Commercial motorcyclists who cannot do without highways in Lagos metropolis will soon start getting it hot from the enforcers of the state’s traffic law if they do not refrain from the act, EMEKA EJERE, reports
Recently the Lagos State Government in a bid to invigorate the traffic law in the state gave commercial motorcyclists (okada riders) in the state a 21-day ultimatum to leave restricted routes.
The law which aims at minimizing alarming rate of road accidents in the Lagos metropolis was grossly violated during the 2015 electioneering campaigns to the disappointment of many observers. The level of violation raised suspicion that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in its desperation for power may have relaxed the law not minding the debilitating implication to the society.
Immediate past governor of the state, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, had on August 2, 2012 signed the Lagos Road Traffic Bill into law. The law prohibits the operations of commercial motorcyclists on 475 roads in the state. Mr. Fashola, while signing the bill into law, said it was to check the rising cases of accidents, especially the ones caused by the commercial motorcyclists. He also said the law would help to restore order to the roads.
The partial ban which came into effect on November 5, 2012, amid mixed reaction restricted the commercial motorcylists’ operations to the hinterlands where there was less vehicular traffic.
While some saw it as a step in the right direction, others saw it as shutting the means of livelihood of some Nigerians. Those who supported the law argued that it is only when one is alive that he talks about means of livelihood as those who have lost their lives to the recklessness of okada riders would have preferred a total ban if they had a second chance to live.
“Do you know how many people that have gone to their untimely graves today because of okada over-speeding on the highways? Ayodele Adeyemi, a secondary school teacher asked. He continued, “I took out time to visit the accident section of the National Orthopedic Hospoital, Igbobi, and I could not believe what I saw. Anybody who goes there and sees what okada has done to people will begin to advocate a total ban on it.”
But those against the law, on the other hand, argued that life is all about risk as no area of human endeavour is free from risk. For them isolating okada riders in this regard is only an injustice against a group perceived to be weak with little or no knowledge of their right. They also believe that apart from cutting down the income of the okada riders, the law will also bring untold hardship to many Nigerians who cannot afford taxi in areas that buses do not operate.
Mr. Uche Ogbonna, a spare parts dealer at the popular Ladipo Market, Mushin, disagrees with the government. He said government should stop disturbing people who have decided to help themselves to survive. For him government should be held responsible for the many lives lost as a result of okada accidents “because if they had created jobs, the number of people who see okada as a means of livelihood would have been reduced and the competition that causes the recklessness in the business would not have been there.”
However, findings have vindicated the Lagos State Government as the measure has translated into a significant reduction in okada-related accidents.
An annual report by the National Orthopaedic Hospital (NOH), Igbobi, released this year indicates a reduction in the rate of motorcycle accidents in the metropolis. The report was signed by the Chief Records Officer, Mr Samuel Karunwi, and made available to the press in Lagos.
The report shows that in 2013 there were 452 motorcycle accidents involving 273 males and 179 females.It showed that in 2014, there were 291 motorcycle accidents that involved 168 males and 123 females.
“In 2013, 60.4 per cent males and 39.6 females were involved in motorcycle accidents.
“However, in 2014, 57.7 per cent males and 42.3 females were involved in various motorcycle accidents.
“Comparatively, between 2013 and 2014 the rate of motorcycle accidents was reduced by 35.6 per cent on Lagos roads,” the report said.
Mr Sesan Adebara, an official of the Lagos State Accident and Emergency Service, said the reduction was due to the enforcement of the law banning commercial motorcycles from plying the highways.
He noted that the ban, slammed on the commercial motorcycle riders in Lagos was adequately enforced by the various traffic administrators in 2014, pointing out that the law enforcement agencies ensured zero tolerance for violation by riders.
But Lagosians were surprised seeing the level of violation of the law shortly before the 2015 elections, with officials of the various traffic agencies looking the other way.
An official of the the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), who does not want his name in print disclosed that a directive came from the top that they should soft-pedal on the enforcement of the traffic law.
“That is why you see commercial buses use the BRT lane without anybody victimizing them,” he said.
However, the state government last month met with okada unions at the state secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, where the ultimatum was given.
The Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Tunji Bello, who chaired the meeting, said the government decided to give the riders 21-day ultimatum for the unions to sensitise their members to vacate the restricted routes before enforcement would resume.
He said. “We have held a meeting with the okada unions on what should be done. We had a meeting with security agencies before now on the resurgence of okada riders on the highways.
“They said they thought that the government had relaxed the law; there is no relaxation. We have decided to give them three weeks for enlightenment because we are not doing anything new; what we are doing is to re-enforce the law.”
Bello said when the law was introduced in 2012, okada accidents reduced.
He said, “We are not going back to that era again. For three weeks, they will educate their members on the need to leave the road. We need to save members of the public and the only way to do that is to restrict their movement and enforce our traffic law.”
On the semblance of relaxation of the law seen during the last election the SSG explained that it was done so that political parties would not capitalise on the enforcement for cheap political gains.
“We relaxed enforcement during the general elections because we didn’t want crisis and violence. We needed to avoid crisis at that time so that political parties would not capitalise on it. The enforcement will be in full force after three weeks. This is a law already in place and it has to be obeyed,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Oluseyi Coker, said the law restricting okada riders from major roads was still in force as the government had not suspended it.
He said, “We are doing this so that when we start enforcement, they will not say government did not caution them. The violation is much and we want the unions to educate their members.
“The Lagos State Government will do it right. We assure the residents that there will be normalcy on the road.”