Residents of Lagos, who depend on commercial motorcyclists for ease of movement where many can hardly afford taxis, are at the receiving end of a new war declared on okada riders by the Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit.
The task force says it is doing exactly what it is expected to do in enforcing the Lagos State Road Traffic Laws of 2012.
In various parts of the state, the task force operatives have seized hundreds of motorcycles over the last two weeks.
Residents and passengers, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH expressed anger that the task force has now gone beyond the previous crackdown on okada riders plying major roads to impound and confiscate commercial motorcycles operating on inner streets.
Our correspondent observed that in Schedule II of the Lagos State Traffic Laws 2012, motorcycles and tricycles are prohibited on the following roads: Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Apapa – Oshodi Expressway, Oworonshoki – Oshodi Expressway, Lagos – Ikorodu Expressway, Lagos – Abeokuta Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge,Eti–Osa/Lekki – Epe Expressway, Lagos–Badagry Expressway, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road andEti-Osa/Lekki Coastal Road.
However, the law also prohibits the operation of okada along 465 roads and streets cutting across 21 local government and council development areas in the state including the central business district.
Many residents and okada riders Saturday PUNCH spoke with expressed anger on the new crackdown as most of them were not aware of the extent of the law’s coverage.
A resident of Agege, Mr. Victor Olaotan, said he has had to trek for most part of the journey that takes him from his street to where he boards a commercial bus to his office on Lagos Island.
He said that even though the task force is simply enforcing the law, the effect is making life very unbearable for people who do not have personal vehicles.
“From my house to work and back, I have to ride okada four times. Now, those four times have become trekking time because I am not ready to spend all my money on taxis,” Olaotan said.
He spoke the minds of many other residents of the state. At a bus stop in Alapere, where residents wait in long queue daily, passengers looked on as the few motorcyclists who ventured out with fear of being nabbed by the task force men, ignored them.
On Friday morning, some of the passengers said that they did not care about the rationale behind the crackdown. They said the government should be considerate about the discomfort felt by residents of the state.
One of the passengers waiting for a bus in the absence of okada at the bus stop, Gabriel Befun, said, “The government would continue to say it is doing this to clean up the state. But you just wait for another one month. When the same okada riders, who are being deprived of their livelihood right now become frustrated to a point, robberies and burglary will increase.
“How do you expect thousands of okada riders who would be affected to survive? Okada business, as bad as the reputation of the riders is, is not just a means of transport, it is how many families in Lagos survive.”
Online reactions have also been critical of the crackdown.
Two weeks ago, the chairman of the task force chairman, Mr. Olayinka Egbeyemi, announced that his team impounded 163 motorcycles and arrested 29 okada riders in the process.
For the okada operators, this is akin to taking away the livelihood of 163 families, which is why there have been violent confrontations between operators and the task force since the crackdown started.
When the crackdown started, okada operators in Mile 2, attacked a vehicle conveying impounded motorcycles to the taskforce yard and forcibly removed some of the motorcycles.
In a similar incident, tension flared in Iyana-Iba area of Ojo on Thursday as okada riders protested the seizure of their motorcycles.
In the protest, hundreds of okada riders wielding sticks barricaded the road with bonfires, forcing the police to call in the Rapid Response Squad.
The RRS said in a statement that the Ojo Police Division successfully dispersed the protesters initially but when the riders reinforced and became a larger threat, the squad along with soldiers from the Ojo cantonment of the Nigerian Army had to be called in.
However, Egbeyemi said the crackdown was the start of the full enforcement of the restriction put on okada operations in certain routes in the state.
He said, “There were series of complaints from members of the public on criminal activities perpetuated by some of these motorcycle operators.Complaints by the residents of snatching of bags, phones, wallets and jewellery around these areas at night are high.
“There must be a synergy between all security agencies of government in order to collectively fight the menace of these motorcycle operators on all restricted routes across the state.”
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