Lagos State appears to be fighting a lost cause against the menace of commercial motorcycle operators. Amidst the 2019 general election tension, these motorcyclists – known as okada in local parlance – went haywire in the Ejigbo area of the metropolis. In their hundreds, they stormed a police station there. For a period of time, the riders plunged the neighbourhood into chaos. Although the invaders were repelled after a police reinforcement from other divisions, their audacity speaks volumes about the dangerous nuisance commercial motorcyclists constitute in the so-called “Centre of Excellence.”
Undoubtedly, the lawlessness of the motorcycle riders has become unbearable. They flout all known traffic regulations in the book with unusual impunity. Emboldened by weak law enforcement and absence of punishment for their misconduct, they have turned Lagos into their playground. They can be seen on major highways with more than one passenger, riding against the traffic, with no protective helmets on. Their disregard for traffic lights is legendary.
At the slightest hint of disagreement with other road users, they congregate into a mob, taking the law into their own hands. In line with this, they invaded the Ejigbo Police Station around 11pm on March 2. Claiming that a police patrol van knocked down two of their members, they instantly armed themselves with assorted weapons and threatened to incinerate the station. After being repelled at the gate of the station, they burnt down a patrol vehicle parked outside the premises. These hoodlums have crossed the red line. The police have to prosecute the 19 suspects they arrested during the mayhem.
Really, there are numerous issues undermining the efforts to make Lagos a mega-city. Commuters do not jump on motorcycles during traffic snarls in modern cities like London, Paris, New York, Melbourne or Tokyo. That is inconceivable. Lagos should not be different if Nigeria’s commercial hub is truly interested in joining that exalted league. It should stop tolerating this belligerent, lawless group in the name of providing transportation services.
All the gains made when the Lagos State Traffic Law 2012 was enacted have almost been entirely reversed in the last three years. That law prohibited commercial motorcycle operations on 475 highways and bridges in the state. Significantly, the enforcement of this regulation initially returned a measure of sanity to Lagos roads. This was when Babatunde Fashola was governor. All motorcycles were banned from the roads from 10pm. With effective implementation, the claim of the motorcyclists in the Ejigbo incident that their members were knocked down around 11 pm would never have arisen.
Curiously, with the advent of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in 2015, the motorcycle – and tricycle – menace returned with a bang. Following many months of dereliction, motorcyclists have invaded all the nooks and crannies of the state. Though Ambode’s tenure is expiring in May, the governor still has time to rejuvenate implementation of the state’s traffic law.
Unfortunately, there had been loud warning signs that commercial motorcyclists were capable of hijacking the authority of the state government. Inexplicably, the state government and the police ignored them. The result is now obvious. In a shocking incident that depicted this in May 2018, motorcyclists went on the rampage in Ibese, Ikorodu area of the state, after alleging that police caused the death of a motorcyclist at a nearby checkpoint.
Instead of going through the normal process of reporting the incident and allowing the law to take precedence, they mobilised and attacked the Ibese Police Station with bottles and stones in an attempt to burn it down. Naturally, the police responded. So, the crowd retreated, but found a prize in a police patrol van, which they promptly set ablaze. They chased away a team of Federal Road Safety Corps officers who came to the scene to help in restoring normalcy.
In a way, this prompted the then state Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, to give a deadline that by mid-June 2018, police would “begin the massive arrest of commercial motorcycle operators” and prosecute those who violate the state’s traffic laws. But nothing came out of it. Instead, the operators became more daring, riding everywhere and at anytime of the day.
Now that the menace has reached its peak, Ambode and the Lagos Police Command should stop giving the impression that they are helpless. Because of their unruly mode of operations and to give the Nigerian capital a facelift, Nasir el-Rufai, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, had during his tenure between 2003 and 2007 banned commercial motorcyclists from Abuja’s central business district. Having enacted a similar law, Lagos has a lot to gain by faithfully implementing it as it was done in the FCT.
The Ambode government should robustly implement the other salient provisions of that law, particularly the ones on the misconduct of touts who harass bus drivers at bus stops, disrupt union activities at motor parks and those who drive against the traffic or use electronic gadgets at the wheels.
Since there is a law in place, it is incumbent on the police to implement it. To catalyse a decent society, the police should do their job without fear or favour.