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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sanwo-Olu: Don’t ban okada, fix the roads, enforce traffic law – Abiodun

The current public debate among Lagosians is about the news that the Lagos State Government (LASG) is considering total ban on the use of commercial motorcycle (popularly called okada) for public transport in Lagos State. The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, gave the hint that the total ban on okada is among options being considered as a last resort in taming the megacity’s gridlock. Since the news became public, both the residents and okada operators have been apprehensive. The reaction was spontaneous and the cacophony of voices for and against the ban is getting louder and louder by the day.

Okada in Lagos
Okada riders in Lagos

Those in support of the ban cited the “many sins” of okada operators to justify the total ban. To these proponents, okada operators are traffic menace, environmental pollutants, security risks who engage in arm robbery, kidnapping, cultism, rape and sundry anti-social behaviour. They argued further that banning okada on Lagos roads would have a positive effect in ameliorating the grinding metropolitan gridlock and bring succour to Lagos motorists and; drastic reduction in the soaring incidences of arm robberies, murder and environmental pollution.

Those against the ban passionately plead with the LASG not to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. They aver that such draconian policy could have dire consequences on the economic front, hype unemployment and worsen insecurity in Lagos State. Economically, the okada operators rely solely on their motorcycles as the means of their livelihood and source of employment. And once the government bans their operation, such a move could increase unemployment with the concomitant effect of pushing people back into crime, since as they say- an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. Therefore, they opined that government should appreciate the complementary role the commercial motorcyclists play to ease public transportation for the multitude of Lagos residents who patronize the okada operators for their services.

From another perspective, people blame the government for not living up to its responsibility because of its failure to fix numerous bad roads which are obstacles to the smooth flow of traffic within the megacity region. They posited that the priority issue Sanwo-olu’s administration ought to tackle is to reduce the infrastructural deficit before the government beams its searchlight on commercial okada and tricycle operators in Lagos. The people feel that if the government takes such a pragmatic approach, it would have covered some grounds in unlocking Lagos gridlock instead of wanting to railroad okada operators into oblivion.

In defence of its proposed policy to ban okada on Lagos roads, the LASG gave cogent reasons for the yet-to-be approved policy option. First, the government’s tolerance for the unruly behaviour, traffic disobedience and penchant for larceny has been stretched beyond limit despite incessant advocacy by the state government for attitudinal change and absolute compliance with traffic regulations and other extant laws regarding okada operation in Lagos State. In times past, several stakeholders’ meetings with the Union of Okada Owners’ & Transport Workers’ Associations by successive administrations in Lagos State were futile. Nothing fruitful or positive came out of such dialogue. All entreaties and the use of “carrot and stick” approach as a remedy to ameliorate the okada-induced traffic problems came to naught. Their population continues to increase exponentially, and the problems caused by this recalcitrant group have overwhelmed the LASG as self-admitted by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Omotoso. From one administration to the other, the problem persists. The okada operators seem to have placed themselves “above the law.” They are often edgy, irascible and bellicose-always in confrontation with constituted authorities especially the police and LASTMA officials.

During the inimitable Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration (2007-2015), okada operators and their tricycle counterparts popularly called Keke Marwa, were banned by law from operating on 520 roads in the state. Inclusive in the ban are major highways and some feeder roads with high volume of traffic. These highways include Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Western Avenue, Lagos-Lekki-Eti-Osa Expressway among others. Some arterials on Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and the entire Lagos Central Business District (CBD) were no-go areas for commercial okada and tricycles operators.

The same law prohibits okada operators on some bridges within the megacity namely: Third Mainland, Eko Bridge, Aiport-Ikeja, Opebi Link Bridge, Mushin/Isolo link bridge and Ikoyi-Lekki link bridge. In the reckoning of most Lagosians, the law recorded high degree of compliance among the okada operators and Governor Fashola was highly commended for his sterling performance in bringing sanity back on Lagos roads. He stood his ground and make sure that the traffic law was strictly enforced to the letter. Until Governor Fashola left the office at the end of his second four-year tenure, he remains the governor to beat in terms of good governance in Lagos State. His excellent performance rating endeared him to the governed.

After him, Governor Ambode was elected the Executive Governor of Lagos State. He served one term of four years in office. Albeit former Governor Ambode was credited for his public transport reforms and intervention programmes/projects in Lagos State most especially the construction of magnificent Oshodi Bus Terminal and the road interchange, the dualisation of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport road, the introduction of high capacity buses most of which were used for Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) initiative- a bus-based rapid transport system that runs on dedicated express lane and the construction of bus shelters on a city-wide basis, he failed to seriously address the okada operators’ traffic menace as tenaciously as his predecessor did. Consequently, throughout Ambode’s tenure, there was a resurgence of okada operators’ rascality on Lagos roads as never witnessed before.

With impunity, they ignore traffic lights and disobey traffic instructions from law enforcement officers and continue to cause fatal accidents on the roads due to their reckless driving. The situation went from bad to worse as the country’s general election was imminent and politicians of every hue abandoned their duty posts for electioneering including ex-Governor Ambode. Governance took flight in Lagos State. Lagosians went through hellish gridlock and discomfort during the transition period, an experience many motorists won’t forget easily.

Sanwo-olu took the oath of office on May 29, 2019 as the incumbent Governor of Lagos State with the promise of a “Greater Lagos” as his mantra and a set of development agenda code-named T.H.E.M.E.S. The acronym stands for the six pillars for developing Lagos. THEMES in full translation represents Traffic Management and Transportation; Health and Environment; Education and Technology; Making Lagos a 21st-century state; Security and Governance. Traffic management and transportation top the list of the Greater Lagos developmental agenda because the problems attributed to the two are many, complex, daunting and very visible. They are giving most residents too much stress, a constant nightmare. The persistent gridlock, uncompleted light rail project, a bevy of unmotorable roads and swelling number commercial motorcyclists who continuously troop into the megacity from all over the country on a daily are negative effects on good governance in Lagos state as we speak.

Therefore, it could be rightly deduced that Sanwo-olu’s determination to find workable solutions to traffic issues was not misplaced. However, well said is not the synonym of well done. He seems to be speaking only in the language of promises. The government is getting overwhelmed by the okada riders insurmountable(?) problems to the breaking limit and frustration is beginning to set in. Hence, the pronouncement that total ban on okada in Lagos may be considered an option as part of the traffic management strategies on the drawing board. Governor Sanwo-olu said that a public hearing will be held to make the process of decision-making participatory before the total ban on okada becomes a state policy.

Be that as it may, we want to ask a few pertinent questions: Can a government which has found it very difficult to effectively enforce the law banning okada riders on less than 600 network of roads would be able to enforce a “total ban” on okada in the state? Where will the government get the manpower to enforce such law? Can such law even be obeyed by the army of okada riders who have figuratively invaded the state most especially Lagos megacity? And when you consider the mendacity and venality of the men in uniform, won’t the government be creating avenue for them to ply their trade against those who violate the law? The move being contemplated by the LASG requires deep thinking. Without being a pessimist, the good intention of Governor Sanwo-olu and his cabinet would backfire. It could create social unrest the government won’t be able to curtail.

Therefore, we want to advise that total ban on okada as an integral part of public transport is not and can NEVER (my emphasis) be feasible. Granted okada riders are irritants in their mannerism and anti-social behaviours, however, they still play a complementary role as alternative means of cheaper public transport. Taking them totally off the roads of Lagos will trigger more problems of monumental proportion, more so when no visible alternative is readily available to daily commuters around metropolitan Lagos who require their services.

The logical step to take is to curtail the excesses and criminal tendencies of the group by wedging the big stick using the instrumentality of the law. The relevant authorities should wake up and assert their regulatory obligations under the law! The head of LASTMA must be held responsible where lapses occur. The occupier of such position took the job because of the assurance that he has the intellect and capacity to do the job effectively. And if not, he should humbly admit his failure and honourably resign.

Former Governor Babatunde Fashola had proved beyond doubt that strict enforcement of traffic law is NOT an impossible task. His record on traffic law enforcement ought to be a pragmatic strategy the present administration MUST understudy and emulate. Fashola was very adamant and firm on the issue of law enforcement and obedience. No okada riders plied all major highways, bridges, and exclusive arteries as stipulated by the traffic Act during his tenure. The proof? No okada riders dared to ply Kingsway Road and Awolowo Road in Ikoyi part of Lagos in times past when Fashola was governor. Today, the story is different. Okada and Keke Marwa operators are back on those roads full force, where once upon a time, there was traffic sanity!

The inadvertent discontinuation of that effective strategy when Amode held sway as the Governor of the state was inexplicable and rather unfortunate. History, therefore, cannot be allowed to repeat itself under the present Sanwo-olu’s administration. No individual, nay a group of vagabonds must be uncontrollable by law. The law is no respecter of anybody; hence all citizens are expected to act below the law, not above it. Governor Sanwo-olu has no tenable excuse not to ban okada and keke marwa operators on all the restricted roads and highways prescribed by Lagos state traffic law status quo ante. He should not present a state of hopelessness as if such a ban is an impossibility! No, it is not.

While the enforcement of traffic law is back on track, valiant effort must be made on regular road maintenance making sure the potholes are mended, traffic lights are working, new roads are constructed, the LASTMA officials redouble their efforts in traffic control and management, and zero tolerance for venality. The use of modern technology to manage the chaotic traffic situation in Lagos is more of necessity, not an option.

This writer shares the view expressed by a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campell on the expected benefit and the positive effect of technology application to manage Lagos traffic when he posited that “the continued proliferation of mobile Internet technology could increase the number of [residents] who telecommute, a trend that could make traffic in Lagos-still only the megacity in the world without a mass transit system –a little less horrendous.”

By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner/Planning Advocate, Lagos)

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