by Isi Esene
The ban on the movement of commercial motorcycles, popularly known as Okada, seems to have been relaxed by the Lagos State Government, going by the sheer number of motorcyclists on major highways.
In areas like Ikeja, Surulere, Ketu, and some parts of Lagos Island, commercial motorcycles can be often seen plying their trade with little or no restrictions, as opposed to what was obtainable, when they were practically run off the roads.
Observers have accused the Governor Babatunde Fashola administration of relaxing the law based on 2015 political considerations. Many commercial motorcyclists, who represent a large voting block, have threatened to withdraw their support for the All Progressives Congress (APC) party if the law is not repealed or at-least relaxed. The ban of Okada on major Lagos highway, according to them, goes a long way to reinforce the elitist image projected by the Fashola government.
While speaking with YNaija on the state of enforcement by the police and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Adamu, a commercial motorcyclist who works around the Lawanson area of Surulere said it appears they have been let off the hook.
“Yes, they don’t disturb us like they used to do before. Now, some policemen just collect money from us and leave us to go,” he said.
His friend and fellow okada rider, Mohammed, seems to agree as he confirmed that they are now relatively free to move around major highways without restriction.
“Police catch (sic) me sometimes but no be every time like before,” he told the reporter.
Efforts to get through to the Lagos Transport Commissioner, Mr. Kayode Opeifa proved abortive but a source close to the Lagos State Government spoke to YNaija denying that the law has been jettisoned. He said the law enforcers have only been told to be civil in enforcing the law but the ban effectively remains.
“It is the overbearing attitude of the law enforcers that gave the government a bad name. I can tell you that the police and LASTMA have been told to be civil in their enforcement. They must obey the law while trying to enforce the law.”
On allegations of elitism leveled against the Lagos APC government, the source said, “The opposition are just trying to make the okada ban a political issue. Commercial motorcycles have also been banned in Abuja, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom and others states governed by the PDP so why the fuss about Lagos?
“We are trying to do mass transit in Lagos but they want to force us back to the era of okada. They have even bought over 5,000 motorcycles for the riders to secure their votes in 2015. What can we do?” he asked.
Governor Babatunde Fashola had on August 2, 2012, signed into law a bill which prohibits the operations of commercial motorcyclists on 475 roads in the state.
However, barely a month after the bill was signed, the Okada riders under the aegis of All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA) dragged the state government to court arguing against attempts by the state to stop them from exercising their economic right and from making use of highways belonging to the federal and not the state government.
The case was instituted at the Lagos High Court on behalf of the Okada riders by their counsel, late Bamidele Aturu, who pleaded the court, among other things, to declare that the state government has no power whatsoever to make any law to regulate traffic on any of the federal roads. The Okada operators also sought a declaration that “the major highways in Lagos listed in Items 1-11 and other parts of Schedule II of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law No. 4 of 2012 are federal roads within the meaning of the Federal Highways Act, cap F13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
In enacting the Lagos Road Traffic Law, the state government has continued to maintain that the restriction was meant to address carnage and avoidable deaths in okada accidents which had reached a frightening dimension within the state metropolis.
With the general elections barely six months away, it is certain that the Lagos Road Traffic Law will be a major topic of discussion. Observers are, however, of the opinion that the APC may not get out of this okada-gate smelling fresh and rosy.