Less than two years into the implementation of the Lagos Road Traffic Law 2012, commercial motorcyclists (popularly known as okada riders) have returned to some of the roads the law prevents them from plying.
Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Agege Motor Road, Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, Iba-LASU Road and Isolo-Ikotun Road are among the routes okada riders have resumed their business uninterrupted.
When the law became fully operational about two years ago, the busy routes and other hundreds of inner city ones regained sanity, while motorcycle-related accidents reduced by over 50 per cent, according to statistics by the Lagos State Government.
But with the exception of the Third Mainland Bridge and a few other roads, especially on the Island, findings show that okadas, with their associated oddities, have returned to the expressways where they compete with other road users.
Some people have viewed the comeback as a response to an obvious need. For instance, those who commute between Apapa and Mile 2 said the perpetual gridlock on the route had left them with no option but to shuttle the places via motorbikes.
“If they insist okada should not ply the road, what options do commuters have? If you spend a whole day on the road, you may not still get to Wharf, unless you navigate through Surulere, which is also not predictable,” Dotun Adefarasin, a clearing agent, lamented.
With the worsening traffic jam on the Apapa road comes hundreds of okada riders to lessen (and also ironically compound) the pains of those who ply it regularly. What other motorists have done in the past months is to learn to tolerate okadas that move in droves on the busy way. Yet, they expect the riders to be more discrete in choosing where to park.
Our correspondent observed on Monday that they (okada riders) have converted some parts of the highway in Mile 2 to a park, not minding threats from fast-moving vehicles. Also, there are indiscriminately-located parks on every kilometre between Cele and Tincan Island for okada riders who also freely violate helmet, passenger limit and other traffic laws.
One of the riders, Ahmed Musa, a native of Yobe State, explained that some of his colleagues shuttled between Mile 2 and Apapa till midnight during which they doubled the fare, increasing from N500 to N1000. He boasted that nobody could stop okada on Apapa road. His argument is that people will always patronise the motorcyclists as long as the road construction lasts.
Cornelius Akuri, an Ijesha, Lagos-based real estate broker, predicted that more and more jobless youths would continue to add to what he called the okada nuisance on the road especially as commuters were ready to pay exorbitant charges – as much as 400 per cent above the fare charged by commercial buses – to be ferried to Apapa in minutes.
“With properly-constructed road and stoppage of indiscriminate parking of trucks, it is possible to stop motorcyclists. Otherwise, I don’t see how anybody can discourage people from patronising them. It is a simple economic principle: when there is no market, they will find something else to do. The last time I drove on the road, I spent five hours whereas I could have spent less than 20 minutes if I took an okada,” he explained.
At the popular Mile 2 Bus Stop, there is no discrimination in the classes of people who seek solution in the commercial bikes daily as the gridlock continues. The young and the elderly, the rich and the poor as well as pregnant women take to okadas as they meander their ways to and fro the seaport town.
Residents of Ejigbo, a bustling community whose link road has been taken over by the same menace, also attributed the popularity of the transport system to traffic congestion. Like other parts of Lagos where commercial motorcyclists have become such indispensable pests, many Ejigbo residents spend much more commuting but are able to save several hours that those who opt for commercial vehicles waste in traffic jams.
“I love to drive or, at least, take a cab. But the roads are terribly bad, causing unnecessary congestion almost on every spot. I am sure many more people will quit okada for a more descent mode if the traffic congestion reduces,” noted Ndu Nweke, a financial/investment consultant whose office is at Ilupeju.
Okada riders who ply the Lagos-Badagry Expressway said they had also become very important to the people in the area due to the gridlock caused by the ongoing construction work on the axis. One of them said officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Agency and other traffic controllers initially insisted on full implementation of the law on the route but lowered their resistance as gridlock worsened.
With the exception of lkeja, Lagos Island, Lekki and Victoria Island, the sanity that enveloped various parts of the city, following the traffic law that debarred okada from specific roads and streets, might have expired. In the Lagos Mainland, the nuisance caused by the riders is fully back.
On the Island, where the implementation is believed to be most successful, a number of operators have also started testing the enforcer’s resistance. Some of them have started picking commuters from Falomo to different streets within old Ikoyi.
Last Saturday, two of the operators said they were in the business on a part-time basis. A source, which has monitored the trend for some time, said more cyclists joined the rebels at nights. He said some had even started shuttling between Ikoyi and Oworonshoki during late hours.”
Another source claimed that most of the okadas operating there (Falomo), are operated by military and police officers.
The source said, “If their colleagues don’t arrest them, who will? That is the privilege they abuse.”
Sources noticed a similar “abuse” by security officers living around the Murtala Mohammed Airport. It was gathered that most of the okadas that ply Ajao Estate and the airport are run on esprit de coup arrangement.
Our correspondent gathered that the motorcycles were either operated by officials of the Nigerian security agencies, particularly the police, or owned by them.
In reference to the rise of the menace, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Information and Strategy, Mr. Lateef Raji, recently said there were no plans to reverse the law, which, he said, was in public interest.
Also, last Monday, LATMA’s Public Relations Officer, Bola Ajao, said she could not comment on the issue, insisting the Nigerian Police Force was responsible for the implementation of the law.
The Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, Kenneth Nwosu, however, told our correspondent that the force had not relaxed the enforcement. He warned against violation, saying the police would continue to clamp down on those who violated the law.