By Hope Nwawolo
Recently, the Lagos state government embarked on war against Okada operators after the murder and setting ablaze of a struggling and promising young man at Lekki. It further went on to announce a ban on the operation of the business at selected areas of the state, pronouncing that enforcement of the ban would be total from the first of June.
I recall this is not the first time the state government (not this one), would ban Okada operation in some areas of the state. And for areas not restricted, a directive for use of helmet by the riders and passengers was announced to reduce fatality of accidents involving Okada. Observably, there was a particular type of helmet which the riders claimed was sold to them at exorbitant price and many of them could not afford to get two. This gave rise to the emergence of different helmets, even factory helmets, paraded by Okada riders. Notwithstanding, people started getting used to the directive for use of helmet guiding operation of Okada in the specific areas. Some passengers who did not want to share public helmets provided by the Okada riders, purchased personal ones which they carried about if they had to use Okada for transportation. At the same time, many used head covers to prevent head infections from use of public helmets.
During this short period, the restrictions and directive for use of helmets were adhered to, giving way to some level of sanity on the roads. Suddenly, and just like a thief that comes quietly in the night, the red flag on Okada operation at restricted areas began to drop; the enforcement of helmet use was relaxed, the riders would not obey traffic lights, even with traffic officers standing by, the one way signs on designated areas became little boards with no meaning. To crown it all, there was an influx of local government’s official and non-official fine collectors on the roads. Sometimes, these young men would jump onto the road at the sight of an Okada rider, not minding their safety, that of the rider and most times, the passengers.
Interestingly and to the relief of many Lagosians, Okada operation has again been banned at selected areas. However, the big question is on its enforcement; to be or not to be? Other questions would be; what is the expected general compliance level and who are those likely to be affected by the ban which may affect its total enforcement? Would there be continuity of the ban even after this present government? Perhaps the government may take into consideration the benefit of Okada operation to three categories of people and their possible reaction on enforcement of the ban.
For many people who feel the need for emergency and quick transportation due to incessant traffic jams at some areas and at peak periods, the ban may not go down well with. As a matter of fact, it is the urgency to beat traffic to meetings and events that make Okada passengers prod or give nods to Okada riders who disobey traffic lights, one way signs or ride against traffic. The sight of Okada riders at places like Isolo, Oke afa and Ejigbo, in their droves, will cause palpitation to first time visitors to Lagos. A scary sight is when in their number, they face on coming vehicles while waving their hands for clearance. Often, the passengers on such Okadas use their hands as trafficators and expect car drivers to give way. It is important to note that most passengers using Okada only think of getting to their destinations or meetings as early as they can, despite the traffic jam and would be happy with the ban if provided other smoother and quicker options of transportation.
The next group is traffic officers who give the impression traffic laws are not meant for Okada riders for whatever benefits they may be getting from their operation. It is surprising to see most traffic officers look away from offences and traffic negligence of Okada riders, even when some of these offences are glaring. During the short era of helmet use, Okada riders would not dare operate without wearing one and having one for their passengers. A dangerous and scary sight is when an Okada rider picks up three passengers on a ride, making a total of four people on one Okada. Sometimes, a child is perched at the front of the rider. All these pass the eyes of traffic officers who would rather stop cars for checks. For this set of people (traffic officers), while the ban may be welcomed by most Lagosians, it is important they are inclusive and desirous for the enforcement. Without this affirmation from this important officers of the state, the enforcement of the ban may be short lived or until the pain and anger of the murder of the sound engineer wanes from emotions of Lagosians (it will remain evergreen in the hearts of his family and close friends).
Despite the unconfirmed threats of Okada riders to cause mayhem in certain areas of the state, its enforcement could be carried out by communicating extensively to citizens on the reasons behind the decision and possibly highlighting several ills recorded from Okada operation over the years. For better understanding and effectiveness, the awareness campaign need to be continuous until the ban is embedded and accepted by the people and not only by seizing the Okadas.
Hope Nwawolo, Ph.D