Belligerent and uncouth as is customary with them, commercial motorcyclists have just jogged our memory of the threat they pose to society. On the excuse of fighting the cause of a man hit by a vehicle, they took the law into their hands, formed a mob and viciously attacked the motorist in Ikorodu, Lagos State, recently. At the end of their rampage, Usman Yamah lay dead, the latest victim of the brutal antics of the ever-menacing mob of riders, another life prematurely snuffed out without justification.
Lynching has turned into a terrifying mainstream social reality in the country over the decades. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, and the Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, should ensure that justice is done promptly in this case.
The mob attack on Yamah is in keeping with the unconscionable deeds of the okada riders. They have come to be associated with lawlessness, unwarranted violence and arson. They flout traffic laws with impunity: On the expressways, they ride against the traffic, carrying multiple passengers. Their notoriety stinks, compelling some states to ban their operations outright.
Yamah’s case was typical. With his vehicle, he mistakenly hit a partially-sighted man around Ikorodu Garage. Sensing danger, he drove away, but trouble still found him. The okada riders gave chase and eventually overtook him on Elepe Road, kilometres away from the scene of the accident. Instead of calling in the police, lawlessness triumphed. The riders, allegedly mainly from the North, stoned Yamah to death. This is malicious. Where is the sanctity of human life?
Ordinarily, after stopping him, decency demanded that Yamah be handed over to the police for prosecution, but being a group accustomed to impunity and violence, they put him to death. Yamah’s tragic end takes on a heartbreaking hue with reports that his partially-sighted victim did not die after all, but was only injured. Such habitual impatience and disregard for the law have cost many motorists their lives and livelihoods in the hands of okada riders.
This is indefensible, but society is suffering from the mobs simply because the police and the Lagos State Government only issue threats but lack the political will to enforce their writ. Riders attack motorists at the slightest hint of an accident, regardless of who is at fault. To curb their menace, the Babatunde Fashola administration rolled out a set of regulations via the Lagos State Traffic Law 2012. Essentially, that law banned the operations of commercial motorcycle operations from 475 highways and bridges in the state, and nighttime operations. With substantial enforcement, it restored some sanity to the major highways in Lagos. The incessant accidents that cost limbs and lives reduced considerably.
Unfortunately, the exit of Fashola in 2015 turned the tide. The okada operators staged a comeback into the Lagos transport landscape. Though the law was further amended in 2018 by the Akinwumi Ambode administration, lack of enforcement rendered it otiose. Motorcycle accidents became prevalent again and gangsters used the machines to perpetrate crime. Between 2016 and 2019, the LASG said 600 lives were lost and 10,000 others wounded in motorcycle and tricycle-related accidents and admitted at the General Hospitals. Chillingly, numerous other cases were never reported officially.
The rate of crime from okada operations keeps on rising. There were major incidents to contend with as the operators went out of control regularly. Two years ago, they stormed the Ibeshe Police Station in Ikorodu, attempting to burn it down. They alleged that at a checkpoint there, the police caused the death of their colleague. Unable to achieve their aim, they retreated, but attacked a police officer and burnt down a patrol van. Similarly, in March 2019, okada operators attacked the Ejigbo Police Station in the night. Claiming that a police officer hit their colleague, a large number of them invaded the station, prompting the police to use force to disperse them. In retreating, they destroyed two operational vehicles. In their anger over the enforcement of the Lagos State Traffic Law 2018, the operators have descended on LASTMA officials and the police at least three times this year in Ikorodu, Daleko and Ijora-Badia. In the Ijora case, three people reportedly died.
This siege mentality should stop. It gives Lagos, the country’s commercial hub, an image of disorderliness and insecurity. For a state that aspires to be a smart megacity, that is a nagging open sore. To be fair to the incumbent administration, it prepared the ground for the enforcement of the traffic law all through December and January by installing 2,000 signs that highlighted the restriction of motorcycles and tricycles on highways and bridges in 15 LGAs in the state, but the implementation needs a sober review.
In reality, there are better ways to handle these unruly elements. Here, the police are critical. It means there should be seriousness in patrolling so that the anti-social elements involved in such crimes are discouraged and remain within the boundaries of law, thus fearing to even think of taking the law into their own hands. Prompt arrest and prosecution of suspects will also send a clear message that life is sacrosanct. An instant lesson comes from the truculent London 2011 riots that were instigated when the police shot dead Mark Duggan. For about five days that August, the hoodlums attacked and looted shops. In response, the criminal justice system worked around the clock: Within a week of the first court sitting following the riots, the courts dealt with over 1,000 defendants. By August 2012, 2,138 people had been found guilty and sentenced. Half of them were given sentence lengths of over four times longer than the average sentence for similar crimes in 2010, in response to the particular nature of the disturbances.
Generally, the federal and the state governments should launch broad campaigns against lynching and mob violence, making it clear that the crime shall invite serious consequence under the law. It is also important that cases of lynching and mob violence be specifically tried to fast track prosecutions. In India, such courts hold trials of the case on a day-to-day basis and the trial is to be concluded within six months from the date of taking cognisance.
Lagos is not a jungle, it is Nigeria’s most urbanised state. To address these mob actions, Sanwo-Olu and Odumosu should leave sentiments out. They should enforce the state laws on criminal mob attacks, and the traffic laws, working with the judiciary to ensure that offenders are swiftly apprehended and prosecuted