Opinion: Fashola’s policy on okada: A signal metaphor

by Poju Akinyanju

It appears to me that adequate consideration was not given to the economic and social implications of criminalising and the destruction of okada. The thousands of okada operators demobilised will not all die. They are not likely to leave Lagos. That means they will relocate to other businesses that can immediately provide a living.

Given his presence in the media, Governor Babatunde Fashola appears to be doing well in his sought task of governing Lagos State. In normal climes, such press certification puts the subject in good potential stead of advancing the political leadership ladder up to the pinnacle of the presidency of the nation. This is the reason why the mindset, policies and performance of such individuals (and implicatively their political platform) should be a subject of critical analysis. Such analysis could serve two of many purposes. One, the public may be assisted in discerning the reality of the individual beyond propaganda such that they are not sold a pig in a poke. The other is to assist the individual to make adjustments or confirm persuasion of his chosen track.

That being the case, there are signal activities of Fashola since he became Governor which are disturbing about his evaluation and treatment of the citizens he governs; and about the relationship of his state to the federation.

Clearing and bringing sanity to Oshodi was his first major public activity. This was hailed by almost all. The issue of lack of resettlement plan for the dislodged citizens which was raised was brushed aside by the explanation that the presence which obliterated the road and adjoining public spaces was illegal; and that there had been numerous ignored warnings to clear the area in the past. The relief that the restored sanity brought did not allow critics to further push the fundamental principle of fair treatment of resettlement of the displaced citizens. The acceptance of the Oshodi treatment may have encouraged the governor to make it an acceptable template for dealing with whatever he reads as unacceptable activity/settlement by the poor which are unpleasant to the elite. Makoko. Okada.

Next was the deportation of beggars from Lagos to their ‘states of origin’. Surprisingly, this move which violated the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of citizens to live and work in any part of the nation received little, if any, public criticism. The implication that Fashola could deport anybody he wants from Lagos for any reason was not contemplated. The victims were the voiceless poor. This brazen unconstitutionality surfaced again in the regulation that vehicles (explained as commercial) that ply Lagos roads must carry the Lagos plate number. The restriction that this will cause free trade and movement of people was, again, not contemplated. The disruption to national harmony if other states reciprocated was also not thought of. The mindset seems to be that the rest of the nation needs Lagos but Lagos could not care less about other states.

Then came Fashola’s war on the doctors. This came in two waves with uneasy peace in between; and even now. The first war saw assault on the leadership of the doctors including physical attack and attempts to victimise elements in the leadership through grave charges of professional misconduct. The second war became necessary when the first was unsuccessful in detaching the members from the leadership. This led to the dismissal of about 1,000 doctors in the employ of Lagos State. The justification for these assaults is that the state should determine what to pay its workers (i.e. less than a national benchmark wage for the doctors). One would have thought that the high cost of living in Lagos should dictate a higher than the national benchmark wage. The historical fact now is that Fashola has moved into the league of infamous rulers who have assaulted a mass of Nigerian workers. Other examples are the dismissal of tens of academic staff of the University of Ilorin by Vice-Chancellor Shuaib Oba Abdulraheem; Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s dismissal of the entire academic staff in the nation’s universities in 1992/93; and Buhari/Idiagbon massive assault on doctors nationwide in 1984/85. The result of such assault is that the systems never fully recover. The wound is deep and the reaction even at the level of the subconscious is lasting. The state of our hospitals and universities today is indicative.

The last signal policy of Fashola that we consider is the ban on Okada operators in Lagos as a sub set of draconian traffic laws. It is incontrovertible that the traffic situation in Lagos is chaotic, inadequate, unplanned, dangerous, unduly life-threatening and undesirable. So many factors are responsible for this situation. A prime one that Fashola seems to have identified to address is human behaviour. However, human behaviour is contextual. For example, moving a population through a wide space generates a different human behaviour than moving the same population through a much narrower space. That okada operation has become a menace is indisputable. The question is what is the appropriate thing to be done taking all aspects and parties into consideration. We should never forget that the development of okada as a means of mass transport was a consequence of irresponsible governance over the years that refused to provide necessary transport for a rapidly growing population. We should also acknowledge that even now there is a need for that means of transport. It is alleged that okadas are used for robbery and as get-aways from crime scenes. But so are taxis, cars and buses. ‘One chance’ crimes are flourishing in Lagos, so are we going to ban buses or is it irrelevant since the elite are rarely affected? An analogy: Stealing by government officials is so pervasive and destructive of citizens, do we then ban the institution of government?

Fashola’s response is faulty in a number of respects. It has virtually elevated traffic offence into a capital offence. A law that prescribes a ‘death’ sentence not only for the individual but the family cannot be right. The nature of traffic offences is not how draconian but the frequency and certainty of being caught; and assured punishments which are made incrementally cumulative up to the point of a ban of the individual from vehicular operation. Use of law to address a situation is the simplest, if not the laziest, way of addressing societal problems especially in a dictatorship or civilian conspiracy, and what we have in Nigeria now in the name of democracy is a civilian conspiracy where legislative houses are mere robotic appendages of the executive arm, especially at the state level.

When 3,000 Okadas (and counting) are seized and destroyed, the number of people affected should be multiplied by a factor of 10 as most Okada operators are breadwinners. In any case, in how many other offences created by the state is destruction of property part of the penalty? We have been told that the ban is on a mere 475 out of 9,000 roads. The question is are users of the 8,525 roads not deserving of the said protection offered by okada ban, or is it that the 475 roads are where the elite live, work, traverse and therefore have to be protected whereas the remaining roads habour the wretched of the earth for whose protection Fashola has no commitment? Dubious statistics have been provided that hospital admission has reduced since the ban on okada. Pray, who is monitoring the case of hypertension in the poor community since okadaban or children of banned okada riders who have died of untreated malaria because their parents’ okada was destroyed?

Needles to say, there are other ways, slower, more tortuous but more humane, to respond to the okadasituation. These include organisation and education of the okada operators which will also improve security; provision of okada lanes and parks; provision of alternatives to okada which will compete with and eventually crowd okada out of market in the long run. It appears to me that adequate consideration was not given to the economic and social implications of criminalising and the destruction of okada. The thousands of okadaoperators demobilised will not all die. They are not likely to leave Lagos. That means they will relocate to other businesses that can immediately provide a living. Your imagination is as good as mine on this.

This piece is, however, not on the okada issue but a review of Fashola’s signal relationship to classes of citizens he governs. We should note that most of the people under assault are the low class poor: Oshodi denizens-beggars- commercial drivers-Makoko residents-okada operators. Fashola’s vision, apparently, is for a Lagos developed into a world class city-state for the enjoyment of the elite/ ruling class. It would appear that poor citizens irritate Fashola and he would rather eliminate the poor instead of eliminating poverty.


Prof. Akinyanju is a lecturer in the Department of Microbiology, University of Ilorin.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Comments (0)

  1. No doubt d writer is simply on d opposition and opposition will never see d positivity of actions. No good things without pains.

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