries outside Nigeria and they employ those people in their country.
We hear news too and we know that it is politicians and powerful people that cause all problems for our country. Let Fashola go after them; let Goodluck Jonathan deal with them and leave us alone.’
For Umoh Edet, who sustains his family of eight with his okada business, he was devastated at the news of the impending ban.
‘Oga, I don’t know why government is pursuing me everywhere I go,’ he said. ‘I rode okada in Port Harcourt; they banned it. I return to Uyo, in my own state, Akwa Ibom; government banned okada, gave me N50,000 and collected my okada. I am still new in Lagos and they want to ban okada again. I leave everything to God who made heaven and earth; He will save me,’ he said.
A top executive of Akwacross (Akwa Ibom and Cross River) Motocycle Owners Association, who pleaded for anonymity, had this to say:
‘If you see so many of us on the road you will think we enjoy the work; it is a very dangerous work that puts your life on the line every minute. That is only one part of it.
If you know what these Lagos indigenes do to us in the name of council, garage, local government and state ticketing, you will think we are illegal refugees who have no right to work and live on Yoruba soil. They harass and intimidate and extort money from us and they use very wicked and crude methods.
‘No matter how you complain to the police and the traditional rulers, you will still pay outrageous amounts or they seize your okada and use the police to lock you up.
Many of our members have been in and out of Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons on false charges. Police and LASTMA and KAI officials live on our daily labour by force with threat and intimidation and brutalising any of us who fails to give in to their demands.
‘Our association has taken the Motorcycle Owners Association of Lagos State (MOALS) to court over illegal ticketing and millions of naira they owe us but the case is still dragging in court for over 10 years. They say you cannot win any case against the owners of the land.
‘I can go on and on; so if Lagos State Government decides to ban okada from the whole state we shall still survive; our members will find another honest and genuine source of livelihood.
In fact, let them do it quickly so that the area boys, the council and government officials will find another way to survive. My fear is that those people will stop at nothing to steal where they did not sow and I wonder how government and ordinary people of Lagos will cope.’
Boniface Ibe, who used his retirement benefits as a security man from Unilever to buy a motorcycle, took up another security job on N10,050 a month and rode his okada on his off days to make ends meet. Sometime last year, he resigned his job and began a full-time business riding his okada. When the matter of the impending ban was put to him, he did not mince words:
‘As far as I am concerned, there is no way people can live a normal life if government bans okada. As I talk to you, many people park their cars and ride okada both for convenience and to save the man hours they spend in the “go-slow (traffic jam)” both in the morning and after they close from work. Okada is the life of many workers in the sense that we help them meet their target – both employees and the self-employed.
‘Except some people are deceiving the government, if they try what they are planning, they will regret it in the long run. As our elders say, he who goes to carry firewood that is infested with ants has invited lizards into his house.
In the first, place the insecurity they are afraid of will explode; trouble will break out everywhere with agbero, area boys and those hungry council ticket people everywhere. I tell you that if government bans okada all those people will create more troubles than government can handle.
Then there are the motorcycle mechanics, the motorcycle parts dealers, everybody will suffer the consequence and I don’t see how government can handle that.’
Okechukwu Calistos Anumunu, a hotelier in Festac Town, Lagos, could not see how people would move about without okada, especially in the rainy season, which is at hand: ‘It will be a terrible situation, especially in the rainy season, that is the time of terrible traffic jams, people always find their way easily by using okada.
Then there are many areas that are flooded that only okada can take you past there. When it is rush hour or night, some places like Cele, Iyana-Isolo, all the way to Jakande and Ikotun, all the time there is traffic jam, which sometimes can remain till after midnight. With okada, may people can find their way home in reasonable time.
‘In the area of security, there will be so much trouble and robbery that even Governor Fashola cannot go home to his house and sleep with both eyes closed.’
Similarly, Itoro Ukpon, a fresh graduate from Aba, Abia State, awaiting his posting for the National Youth Service Corps programme, said, ‘Government may stop okada in selected areas but not an outright ban because a great number of people feed their families with the business; so by banning okada, government is saying that for those particular of people, there’s no life for them again, and some of them will not be able to return to the village, as there’s no solution in the village.
It was because there was nothing for them in the village that they came to the city and okada has brought succour to them.’
On the security implications, Ukpon said, on the contrary, banning okada would reduce robbery in some areas and increase it in other areas. According to him, ‘Robbery is very easy with okada; also hired assassins can easily get away on okada.
I schooled in Owerri, Imo State, where okada has been banned. When okada riding was still on, robbery was something else but after the ban all that ceased.’
A civil servant with NIPOST, Mrs. Chinwendu Oke, noted that the ban would make mobility very difficult.
‘We don’t have roads,’ she said. ‘Every day there’s hold-up, you can stay for hours on the road, and okada is the only way to move, if you have the money, particularly for us civil servants. If you get to your office late the boss would not want to hear that you’re late because of traffic hold-up.
Before government bans okada, let them construct more roads; even the ones we have are full of potholes. On my route, the major things that cause traffic are the potholes everywhere.’
A body of the motorcycle riders association is contesting the proposed ban at the Lagos High Court.