Sept 14, 2012 – New Lagos Traffic Law And Its Numerous Headaches
Yes, Governor Babatunde Fashola has gone ahead to sign the Lagos State Road Traffic Law which was recently passed by the State House of Assembly. He has also commenced consultations with stakeholders to ensure that the law would work in the state which is reckoned the most populated in the country and the nerve centre of the nation’s economy.
However, while some Lagosians, especially car owners, would argue that the law is one of the best things that have happened to the State under the administration of Governor Fashola, several others see it as dictatorial and the latter seem to surpass the former.
A major section of residents of the State who are directly opposed to the law and have been having sleepless nights over its implementation are the commercial motorcyclists or, if you like, okada riders, who think they are majorly the target of the law. Patrons of these okada riders within the state do not also find the law progressive. They say it is part of the insensitivity of the leadership of the state, and by extension the country, to the plight of the downtrodden in the society.
“We are in a country where the government is just a set of people whose main aim is the pilfering of the nation’s resources at the expense of good governance,” Toyin Adeyemi, a resident of Oshodi in the state, lamented.
Samson Ike, an okada rider who spoke with P.M.NEWS under the bridge in Ikeja, the capital of the state, lamented that the last option for the average poor man in the state is suicide.
“Lagos is seen as a place where any hardworking person can make it in life. I came from Enugu State when the going became tough and I had no other choice. I got here and things became rosy, at least to the extent that I could feed and clothe myself and even have something to send to my aged mother in the village. Then this law,” he added, stressing that many of the riders are graduates who resorted to doing what he called the tough job just because of the failure of the government.
Out of the 18 okada riders spoken with in parts of the state, 10 were discovered to be graduates from various higher institutions in the country. Most of them made their certificates available for confirmation. The others were either businessmen who went into the transport business because they were hit by hard times or those with vocations and became okada riders as a result of the challenges they are very willing to share.
Shina Shoremekun, a graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, said he never thought life could turn him into a commercial motorcycle rider. The 2009 graduate of Economics with Second Class Honours (Upper Division) who completed his National Youth Service Corps in Cross River State on 5 July, 2011, said he had always fantasised about living a good life devoid of financial challenges when he became a graduate and got a good job.
“As a result of this belief in my future, I ensured that I worked hard in school,” but you can see the direction life has thrown me, not because I am not brilliant, but because I cannot find a job which also stems from the fact that I don’t know any influential person in the society, or that I am not a woman that would give what she has to get what wants.”
Shoremekun, a father of two, who pleaded with Governor Fashola to reconsider his stand on the activities of okada riders said most of them had no other choice. According to him, the government has not been of help to the plight of the suffering masses, so, many of the citizens have decided to help themselves in one way or the other.
“Banning okada riders in major parts of the state is like asking us to fast endlessly till death visits and this is not possible,” Shoremekun, who plies the Toll Gate-Oshodi area of Lagos emphasised. “It is not like I have not tried to work.”
He explained that he took up a job with an insurance firm in the state, but had to leave when he was not paid after three months. He added that he started searching for jobs to no avail until his childhood friend introduced him to okada riding business. Ever since, life had been good to him until his recent headache from thinking always about the impact of the law on his life and those of his family.
“What does the government want us to do at this stage? We cannot steal and do not have other options, but to ensure that we earn a living. So the government must think twice. I want to use this avenue to appeal to our Governor that if he cannot amend the law to accommodate us, he should forget the law,” he appealed, adding that if there were other things the government wanted them to do, they are ready to do them, “because this is the only means through which we keep body and soul together and also feed our families.”
Jimmy Okechukwu’s case is even worse. He dropped out of secondary school in Aba, Abia State after his father, the breadwinner of the family, died leaving him his two younger sisters and their mother. They had spent all that the man laboured for while seeking a solution to the man’s health problems, but this was in vain. Life became unbearable to the extent that his mother would go begging, just to feed the family.
“You can imagine such a situation,” he narrated. “It got to a stage that I would go to the market with my younger sisters in the evening when business activities are winding up and pick seeds of beans and grains of rice that poured on the ground while people were buying. These are what we fed on including what my mother could get from begging. There was no uncle to support us simply because there was no property for them to share when my father died. I was just nine then.
“The day I made up my mind to commit suicide after years of endless struggling was the day help came. A driver, who had been watching me for long and sometimes gave me money, sought to hand me over to his friend in Lagos and my mother agreed.”
He said he lived with the man who was a businessman in Oshodi. After three years, the man set him up and got him a shop in the same Oshodi where he sold clothes.
“I was doing very well to the extent that I trained my younger ones and built a three-bedroom apartment for my mum in the village. Then suddenly, Fashola’s bulldozers came to the market and demolished it. It became very difficult getting a shop, so I decided to begin the okada business, which is currently giving me satisfaction and sometimes giving me enough money daily than I made when I sold clothes. This new ban is the government’s way of reminding us of our barren past and asking us to go back to those pasts where we belong.”
Confirming that an average okada rider made up to N10,000 daily when there are customers, he warned the government to be mindful of the fact that not all okada riders would take the law in good stead.
“Even if you say there’s adequate security, before a robber is caught, he must have robbed or stolen for quite some time and must have made up his mind to face the risk since he knows he has nothing to lose except his life. So the government must be careful in the way it handles issues like this,” he warned.
Sanni Adewole, said he was working as a carpenter in Mushin until the demolition of his shop by the Governor Fashola-led administration. He sold some of his tools and the products he had on ground to buy a motorcycle which has been fetching him some money. To him, therefore, “this law must not work oh! If they implement it 100 per cent, then we would find options that are effective for us 100 per cent.
“You can’t be chasing me away from existing when you are living on our sweat. During campaigns, they use our lives, when they want to show their hypocrisy, they give us helmets and ask the press to publish it, yet they go behind and attempt to strangulate us.
“Do they tell them we are even happy doing okada business? Let Fashola give us jobs and see if we won’t cherish the jobs. This job is very tough. If you were light skinned before, it turns you to a very black and dirty person. You are there in the rain, you are there in the heavy heat of the sun and they are there in their air-conditioned rooms thinking of the next level of punishment. They should avoid pushing us to the wall oh!” he warned.
Most okada riders in the state all have tales, most of which are not too palatable and which summarises the failure of the government in a society with able-bodied men and women whose force could make the country compete favourably with some western countries.
John Adewunmi, who operates around Mile 2 says he has never benefitted from the government.
“Are okada riders the reason for the poor electricity supply in the country? Are they the reason nothing is working? See, this man is just taking a revenge on us for going to court and trashing him last time. Nothing more! Even though I know that some parts of the law are good, the restriction on us is too much,” he said.
According to him, the government had other neck-breaking challenges that it should focus on. What is the true population of the state or even the country? Does government have your data? Does it even care whether you exist or not? Does the death of any of us affect those in government?
“The only thing they care about is ‘pay your tax’ and thereafter, you can die if you like,” he added.
When confronted with the government’s argument that many robbers use motorcycles to perpetrate crimes, the okada riders pointed at the police in the state as the ones aiding criminal activities.
They said motorcycles owners had been mandated to get them registered, but that where the police officers arrest any rider whose motorcycle is not registered, they collect some money and allow him to go.
“A motorcycle rider who knows he can part comfortably with N1,000 when arrested, would continue like that,” Soremekun said.
He also denied that they do not obey traffic rules and were reckless; according to him, they rode like that to avoid being arrested by the police.
He said policemen in the state were fond of arresting okada riders any time they needed money for personal use. He added that the police at Kola, Iyana-Ipaja and Abule-Egba bus stops have become notorious in this regard. They would even sometimes stay at the middle of the road waiting to catch okada riders.
“Sometimes, they would pretend like they want to cross the road and once you stop for them to cross, they arrest you and the next thing you hear is: ‘to bail your okada, go and bring N5,000′, even when you don’t know your offence.
“Sometimes again, these policemen who are always in mufti would stand with commuters and stop you as if they want you to carry them. Once you stop, you are on your own.
“If you think I am telling you lies, just go to one of these bus stops in the evening. If you mistakenly leave your okada with them till the next day, that okada is gone forever. The worst is that their DPOs would say they did not send them,” he said pointing at his colleagues who had lost two motorcycles to men of the police at Abule-Egba previously.
Chidi Ogor, a resident of Agege, said this is true. “There’s this policeman who owed me N5,000 and was dodging me. The day I met him at Pen Cinema area of Lagos, I told him he would not leave until he paid the money.
“To avoid embarrassment, he asked me to wait. He just began arresting okada riders and collecting money. Within 45 minutes, the money was complete. I collected the money, even though I knew it was cursed, but I prayed over it, returning all the curses to the policeman,” he said.
The okada riders also gave instances when they have assisted the police in combating crime adding that those who perpetrate the acts were never commercial motorcycle riders.
“This law was not well thought out,” says Toyin Ajayi, an estate surveyor in the state. “The government brags with the population of the state; whenever they speak, you hear them talk about ‘the over 18 million Lagosians,’ yet they have forgotten that over 70 per cent of these people do not have cars and cannot move freely, especially in a state where everyone is in a rush to meet a deadline.
“If you say commercial motorcyclists should not ply the entire Victoria Island for instance, it means you are asking many of the Chief Executive Officers of various organisations scattered in the place to begin to sack their staff because they would definitely get late to work. (by EROMOSELE EBHOMELE)