Now that the dust raised by the restriction – mislabeled by some as “ban” – on commercial motorcycles and tricycles has more or less settled down, it is fit and proper to examine the matter dispassionately. This will enable the ferocious critics of the action – I won’t join those who call them armchair critics, fake champions of the masses and mere chameleons; no, I won’t – to reconsider their perspective.
First, the facts.
After a Security Council meeting, one of several, over this matter, months of advocacy and consultations, the government of Lagos State decided to pull the brakes on what many called “the okada menace”.
From an ever-ready, cheap and common means of transportation in the rural areas, “okada” has been vaulted to a veritable means of transportation on major highways, operated by riders who have no respect for road signs and human lives. To them, the 2012 Traffic Law, which was amended in 2018, must be rendered irrelevant.
The figures are scary. As many as 10,000 reported cases of Okada-related accidents from 2015 to 2019, in state hospitals only. More than 600 deaths. In the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) alone, 1,020 cases were recorded in 2019. Add these to the thousands of cases recorded at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi and others unreported in private hospitals and natural bone healing centres.
What do you have? An unacceptably wide canvass of blood – human blood, tears, and suffering.
The enforcement of the Traffic Law seems set to be checking this grim situation.
Data from the Directorate of Health Care Planning Research and Statistics of the Lagos State Ministry of Health show that between February 1 and February 6 (the first week of the restriction in six Local Governments), there was a 69.2 percent decrease in road traffic accidents from motorcycles and tricycles. Motorcycle accidents fell by 88 percent.
Criminals have found in the motorbike a proficient vehicle for their trade. They flee crime scenes on motorbikes. They snatch bags from innocent persons and race off, leaving their victims traumatized. But these incidents, terrible as they are, are nothing compared to the concern in security circles – that Lagos was susceptible to attacks, what with the ceaseless stream of armies of young men who have no fixed address. They sleep on their bikes, defecate on the street and constitute health hazards.
Besides, on the league of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency’s drug offences in states, Lagos State is one of the frontrunners for the dubious trophy of trouble. Motorcycles have been handy vehicles for drug dealers and their clients, particularly our youths. No responsible government will allow this to continue? No.
By the time the government announced the restriction of motorcycles and tricycles in six local governments, enough was not just enough; it was already too much. The decision to enforce the restriction was taken after months of advocacy, consultations and some Security Council meetings. It was not sudden. In fact, the enforcement is in line with the 2012 law, which was reworked in 2018. Contrary to what is being bandied in some circles, it is not a new piece of legislation.
Why did the government not put alternatives in place before the restriction? This is the logical question to ask. The truth is that security considerations demanded that action be taken immediately, with no further prevarication. The state of lawlessness and disorderliness into which tricycles and motorcycles were plunging Lagos had to be arrested. To stand by and watch is to be complicit and surrender the state to anarchists.
Just two days after the order took effect, 14 boats joined the waterways to ply some key routes. Besides, 65 new buses were rolled out to join 300 others just refurbished to move thousands on the BRT corridors.
The point has to be made again that the restriction is in just six local governments, and covers about 400 of the over 6000 roads in Lagos. The local governments are also not the densely populated areas, such as Alimosho, Ikorodu, Mushin and others where the masses of our people live. Those who characterize the restriction as an attack on the poor are seeking cheap popularity. They are trying to subject the government to emotional blackmail by hired mourners crying more than the bereaved.
Some states have banned commercial motorcycles, among them Edo, Imo, Kano and Kaduna. But their world has not collapsed. If others abhor chaos, why should Lagos be cajoled or blackmailed into allowing the blanket of bedlam these riders and their sponsors were gradually spreading over the state?
Those who have invested a fortune in the trade deserve our sympathy. But must they insist that that they cannot thrive unless they that do their business in these six local governments covered by the restriction? What about the thousands of roads that are not affected by this order?
Will this restriction kill foreign direct investments? No. Construction giants are jostling to get the government’s nod to build the Fourth Mainland Bridge and the Red Line of the Light Rail system on which the government pins the hope of a more comprehensive solution to the state’s transportation needs. Everywhere, the road show for investors has been a huge success, with inquiries flooding in from all over the globe. The success of the N100b bond signed a few weeks ago attests to the fact that Lagos remains an investor’s delight.
It has also been said that thousands stand to lose their jobs. They don’t have to. Let them find other routes on which their trade isn’t restricted. Besides, lucrative as the motorcycle trade may be – one operator claims to be making N20,000 daily (I doubt if bank executives land this kind of pay) – it is not the only honest way of earning a living.
The government is partnering the private sector to tackle unemployment. The Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) has a N10b initiative for women entrepreneurs; the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA) is training women in trades and setting them up with equipment and the Office of Civic Engagement attends to the more needy. Agriculture has been turned into a viable trade, with many of young graduates making a comfortable living out of it.
Artisans, such as bricklayers, carpenters and welders, are disappearing – no thanks to the quick cash rolling in from riding okada. Young people no longer learn trades. In the secondary school that I attended, it used to be compulsory for every student to learn a trade and our technical colleges produced worthy craftsmen. Now artisans come from neighbouring countries.
The argument that this restriction in just six local governments will cause an upsurge of crimes is not valid. The logic is that if criminals do not have the fast means of escape they have found in motorcycles, they will think twice before striking, knowing that the chances of being outrun and seized are higher. Besides, the law enforcement agencies are alive to their duties.
The Greater Lagos journey on which we have embarked will not be realized when law and order are compromised. In this particular case, the law has been there since 2012, and was reworked in 2018. What the Babajide Sanwo-Olu Administration is saying is that the law must be enforced for the safety and security of Lagosians which must outweigh all other considerations.
Lagosians should trust this administration and credit it with some compassion. They elected Mr Sanwo-Olu, who swore to defend and promote their interests. If there are pains today, the coming gains will surely drown them as we march to our dream of a Greater Lagos. To surrender to the tyranny of motorcycles and tricycles is, definitely, no option.
Gbenga Omotoso is Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy.