Activities of commercial motorcyclists popularly known as okada riders have increasingly become a threat to Lagosians and security of Lagos, leaving the government with a daunting task of restoring sanity to the state, Afeez Hanafi writes
Known for its ever-bustling economic activities, Lagos was the first and only point of destination that readily came to Ibrahim Abdullahi’s mind when he thought of leaving his hometown in Nasarawa State in search of pastures new.
He arrived at the Centre of Excellence six months ago in the embrace of his kinsmen based in Ojodu-Berger, the gateway to Lagos metropolis.
A week into his arrival, 17-year-old Abdullahi got to work without further delay. Motorcycling is his preferred job and in a matter of days of trial and error, he became a full-time commercial motorcyclist (well known as okada rider), plying roads within Ojodu-Berger and neighbouring Ogun communities.
“I learnt riding in three days,” Abdullahi said briskly in crude Pidgin English during a conversation at an okada park on Kosoko Street, Ojodu.
“I didn’t know how to ride before I came to Lagos but I was determined to learn it. I fell down twice and had scratches,” he disclosed, pointing at some scars on his hands and right leg. “Now, I have mastered it,” the teenager boasted, beaming with smiles.
Like Abdullahi, Musa Usman shuttles Ogba-Ikeja corridors every day having learnt the skill within two days. Within one week into the job, the 21-year-old native of Yobe State prided himself on being ‘an expert,’ navigating bends and manoeuvring heavy traffic with passengers.
“It was not up to two weeks before I knew how to ride well. This is my third year in Lagos and I have never had any major accident,” Usman stated, beating his chest in self-confidence. “It was on a few occasions I had minor accidents while I was trying to escape police arrest.”
Thirty-six-year-old Tajudeen Boade learnt tailoring but quit the job for okada riding in 2016. He told our correspondent that low patronage amid increasing responsibilities made him take the decision. Plying Iju Ishaga, Lagos to Pen Cinema, Boade noted that his daily profit comes in handy in meeting up with his marital and personal needs.
The father of two said, “The risk involved is enormous and some passengers usually caution us to be careful as we meander through vehicles. I try my best to be careful but the fear of cops who arrest motorcycle riders for driving against traffic is enough for me to have quit the job. I have no choice. I have been involved in accident twice but on those occasions, my passengers were unhurt.’’
He added that he would return to his trade once he got enough money to rent a shop and buy at least two sewing machines.
Another commercial motorcycle rider identified only as Chidozie also plies the Iju Water Works road. He told us that he came to Lagos from Enugu in 2017, worked at a beverage factory in the Ikeja area of the state and embraced commercial motorcycle riding after he lost his job together with other casual workers disengaged by the company in 2018.
He stated, “I sustained injuries last year when I took a passenger to Ogba. A commercial bus driver swerved to our side of the road and knocked us off the road. The passenger was also wounded. I know that the danger associated with okada riding is huge but we have no choice for now. I plan to stop it once I complete training in electrical installations.’’
Weird as the okada riders’ accounts appear, hundreds of reckless riders who hurriedly learnt the okada riding dominate Lagos highways. On a daily basis, they create chaos on the roads and endanger the lives of commuters, causing fatal crashes and injuries – such as the one Bamidele Adeniyi, an Information Technology consultant, suffered recently.
Adeniyi had taken a bike from his residence on Odosi Street around 8 am on Monday, April 19, to Berger where he would board a BRT bus en route to Lagos Island.
Few minutes into the journey, a quirk of fate overtook Adeniyi’s well-planned day. And by the time the dust settled on a crash involving the motorcycle he took and an oncoming, reckless biker, he was down with a compound fracture to his right leg.
“It was as if death had come,” the 32-year-old IT expert said of the moment the accident occurred. He added, “The rider that caused the accident was coming from Berger. He was speeding and attempted to overtake a vehicle. In the process, he veered off his lane and hit the motorcycle carrying me.”
Painfully, Adeniyi bore the full brunt of the crash as neither of the two riders sustained injuries.
“The pain is too much. I can’t sleep at night. Worse still, neither of them (riders) paid any money for the treatment,” he said during a visit to the hospital where he is receiving treatment.
“Over 70 per cent of the patients here had okada-related accidents,” an orthopaedist in the facility disclosed to our correspondent, lamenting increasing cases of motorcycle accidents in the state.
Aside from risking life and limb on highways, motorcycling has turned into a criminal means of carrying out traffic robberies and other heinous acts in Lagos.
The state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, confirmed this worrisome trend on Monday at a stakeholders’ meeting when he said 65 traffic robbers were arrested in the last four weeks.
Lagos amid rising national insecurity
From incessant banditry and Boko Haram attacks in the North to recurring kidnappings and onslaught on security agencies’ formations in the South, Nigeria has been on the edge of the precipice in recent times with innocent citizens being killed and maimed almost every day.
As these crises persist, Lagos receives a huge influx of migrants, including those from neighbouring Niger Republic, with many of them engaging in commercial motorcycling and other menial jobs. Most of such migrants are without permanent shelters; they pass the nights in shanties, open spaces or in uncompleted buildings serving as hideouts for hoodlums.
In this regard, many residents have expressed worry over what they described as the growing crime rate in Lagos.
In a Twitter post on May 9, one Oluyomi Ojo recounted how a miscreant robbed his friend at gunpoint on Ikeja Bridge and bragged about the act.
He wrote, “The guy that robbed my friend at gunpoint on Ikeja Bridge told him, ‘You see, if I shoot you here, nothing is going to happen. The people in the cars behind and in front of you will leave their cars and run, give me what I want.’”
Ojo added that the robber after collecting money from his friend, said, “God bless you” and walked away.
Reacting to the post, one Debo Thomas narrated how he was robbed while driving along Toyin Street, Ikeja, around 8 pm on Tuesday, May 4.
He stated, “This guy tapped my window calmly, saying ‘give me something to eat’ but my instinct told me he’s a robber. I slightly lowered my window just enough to slide him an N1,000 note I had in my pocket. He collected and then said ‘bring everything make I no wicked you.’
“At that point, I knew I was in for some shit. He wanted to use his finger to force down my slightly opened window. I was scared and telling him that’s all I had at the same time thinking of how to escape him.”
Also, a Lagosian, @Duke of Ugbowo, lamented that he was robbed in traffic around Jubilee Bridge, Ajah, recently with one of the attackers pointing a gun from the passenger side, “while the other was at the driver side ‘obtaining’ me.”
“The insecurity everywhere in Lagos is mind-blowing,” he added.
A motorist with the identity, PeterKin, @Pitcherkin, told of his encounter with a traffic robber in Oshodi and how he narrowly escaped.
“One tapped my glass on Oshodi-Oke last week. I was driving beside the median. As I wanted to bring out money from my wallet, he flashed his torchlight to see how much I was going to give him. At that point, I knew I was dealing with a robber. Thankfully he accepted the N500 I offered him,” PeterKin wrote.
Another victim, AdbulLateeph Odukoya, said some robbers broke into his car’s window and reached for a backpack containing his laptop and other valuables.
“They then requested my phone, all at machete-point. Horrific experience!” he bemoaned. One Kay Z gave an account of a yellow commercial bus popularly known as Danfo whose occupants were robbed at 6.20 am last Sunday around “Orile/Odunade via Coker under bridge along Mile 2.”
“Nobody dared (go) near the scene to rescue the passengers. Last month, someone was shot in the head for refusing to part with his money,” he recounted.
“Ile Zik/Ajayi farm inward Ikeja along is another zone,” a commuter, Kehinde Ogundele, disclosed. “Various cars were robbed in my presence around 5.20 am on Wednesday (May 5). The guy behind me hit my car twice in a bid to escape robbery. @followlasg, @PoliceNG need to do more on security. It is becoming something else.”
Last week, a video of vehicles abandoned in broad daylight on the road in Mile 12 while the occupants fled from the robbery scene went viral. The video clip captured car glasses already shattered.
“Mile 12 don gas (Mile 12 in turmoil). Una day see people dey run; everybody dey run. Na inside BRT I just dey come down dey run like this,” one commuter making a video of the incident exclaimed as he ran to safety.
Apart from traffic robberies, some residents claimed that kidnapping is gradually festering in the state.
A businesswoman, who identified herself simply as Omolara, tweeted that her sister’s daughter was kidnapped on Lagos Island on Saturday, May 1.
When contacted by our correspondent, she said the victim had regained freedom but declined to give further details.
A disk jockey, Paul Raymond, said that his brother-in-law was kidnapped early April after entering ‘a one-chance bus’ from Ikorodu Garage en route to Adeniji-Adele.
Raymond said, “He left home around 5 am and was going to Adeniji on Lagos Island. He boarded a bus from Ikorodu Garage. The normal fare was N700 per passenger but the bus driver charged N200. He saw it as an opportunity and jumped at it.
“Along the line, he and other passengers were kidnapped. They beat him up and cleared about N2m from his account. He is a businessman. He sells clothes on the Island and runs Uber. He was hospitalised for four weeks.”
Raymond said the victim would not want to speak on the incident when our correspondent requested an interview with him.
One Olaniyi, @Naiyoopumpey, raised the alarm in a May 8 tweet that there were incidents of kidnapping in Lagos but families of the victims were handling the cases discreetly.
“Guys, they are really kidnapping people in this Lagos o and we are not hearing about it. The families are paying ransom without a noise,” he wrote.
“True, the classmate of a friend’s younger brother was also kidnapped. I hope they get all the people involved!” Badejo Olaoluwa commented on the tweet.
Fighting okada menace, robberies, banditry
Justifying restriction of motorcycles and tricycles on 475 roads (including highways and bridges across the state), the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, in January 2020 claimed that over 1,500 accidents involving tricycles and motorcycles were reported from 2015 to 2019 with 689 victims dead and over 250 injured across the state.
One month into the enforcement, Omotoso said there had been a massive drop in the rate of fatal accidents involving commercial motorcycles quoting data from the state police command.
“The data confirmed that okada accidents reduced from 19 in January 2020 before the restriction order to one between February 1 and 20,” he had said.
However, in the aftermath of #EndSARS violence in October 2020, there has been a massive resurgence of motorcycle and tricycle riders on the restricted routes culminating in deadly riots on some occasions.
On April 26, six persons were reportedly killed in a clash between okada riders and Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria members in the Iyana Iba area of Lagos State over ticketing.
Last Thursday, a rider simply named Ameen, was reportedly shot in the thigh by a policeman from the Pen Cinema division who wanted to impound the victim’s bike in the Ogba area of the state around 10 pm. While protesting the shooting, policemen reportedly shot two other riders and one of them – identified as Ibrahim – allegedly died of gun wounds.
The following day, commercial activities were temporarily paralysed as aggrieved riders stormed Area G Command in protest.
Worried by the security situation in the state, a stakeholders’ meeting comprising security heads, members of the state executive council, local government chairmen, traditional rulers and community development associations, was convened in Alausa on Monday by the state government.
Also, Odumosu raised the alarm over rising security breaches caused by the menace of okada operations in the state. He said between January and early May, 320 commercial motorcycles were arrested in 218 cases of criminal incidents where 78 suspects were detained and 480 pieces of ammunition recovered.
In the same period, the CP claimed that okada accounted for 83 per cent of 385 cases of avoidable fatal auto accidents in Lagos.
He said, “The menace of okada operators does not end with avoidable accidents. Crime reports from the field have shown that a greater percentage of crimes, ranging from armed robbery, cultism, kidnapping, murder, burglary and stealing, traffic robbery to carjacking and cash snatching from bank customers, are attributable to armed hoodlums who operate on okada.
“The nuisance constituted by the okada operators on Lagos roads has become a danger to law-abiding citizens. It has become imperative for the government to take more drastic measures against their notoriety.”
Similarly, Odumosu noted that the command was investigating the separatist group, Oodua Republic, and the threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra to attack soft targets in Lagos, adding that strategies were being put in place to neutralise their activities.
In his remarks, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said ‘First and Last Mile Buses’ would be unveiled next week to phase out motorcycles, urging okada riders to explore opportunities in agriculture, wealth creation and other government programmes.’’
The governor in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, said the government had noted with dismay, riders flouting restrictions imposed on their activities in certain areas of the metropolis.
He said, “We have also observed with dismay, the ongoing violent confrontation by commercial motorcyclists against our law enforcement agencies. Based on all that we have seen and experienced in the past couple of weeks, as well as the increasing threat posed by the activities of commercial motorcycle operators to the safety and security of lives, we will be announcing further changes to the parameters of motorcycle and tricycle operations in the state in the coming days. No society can make progress amid such haughty display of lawlessness and criminality.”
Sanwo-Olu also disclosed that his administration would fully implement the state’s Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of 2019 as amended to enable the government to take over and demolish abandoned buildings and construction sites turned into havens for hoodlums and miscreants.
He added, “The state government will be recruiting more personnel into the Lagos State Neighbourhood Corps to boost intelligence gathering at the community level. Lagos must continue to enjoy an atmosphere of peace, safety and all-encompassing security.”
Similarly, the University of Lagos last week said that it would no longer grant access to heavily-tinted vehicles on the campus.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Academics, Prof. Oluwole Familoni, said last Friday that the decision was informed by rising security challenges.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Familoni spoke at a press conference to announce UNILAG’s resumption for the second semester of the 2019/2020 academic session.
He said, “We are aware of the disturbing security situation in the country especially as it concerns institutions of higher learning. We are being proactive by taking some necessary steps to protect our students. We are in collaboration with some security agencies around our students for increased presence on campus. We also have our own intelligence that is unknown to anyone.”
The DVC added that UNILAG had asked for more security vehicles and mobile security personnel that would be going round the campus.
“We have made everywhere well lit and have provided CCTV mechanisms. But having said this, I want to state that our students must help themselves by being security conscious at all times,” he said.
Task force resumes full enforcement
On May 11, a day after the security meeting, men of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit (Taskforce) impounded 92 motorcycles in Jakande Gate, Ejigbo and Iyana Ipaja areas with some suspects arrested.
Three days earlier, a total of 83 motorbikes were impounded along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway “in continuation of the clampdown on motorcyclists plying restricted routes in the state.”
The task force on Monday also served squatters at Iganmu under the bridge (Whitesand) a notice to remove all illegal structures, trucks and vehicles in the area.
The Chairman of the agency, CSP Shola Jejeloye, advised the owners of the illegal structures, abandoned trucks and shanties to immediately remove them and vacate the area within three days.
He said the ‘removal notice’ became necessary in view of the rising cases of traffic robberies and environmental nuisance in the neighbourhood. The notice was enforced on Thursday.
But the Lagos chapter of the Socialist Party of Nigeria cautioned the state government against using repressive means to phase out okada and called for job creation on “a massive scale” for the riders.
The party in a statement on Wednesday signed by its Chairperson, Rufus Olusesan and Publicity Secretary, Monsuru Shoyombo, said as long as mass unemployment and abject poverty persisted, people would resort to self-created means of survival to earn a living.
The statement read in part, “We are afraid that instead of rethinking its strategies, Lagos State Government is planning a major clampdown on okada riders. We are seized of the statement credited to the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu at the recently held Lagos State Security Summit to the effect that in view of the overwhelming state of insecurity in the country and to avert any such occurrence in Lagos State, it will commence an aggressive clampdown on Okada riders.
“We are of the view that this is only a crude approach of addressing the problem of insecurity and also counterproductive. We are also seized of the plans to bring in small buses to replace motorcycles on Lagos roads, until this is achieved alongside integrated transport system including basic infrastructure, okada riding will remain with us.”
Reviving Lagos’ CCTV project
Perhaps, a closed circuit television project that the Lagos State Government commissioned five years ago would have helped in detecting and solving crime if it had seen the light of day.
In 2016, the government announced that it would install 13,000 CCTV cameras as well as 6,000 streetlights across the state for surveillance, crime prevention and handling of emergencies across the state.
So far, only a tiny part of the initiative – mobile CCTV managed by the Rapid Response Squad – has been implemented.
In May 2017, the then Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr Olufemi Odubiyi, blamed the delay in the procurement of high definition CCTV cameras on instability in the foreign exchange market.
At an event on July 8, 2019, organised by the Eko Innovation Centre in conjunction with Acumen and African Venture Philanthropy Alliance, Sanwo-Olu reiterated that the state government planned to install CCTV cameras around the city to check insecurity.
The governor, represented by his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, said his administration recognised the role of technology in fighting crime in a fast-growing economy like Nigeria.
He said, “We will be installing cameras in different parts of the state. These are cameras that are so sensitive that if they hear the sound of a gun, they will turn around and capture your identity. You can be assured that if you are a criminal, we will come for you and get you arrested.”
In an earlier interview with our correspondent, Omotoso said the project had commenced with the underground laying of broadband fibre cables across the state to enhance Internet connectivity.
“Once we have this kind of facility, the CCTV will be easier to install everywhere,” he added.
On the initial plan to install 13,000 cameras, Omotoso said about 670 cameras would be installed in strategic locations across the state, adding that the first phase of the project had commenced and would be completed this year.
The National President of Criminology and Security Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Williams Ekposon, stated that Lagos, being the commercial nerve of the country, needed to be well secure.
He urged the state government to empower local vigilantes to complement operations of conventional security agencies and explore technology in curbing crime.
Ekposon said, “We are living in a high-tech world. The government needs to deploy drones that can monitor the state and gather intelligence. It also needs to support the conventional security agencies and local vigilantes in terms of patrol vans. There should also be an installation of CCTV cameras and tracking devices to penetrate criminal hideouts.
However, we should not forget the underlying thing about crime. The greater number of the population needs to be gainfully employed. There should be massive security sensitisation even in worship centres and the welfare of security agents should be looked into.”