It’s been agony all week on roads in Lagos metropolis, as commuters have been trekking to their destinations. No longer available are the once ubiquitous Okada (motorcycles) and Keke (tricycles), no thanks to the state government’s recent ban.
No matter government’s argument on its ban, the action has brought untold hardship to residents who have been facing difficulties. I don’t have any problem with the ban of okada, but my concern is keke. Every morning, I now have to walk long distances before struggling to get a minibus to convey me to my place of work at Ogba,” said 27-year-old Habiba Musa, a resident of Aina Street, Ojodu, Lagos.
Similarly, Mr. Sule Idris who works at the Murtala Muhammed Airport and lives at Akute in Ogun State, said he had been trekking from Agege to Oba Akran to board a bus to Ikeja.
Idris said by the time he gets to work, he would have been not only exhausted as a result of long trekking, but could practically do nothing afterwards.
Since the ban of Okada and Keke, many residents of the Lagos metropolis and some areas on the outskirts of the city affected by the restriction order have been narrating tales of woe, tales of long treks. Transportation comfort appears over for residents used to Okada and Keke, as well as those who used Opay, Gokada and Max.ng.
From Berger to Ogba, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Ikeja GRA, Adeniyi Jones and Ikorodu Road down to Lagos Island, Victoria Island, Obalende, CMS, TBS, Apapa and the outskirts along Lekki/Ajah, Badore and Abraham Adesanya, commuters have been lamenting.
One correspondent observed the situation in Ojodu-Berger, Agidingbi, Ikeja and Ojota areas from Monday till Friday last week and reports that huge crowds populated bus stops, especially at rush hours of morning and evening when workers and traders set out for their offices and businesses or return home.
A banker, Thomas Olawale, who resides at Ojodu, told our correspondent, “I have been waiting here (Ojodu bus stop) for over 40 minutes to board a bus to Agege. Before now, I would have taken an Okada or Keke easily. I had to trek all the way to Ogba (about 200 metres) yesterday to take a bus to Agege. And even then I waited for about 30 minutes to get that bus, I am beginning to feel pains all over my body.”
Until the ban, there were more tricycles than buses plying the Berger-Agidingbi-Ikeja, Berger-Ojodu, Beger-Ogba-Agege axes, so commuters always had enough road vehicles at their beck and call.
On Lagos Island up to the Lekki-Ajah-Badore end, there were also hordes of motorcycles for commuters’ use, but with the ban, these are now all gone.
Worse for commuters, bus drivers are exploiting the opportunity of the moment to hike fares. At peak periods especially, the drivers have been increasing fares astronomically. A bus trip from Oyingbo on Lagos Island to Idumota also on the Island, for example, which was normally N100 in buses, now costs N200.
“These bus drivers are not making it easy for us at all. Where they are supposed to collect N100, they say N200. Where they collected N150, they now tell you N300, we are helpless,” said Miss Aisha who manages a bakery at Ogba.
Tricycles and motorcycles are not cheaper to use than the buses in the few areas they now operate, as they have also doubled fares.
The chairman of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Lagos State branch, Mr Musiliu Akinsanya, under whose control all buses, Kekes and Okadas operate in the state, has promised to act on the increased fares. Till yesterday, however, the situation had remained the same.
Commuters who can afford Uber, Bolt and yellow cabs but had been using more of Okada like Gokada and Opay to save costs, are now compelled to use taxis. The additional spending, for instance, is not less than N500 on a short 100-metre taxi trip from Isaac John road to Ikeja High Court, which attracted only N100 before the ban.
The ban has forced commuters find ways to save transport costs while using cabs. Cab passengers had always enjoyed the luxury of going it alone, preferring to bear the fare all on their own without entering with strangers. But, on many routes now, commuters are combining to minimise costs.
An administrative clerk in a private company in Iru, Mr. Saheed Caleb who lives around the Lagos Business School in Ajah, told our correspondent, “I used to go the Ajah bus stop with Keke and from there I would take a bus to my office. But now, I would order for Bolt and then ask two people to join me in the car. You will always see many people at the bus stop complaining they have been waiting for hours to get a bus.”
Keke and Okada riders had been protesting to express their anger at the ban. On the first working day of the week after the ban took effect, the riders made bonfires at Ijora and even confronted the police violently to express their grievances. Three people were feared dead in the protest.
Deaths, mass arrests
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, said the police had arrested about 60 suspected commercial motorcycle and tricycle operators involved in protests since the commencement of enforcement of the ban.
At least four persons also lost their lives in different other protests by the operators.
The state police command also lost a sergeant and an inspector, even as a secondary school student and another person died on Wednesday during a clash at Iyana Ipaja between Okada riders and the police and officials of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Corps (Taskforce).
More than 260 commercial motorcycles, including those belonging to operators like O’Pay, Max Okada and GoKada and 120 commercial tricycles were impounded by the police.
Mass relocation from Lagos
Many Okada riders have already relocated from the state. Even before the commencement of the ban, several operators packed their motorcycles and tricycles into trailers, and left Lagos. They were believed to be mostly northerners and foreigners.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday two truckloads of motorcycles and their owners were spotted leaving Idi-Araba, a community mainly populated by Hausas.
Government’s palliative measures
Amidst complaints from residents and the operators, the state government has insisted there is no going back on the ban, although Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu promised that palliative measures were being put in place to reduce the hardship arising from it.
The palliatives include the deployment of 65 buses under the Lagos State Bus Service and opening up of new routes. The Managing Director of Lagos Bus Services Limited, Idowu Oguntona, said the buses would be conveying about 35,000 commuters daily, adding that they recorded about 10,000 customers in the early hours of Monday alone.
Oguntona also disclosed that the buses would be plying seven routes across the affected areas, including Oshodi-Ajah, Inner Marina-Ajah, Obalende-Ajah, CMS-Ajah, Ikeja-Ojota, Ikeja-Ogba and Berger-Ojota.
He further revealed government’s plan to procure 550 medium-capacity buses for feeder routes in the state.
Similarly, the governor on Tuesday commissioned eight newly acquired speed boats which will be operated by the Lagos Ferry Services (LAGFERRY).
The event marked the commencement of commercial operations on waterways transportation by LAGFERRY. The governor also launched a mobile application designed to facilitate easy access to water transportation.
LAGFERRY’s operations will cover six routes which include Ikorodu to Falomo; Ikorodu to Ebute Ero and Marina; Ebute Ojo to Ijegun Egba, Apapa and Marina; Bayeku to Oke Ira Nla and Falomo; Mile 2 to Marina, and Badore to Ijede.
Three of the boats deployed for operations by LAGFERRY have the capacity to carry 60 passengers, two were built to carry 50 passengers, while another two have capacity for 40 passengers. Also, three of the boats will carry 30 passengers, four will carry 25 passengers and two will carry 25 passengers.
All the boats are built with comfortable seats, in-built wi-fi and modern technological devices that will aid smooth operations and safety.
Sanwo-Olu said this was part of the government’s efforts to ease the movement of residents following the restriction order.
Nods and kicks
There have arguments in support of the ban, despite the hardships it has brought. A former governor of the state and incumbent Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, maintained that Okada cannot be an acceptable mode of transportation in the state, saying criminals had found is as a good tool for their operations.
Fashola, who was speaking in Lagos at a lecture on ‘Security of Citizens as a Social Contract’ organised by the United Action for Change (UAC), on Thursday, recalled that criminals using a motorcycle, robbed him in his home in 1999.
“As a centre of excellence, motorcycles cannot be our preferred mode of transportation. Motorcycles are a means of peddling drugs to children even under the watch of parents without them knowing,” Fashola said.
A popular musician, Charles Oputa (alias Charly Boy), who was once a leading supporter of Okada riders in Lagos and was widely known as the “Godfather of Okada riders”, has also supported the ban. He said on Instagram: “For this action Lagos State took, I do hope more states in the Southwest will follow suit. For 25 years, I fought for Okada people. For over 25 years, I have personally given away as dash, over 3000 bikes, but the people (okada riders) I dey see now no make sense biko.”
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state doesn’t agree with Fashola, describing the ban as not only “heartless” but also “an attempt to punish the masses.”
The party asked the government to reverse the decision within one week or it would lead a massive protest to force it to have a rethink on it.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) however dismissed the PDP ultimatum as “needless and inconsequential.” The Lagos APC Publicity Secretary, Seye Oladejo, described the PDP’s threat as a “comic relief and the effect of the current harmattan.”
The state’s PDP Publicity Secretary, Taofiq Gani, said Governor Sanwo-Olu, by the ban, showed that he did not have the interest of the masses at heart.
He stressed that the government should have come up with alternative plans to ease movement of the people from one point of the state to another.
Gani does not believe that the opening up of water transportation would solve the problem, noting that not all residents are near the waterways.
The APC commended the Sanwo-Olu government for providing succour with the release of 65 buses and ordering additional 550 buses to ameliorate the situation.
“The recent massive rehabilitation of roads across the state is also an effort in the right direction. We call on all and sundry to go about their lawful duties, ignore needless threats and allow law enforcement agencies to handle sponsored protests if there are any. The good thing is that the sponsors are not faceless,” the party’s publicity secretary said.
A public affairs analyst, Olukayode Salako, said the ban was done in good faith and in line with the greater Lagos initiative of the government to secure the state against the “Okada and Keke menace.”
He said, “How do you regulate the operations of people who refuse to be regulated by the state, and how do you enforce the law on the orientation of people who do not want to have anything to do with the obedience of the law?
“The government, I am sure, wouldn’t have taken this measure if it had been easy to regulate the menace, and if it had not been difficult to make them operate in line with the stipulations of the articles of the laws of the state.
“The more they (okada riders) troop into the Lagos environment every hour from different parts of West Africa with their fully loaded trailers of Okada and Keke like the invasion of locusts on a beautiful farm land, the more it becomes very, very difficult for the state government to curtail the nefarious activities of many of them, and the more it becomes difficult to regulate their crude, daring and lawless operations, and the more dangerous, scary and frustrating it is for the rest of us.”