After two months of intensive sensitization on the new Road Traffic Law, the Lagos State Police Command has finally commenced the enforcement of the law in Lagos, southwest Nigeria. Governor Babatunde Fashola signed the Road Traffic Bill into law on 2 August, 2012. The major highlight of the traffic law is the ban on commercial motorcyclists (okada riders) from plying 475 strategic roads in the Lagos metropolis, especially the highways and bridges.
The state government delayed the enforcement of the law to fully sensitise the public on the new law. Several stakeholders’ meetings were held with okada riders, police officers, community leaders, local government officials and Neighbourhood Watch officers, among others on the need to be fully aware of the existence of the new traffic law, which stipulated various penalties for offenders.

Since the signing of the law, okada riders were told to stop plying the prohibited roads, all to no avail. The government said it wanted to see a situation where the riders would voluntarily vacate the prohibited roads but the riders have been recalcitrant and dared the government to do its worst. Some okada unions even went to court to challenge the decision of the government to restrict them from plying the prohibited routes. In about five cases, okada riders have protested vehemently against the traffic law which banned them from doing businesses on certain routes. Last week, thousands of okada riders in Lagos State protested vehemently against the Lagos State Road Traffic law which banned them from plying 475 strategic roads in the metropolis. The okada riders carried placards and sang anti-government songs. The large number of the protesters led to a traffic gridlock on Obafemi Awolowo Way as they marched to the State House, Ikeja to express their grievances. Some of the placards read: The wicked shall not go unpunished by Allah’s grace,

Now, Opeifa don become anti-human rights activist, United Okada Riders Stakeholders of Lagos State, in conjuction with Civil Society and Human Rights Group say no to banning of okada in 475 roads in Lagos, among others. The protest was organised by the United Okada Riders Stakeholders’ Forum, in conjunction with the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR; Path of Peace Initiative, PPI and the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisations of Nigeria, FIWON. The protest took off from under the flyover, Ikeja, through Obafemi Awolowo Way to the Government Secretariat. Comrade Olukayode Amadi, Branch Chairman, Okada Association, Ikeja told P.M.NEWS that the okada riders were united in resisting the ba. “With this ban on major roads leading into the various councils, they are banning okada riders from working in Lagos. We are not against the new traffic law, but we are protesting against the ban on 475 roads in the Lagos metropolis,” he said.

Comrade Dandy Eze, National President, PPI said that it was unfair for the government to ban okada from plying 475 roads, saying this amounted to halting okada business in Lagos as millions of Lagosians would be deprived of a means of transportation. The protesters, under the aegis of United Okada Riders Stakeholders’ Forum, UOSTF, in a protest letter to Governor Babatunde Fashola demanded a review of the ban on 475 roads to save jobs and livelihood. According to the okada riders, they were shocked and embarrassed at some aspects of the new law that seemed to be designed to get rid of okada, saying that the ban on okada operators from carrying certain categories of commuters such as pregnant women and under-aged children and the requirement to make use of crash helmets as well as the ban of operations on highways and expressways are all measures “we believe are designed to ensure safety on Lagos roads.”

 The okada riders said there were some routes listed in the new law, such as Alimosho, Badagry, Epe, Ikeja, Ogba, Ikorodu, Mushin, Lagos Mainland, Victoria Island and other parts of Lagos State where commuters had no means of affordable transportation other than okada. “Banning okada operations on these routes will not only inflict serious hardship on members of the public but also send scores of thousands of okada operators into the already choked labour market. “Our demand remains the immediate delisting of the 475 inner routes from the law. We want all harassment and arrest of okada riders and impoundment of their motorcycles to cease forthwith. Okada riders are no criminals. Don’t take our jobs away. While we enjoin all okada riders to remain law-abiding and vigilant about criminal elements among us, we affirm that we have a right to defend the only means of livelihood available to us. We call on the Lagos State Government to urgently review downwards the number of routes from which we have been banned,” they stated.

 Despite the protest, the government remained adamant and vowed to curb the excesses of okada riders. The decision to take drastic action on okada riders stemmed from the fact that there had been several robbery cases involving the use of motorcycles across the metropolis, as well as recklessness of the riders and the brazen violation of traffic rules, among others. To show its readiness to enforce the law, the state government a month ago began the re-training of 7,960 enforcement officers. The officers include the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI and Neighbourhood Watch. Senior Special Assistant on Transport Education, Dr. Miriam Masha, whose office is in charge of the training said the state government had never stopped training its staff.  “We train our staff often. And the aim is to improve the knowledge and skills of the officials in order to meet global standards in terms of service delivery in the state.

 Masha stated that as a law enforcement officer, one was not expected to apply unnecessary force while apprehending someone who had violated the law of the state, adding that these were things that each of the officers under the state government must know. Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa said government was not ready to bend the new law to suit okada riders, warning that if they did not comply, the full wrath of the law would descend on them. To demonstrate its readiness to enforce the law, the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit last week dismantled over 3,000 okada riders impounded since the commencement of the traffic law, while they would be crushed at the Lagos State Crushing Plants in Oshodi. Chairman, Taskforce, Bayo Sulaiman said the seized okada would soon be taken to Oshodi for crushing to serve as deterrent to other okada riders who might want to violate the new traffic law. “We have started dismantling them. Okada riders must obey our traffic law. They are fond of driving against traffic, on kerbs and several unauthorised places. The law has been passed and gazetted and there is no going back on enforcement. “This is to inform the operators that the law has started and there is no going back. We are going to crush the ones crushable in Oshodi and those that we cannot crush, we will auction them. Over 3,000 okada will be crushed for violating the traffic law. We will not tolerate violating our laws anymore,” he said. Sulaiman said the government was determined to go all out to ensure that motorcycle operators complied with the dictates of the law. “The Taskforce has commenced gradual enforcement; we have not even enforced it fully. But this should serve as a warning to them because we won’t hesitate to impound any okada,” he said.

On Tuesday, the police in Lagos began full enforcement of the traffic law by swooping on okada riders in different areas of the state on the orders of the Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko. In Ogba, Agege and other neighbouring areas, the police at Area ‘G’, swooped on okada riders and arrested hundreds of them. The operation was led by the Area ‘G’ Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Mr. Abdulahi Ishola. Hundreds of okada riders were arrested around Ogba, Pen Cinema and Iju areas of the state. Their motorcycles were impounded and taken to the police station. The seized motorcycles were seen parked at the premises while the riders gathered at the entrance of the gate, discussing their plight. Some of the okada riders explained that their only means of livelihood had been taken away from them.

Mr. Anthony Eze, who operates okada at Pen Cinema, said he has four kids, and others who depend on his income from okada business. “I have four kids, two boys and two girls. Where will I get money to take care of my family and send my children to school? How do I raise money to start a business?” he lamented. The same mass impoundment of okada played out itself in areas such as Ikeja, Dopemu and several others. Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Lagos Police Command, Ngozi Braide said the police were fully ready to dislodge okada riders from the routes they are banned from plying across Lagos. “We have begun full scale clampdown on okada riders plying the prohibited routes. This is in compliance with the new road traffic law passed by the state government. You can see what is going on and we are arresting them,” she said. Braide said the police authority was ever determined to ensure that okada riders stopped plying the prohibited routes, saying that the whole content of the traffic law would be enforced to the letter. “They have to leave the roads that they are prohibited from plying. We are fully ready and out for action,” she said, warning okada riders to stay away from the prohibited routes as the police would sustain the raid on them.

However, Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu described the massive clampdown on okada riders as illegal, especially when there is a pending case in the court. “This clampdown is illegal because there is a case in court which has been adjourned to 24th of this month,” he stated. Aturu stated that the current action by the police revealed an act of lawlessness and callousness meted out to hapless Nigerians by the police. “My worry is that they should not turn these okada riders into armed robbers by depriving them of their means of sustenance. The police should desist from arresting okada riders. Their action shows disrespect to the court. Whoever is sending them should desist from such act. The Lagos State government claims to respect the rule of law. I want to believe the action of the police will embarrass the government,” he stated.

In the coming days, the raid on okada riders is expected to intensify as LASTMA officers, KAI, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and Neighbourhood Watchers will join the clampdown on okada riders across the prohibited roads in the metropolis. This may signal the end of okada business in Lagos State. Story by: Kazeem Ugbodaga Source: Pm news Nigeria

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