Can Sanwo-Olu Successfully Tackle the ‘Okada’ Menace in Lagos?
Vanessa Obioha writes that commercial motorcycles, better known as, Okadas have always been a big conundrum to different governors of Lagos State, with the attendant complex mix of being an easy means to perpetrate crime and providing a source of livelihood
In the past few months, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has been ramping up projects in different sectors, particularly the transportation sector. As noted in his economic agenda for the state, transportation and traffic management are key areas he desires to transform. Last April, he commenced the Red Line Project which is a 37km North-South rail route that will run from Agbado to Marina with 12 proposed stations at Agbado, Iju, Agege, Ikeja, Oshodi, Mushin, Yaba, Ebute Metta (EBJ), Iddo, Ebute Ero and Marina. Alongside the Blue Line project, this is expected to begin operations in the fourth quarter of 2022.
On the waterways, 15 jetties are at different developmental stages in an effort to push water transportation and increase commuting options for residents, according to the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Frederick Oladeinde. The governor also announced that six new ferries have been handed over to Lagos Ferry Services Company, commonly known as LAGFERRY.
A few days ago, the governor unveiled the First and Last Mile (FLM) buses to increase the number of transportation options. According to him, the buses will take care of commuting between the main transit corridor, “and the heart of our various communities where the bulk of our people reside and where high capacity buses will normally not be able to pass through. It is intended to connect various communities with one another.”
The Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Managing Director, Abimbola Akinajo described the FLM as the last layer of the Bus Reform Initiative (BRI) for the state — a plan by the government to ensure that public transportation system will be moved from an unregulated framework to a regulated framework.
Under the BRI, there are three layers. The first is the BRT bus scheme which comprises high capacity buses that mainly travel on dedicated bus routes, commonly known as BRT routes. The second layer is the standard bus routes, and these are schemes with high or medium capacity buses that travel in mixed traffic mainly, while the final layer is the FLM bus scheme. The newly launched minibuses are small capacity buses that carry between seven and 11 passengers and travel on routes designated to take one to and from origin and destination.
In other words, the FLM enhances and ensures connectivity in the intermodal integrated public transportation drive of the state. According to Akinajo, the routes have been designed to provide connectivity, “not just for the three tiers of bus schemes, but also for all forms of public transportation system in Lagos, to include water transportation, the buses, and the rail transportation system when they become operational last quarter of 2022. These buses will connect community routes to the major BRT bus stops, bus terminals, ferry terminals, as well as train stations.”
Out of the 485 routes identified by the agency for the different tiers of transportation in the state, 286 are FLM routes and are designed to travel not more than 5km. The agency also identified seven routes that the FLM will operate. They include Zone 1: Ikeja and Ketu; Zone 2: Oshodi, Mushin and Surulere, Zone 3: Berger, Yaba and Oyingbo; Zone 4: Lagos Island, Ajah and Ibeju Lekki, Zone 5: Iyana-ipaja and Agege; Zone 6: Mile 2, Iyana-Iba and Ajeromi; Zone 7: Ikorodu and Zone 8: Epe and Badagry.
For the first phase, operations will commence in Zones 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. Five hundred buses were released to kick off this first phase. A total of 5,000 buses have been underlined for this project.
Also, to reduce cash transactions, commuters will make use of the Lagos State cowry card for fares payment. The buses are fitted with a validator to enable card payments.
Oladeinde added that the state has put in place, various measures aimed at readjusting transportation strategies to accommodate the FLM transportation system, “which is all-inclusive, safe, convenient, affordable, accessible, and in line with global practice.”
From all indications, the FLM buses are designed to weed out commercial motorcycles, commonly known as Okada, on Lagos roads. Sanwo-Olu emphasised this during his speech at the unveiling. The governor said that the bus scheme was an important milestone to achieving the intermodal transport system which would give the people the choices they deserved, reducing congestion and journey times, and improving the quality of life. But more importantly, it was also about improving and guaranteeing the security of lives and property of Lagos residents.
With the alarming rate of insecurity in Nigeria, commercial motorcycles were identified as one of the major means of transportations by criminals to perpetrate crimes. For instance, in a recent stakeholders meeting, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police Hakeem Odumosu identified the use of motorcycle to perpetrate crimes in the state and flagrant flouting of traffic rules, thereby resulting in “avoidable accidents with attendant consequences on human life.”
Odumosu added, “An ugly twist to all of these is that anytime there is an accident caused by their reckless actions, they (motorcyclists) often mobilise to traumatise the hapless motorists involved in the accident. They often during this careless act of theirs, mob their victims, create an avenue for their colleagues and other social miscreants alike to unleash terror and theft of valuable items in the vehicle of the victims and other sympathisers around.”
Statistics on the number of deaths recorded in road accidents and crime committed with the use of Okada according to the CP has increased significantly. A total of 280 accidents caused by commercial motorcycles were recorded from January to May this year.
At that meeting, Sanwo-Olu highlighted the various measures the state is taking to reduce the rate of crime. It includes the monitoring of abandoned buildings and properties by commencing the full implementation and enforcement of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of 2019. Under this law, abandoned buildings are prohibited irrespective of their state of development.
In addition, the government announced that it will be demolishing shanties that are deemed as illegal structures. Other measures taken by the state include the implementation of the new law prohibiting unlawful societies and cultism, technology deployment, armed personnel and crime-fighting equipment, and transportation reforms under which motorcyclists fall under.
“We have noted with dismay the fact that Okada riders are disregarding and flouting the restrictions we imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis,” Sanwo-Olu said at the meeting.
He added that the state has observed “a worrying trend in which criminals have found commercial motorcycles a useful and enabling tool with which to perpetrate heinous crimes, with the motorcycles acting as quick getaway vehicles.
“As we all know, no society can make progress amid such haughty display of lawlessness and criminality. Our mission of attaining a Greater Lagos can only be achieved when we all resolved to live in an orderly manner.”
Okadas have always been a big conundrum for different governors of the state since the 2010s. In 2012, the Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola banned Okada in the state from plying over 400 routes. The ban was initially for motorcycles with cylinder capacities below 200cc. This saw most operators buying motorcycles with the required capacity which was nicknamed ‘Fashola Okada’.
His successor Akinwunmi Ambode reportedly considered banning Okada in the state. However, Sanwo-Olu toed a similar line last year when he banned the operations of commercial motorcycles in six Local Government Areas (LGAs), nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), and 10 major highways in the state.
The news of Okada ban has always been greeted with a mix of glee and protests. On one hand are the motorists, who often see motorcyclists as a nuisance in traffic. On the other hand are the masses and the operators who feel disenfranchised by such laws. Chiefly among the complaints is the economic implications. With the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, most people engage in motorcycling business as a source of livelihood. Though, Sanwo-Olu disclosed the FLM buses is an alternative way of keeping the Okada riders in employment. Operators are required to make a 20 per cent down payment to be eligible to come under the Bus Finance Scheme. The repayment period for the Bus Finance Scheme shall be for 36 months and the state has negotiated an interest rate of 10 per cent for the outstanding amount.
For the average commercial motorcyclist who may have purchased his vehicle on loan, the ban will dig more holes in his already lean pocket and may put him in a financial dilemma. How does he offset his debts and raise capital to operate the FLM bus?
While the government may have tackled the problem of having the FLM buses ply routes that are close to one’s destination or origin, which is one of Okada’s advantages, it, however, fails to see the primary use of Okada in some of these areas. A good number of people who patronise Okadas do so to beat traffic in the state, particularly at a time when most Lagos roads are undergoing one construction or the other. For instance, the ongoing road construction at Iyana-Iba and Okoko axis of the Lagos/Badagry Expressway causes long queues of traffic because the alternative routes are already congested and not all are motorable.
Under such circumstances, citizens are forced to take an Okada to their destination to beat traffic or risk spending over three hours for a 30-minute journey.
The government may have reduced the number of time spent in traffic by removing junctions or roundabouts that cause major traffic in the heart of the city, it has, however not achieved the same result in the inner parts of the city.
No doubt, Okada constitute a lot of menace on our roads, be it the haphazard way the riders meander through traffic or the use of it as a means to commit a crime. Perhaps, the FLM buses may be a lasting solution to this. As the governor has noted, it will monitor and assess how the FLM will help in providing communities and residents the much-needed alternative to Okadas before he embarks on a full ban of motorcycles on Lagos roads After all, the goal of the FLM is “for the full implementation of a safer and more efficient alternative means of transportation that takes out the need for Okada, which the FLM buses will be speaking to and this will reduce the incidence of Okada-related robbery or crime that is committed.”
To reduce cash transactions, commuters will make use of the Lagos State cowry card for fares payment. The buses are fitted with a validator to enable card payments. From all indications, the FLM buses are designed to weed out commercial motorcycles, commonly known as Okada, on Lagos roads. The news of Okada ban has always been greeted with a mix of glee and protests. On one hand are the motorists, who often see motorcyclists as a nuisance in traffic. On the other hand are the masses and the operators who feel disenfranchised by such laws. Chiefly among the complaints is the economic implications. With the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, most people engage in motorcycling business as a source of livelihood. Though, Sanwo-Olu disclosed the FLM buses is an alternative way of keeping the Okada riders in employment. Operators are required to make a 20 per cent down payment to be eligible to come under the Bus Finance Scheme. The repayment period for the Bus Finance Scheme shall be for 36 months and the state has negotiated an interest rate of 10 per cent for the outstanding amount. For the average motorcyclist who may have purchased his vehicle on loan, the ban will dig more holes in his already lean pocket and may put him in a financial dilemma. How does he offset his debts and raise capital to operate the FLM bus?