Sanwo-Olu should strongly enforce Lagos traffic law

THE re-imposition of a sweeping ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles, or okada, in six local government areas, demonstrates the amateurish approach of the Lagos State Government to governance and the enforcement of laws. Last week, in response to the brutal murder and immolation of a resident by okada operators, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for the umpteenth time, forbade commercial motorcycles from plying all roads and bridges in Ikeja, Surulere, Eti-Osa, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island and Apapa LGAs.

Far from being commendable, it is an indictment of the state government. The Lagos State Traffic Law, first enacted in 2012 and amended twice since then, had banned the operations of okada from an initial 475 roads in the state. The law also prohibited okada from all bridges in the state.  Sanwo-Olu’s ban therefore only drew attention to his and his predecessor’s failure to sustain the rigorous enforcement of the law. Going forward, the governor, the Lagos State Police Command and other agencies concerned with traffic and highway management should ensure permanent, continuous enforcement.

The trigger for the ban was the mob attack on a sound engineer, Sunday-David Umoh, on Admiralty Way, Lekki. The father of two was beaten to death and set ablaze over a N100 change argument. Under the law, okada had no business on that major highway in the first place.

The bedlam on Lagos roads, exacerbated by cyclists, minibus and tricycle operators, is costing the state dearly. Apart from the economic losses and the toll on businesses, it has had negative impact on health, the environment and social activities. Okada riders engage in criminality, violence, mob action and frequent riots and killings. A joint study by Danne Institute for Research, a non-profit, and a consultancy, Financial Derivatives, in 2020, estimated total annual economic costs to Lagos due to traffic congestion at N3.83 trillion with micro, small and medium-sized businesses worse hit.

The cyclists’ atrocities are myriad and rising. They break all known traffic rules; and are quick to resort to violence on passengers, other motorists and even security agencies at the slightest provocation. Yet, the government’s response is to talk tough after every murderous outrage, warn and ‘ban.’ It enforces only in fits and starts and largely thereafter ignores the lawlessness until a new outrage and public outcry.

There must be a radical switch before Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial and financial nerve centre, is laid low. Its economy estimated by the state government at $157 billion, hosts 65 per cent of industrial output, over 50 per cent of formal employment and 65 percent of maritime trade. Security agencies admit the influx of illiterate, rowdy persons from other parts of the country and from strife-torn West African countries flooding to Lagos and taking to okada riding.

Sanwo-Olu should get serious with governance and protect the state’s 23 million people. His repeated bans on okada have failed. On January 27, 2020, he had placed a ban on them in the same six LGAs. But without sustained enforcement, the population of vagrant, uneducated, violent okada riders has swelled.

Okada is an aberration in a modern metropolis and should be phased out. The traffic law prohibited commercial motorcycles from 475 roads out of the 9,100 roads in the state and restricted their movement to 10pm. Well enforced between 2013 and 2015, it restored some sanity to the roads; riders wore crash helmets, carried one passenger and stopped taking children and pregnant women in compliance with the law.

However, though it funded the traffic agency and upgraded its emergency response services, the government relaxed enforcement; the police compromised. This singular misjudgement rolled back the gains of the previous years.

Okada operators have become a threat, infiltrated by robbers and given to mob justice. Umoh, a father of two, was just the latest. In November 2021, riders gruesomely murdered a Chief Superintendent of Police, Kazeem Abonde, in Ajao Estate, Isolo. Abonde, with just six months to retirement, was crushed with stones and cudgels. Miscreants, made up mostly of okada riders, in December 2016 also battered the Apapa Zonal Head of LASTMA, Surajudeen Bakare, to death. These fatal attacks happened on roads where okada operations are outlawed.

The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, said 1,500 accidents involving tricycles and motorcycles were reported across the state from 2015 to 2019, with 689 dead and over 250 injured. Between January and December 2019, there were 168 reported okada accidents involving 226 victims with 201 persons dead. After a ban in January 2020, the accident rates dropped. Between February 1 and 20, 2020, only one recorded okada crash was recorded compared to 19 the previous month before the ban. But after enforcement lapsed, Omotosho said within the first four months of 2022, 1,712 accidents were recorded and 767 or 44.8 per cent involved motorcycles.

Many of these riders are unskilled foreigners exploiting Nigeria’s porous borders. Others are regularly shipped in from bandit- and terror-afflicted and crime-infested states where their operations were banned due to their significant contribution to insecurity. Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Edo, Katsina states have either restricted or altogether banned okada operations.

Lagos’ indulgence of okada is dangerous. The police said out of 30 recorded armed robbery attacks between July and September 2016 in the state, 22 involved the use of okada. Also, 30 robbery cases involving motorcycles were reported in 2019.

The government should break off its compromising, unholy alliance with violent transport unions. The boast by some ethnic leaders of having 2.7 million voters in Lagos should not sway Sanwo-Olu. The police and other relevant agencies must constantly enforce the law.

Lagos should quickly implement its inter-modal transportation master plan featuring BRT, rail, road and water. Okada must be phased out. Megacities elsewhere are better run. Tokyo, with a population of 37.27 million, is served by high speed, monorail, subway and has 136 individual rail lines. Delhi (population 32.06 million), has diverse bus systems, including BRT, rail and metro lines.

Lagos should strictly enforce its laws and bring Umoh’s killers to justice.

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