Lagos okada ban: Were there fears of Boko Haram infiltration of riders?

February 8, 2020
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TOP on the list of the reasons given by the Lagos State government for restricting the operations of commercial motorcyclists and tricyclists in the state is security. However, unlike its readiness to advance other reasons like regularity of okada and keke accidents which was backed up with scary statistics, the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has continued to maintain sealed lips on its security findings that led to the controversial decision, which has now pitted a section of the state against the government.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, has continued to maintain that the ban from routes and bridges in 15 local council development areas is basically for security reasons and that the ban is irreversible. With full enforcement commencing last Saturday, there have been protests in some locations leading to death, injuries and destruction of properties.

The refusal of the government to dwell more on the security complications compelling the ban has brought it under fire with distressed commuters kicking against its decision on the grounds that the rate of deaths and robberies, among others, cited by the government is not enough reason for such a ban and denying thousands of people who are living on okada and Keke Marwa.

Omotoso, in a chat with Saturday Tribune, insisted that the decision is based on security reasons, declaring that the security of lives of Lagosians and their properties matter most to the state government. He, however, noted that all the security concerns that the government was privy to, which informed the ban, could not be divulged to the public. He assured the residents that the decision was taken in their interest.

 

Boko Haram in town?

Findings by Saturday Tribune showed that the state government, being in the best position to be availed with security reports, acted the way it did on the conviction that the time had come to so do.

Sources contacted directed attention to a time when an arm of security in the state announced that a commander of the dreaded Boko Haram was arrested in Lagos and another occasion when truck-loads of some able-bodied young men from the northern part of the country were arrested. The arrested men hid themselves under a number of motorcycles in a way one could hardly fathom how they managed to survive the rigour of travelling a long distance under such condition – spending hours to reach their destination in Lagos.

“It was in this Lagos that we heard that a commander of Boko Haram was arrested, at least you heard of the arrest when it was made. You see, all manner of people were just coming into Lagos in droves from that part of the country, and many don’t [even] have any business doing here. And when they come, they don’t have anywhere to stay or to sleep. They occupy uncompleted or abandoned buildings. You know what that means. The worst of it all is that majority of these people are not even Nigerians. They are from outside the country doing what here?” a source who did not want his name in print disclosed.

Another source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, recalled the discovery and seizure of millions of dollars at the Lagos airport a few days ago, wondering the purpose it was meant to serve and from which source or sources. The source, who readily cited the claim made by the okada and tricycle operators that they had invested about N5 billion on the business, wondered how such a huge amount found its way into such business and to what end or mission.

“You need to visit Banana Island or somewhere close to that where big men live. Come and see these okada people in droves at their gates. You wonder where they are from. If anything should happen, I pray it doesn’t, those elite living there are in real trouble. The truth of the matter is that our security people are doing their very best to address the security challenges and they see a lot, handle a lot of cases that they don’t make public for security reasons,” the source noted.

No easy way out

The ban decision was reportedly not an easy one, as many people had thought. Saturday Tribune gathered that the state governor was initially very reluctant to give his support to the restriction but caved in after heads of security agencies, particularly the police, emphasised the need to “ban” okada operation in the state. The Alausa source said: “The governor was very reluctant. He was very considerate and mindful of the number of people that would be affected but the pressure was too much. That was why they had to release two lists. The first one was actually released by a director in one of the ministries. The government quickly withdrew it as a result of public outcry. Left for the governor, it would not have been as serious as it is. Some people in his cabinet want him to even ban okada in the state. The police also want okada completely banned. They blamed some of the crimes in the state on the activities of okada riders who facilitate easy escape from scenes of robbery and other crimes.

Overzealous officers

One of the major concerns of the public since the enforcement of the restriction is the overzealousness of the police, the chief enforcer of the government order. There have been complaints that policemen go beyond official directive. There are accusations that policemen break into compounds and impound motorcycles and that they also go to hinterlands where there are no restrictions to seize motorcycles.

The state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, identified some irregularities in how the policemen were going about the enforcement and he quickly called them to order. Some policemen were reportedly impounding power bikes and dispatch motorcycles. The commissioner, in a statement signed by Bala Elkana, the image maker of the state police command, said “Lagos State Police Command wishes to reiterate that motorcycles (in) use for courier services are not included in the restrictions placed on motorcycles in Lagos State.”

He added: “Operators of courier services must strictly obey traffic laws and ensure that they do not drive against traffic (one way). Dispatch riders must put on their crash helmets and should have the dispatch box fixed at the back of the motorcycle. The bike must strictly be used for courier purposes, no carrying of passengers.

“Power bikes are also not affected by the restrictions. The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, CP Hakeem Odumosu, has issued circular to that effect to all the Area Commanders, DPOs and police officers across the state. The CP also warned police officers on enforcement to strictly abide by the rules of engagement as contained in the extant laws. The exercise must be free of harassment and extortion. Erring police officers will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

Chukwueze, a resident of Aboru, a community in the Ayobo area of Iyana Ipaja, while speaking with Saturday Tribune, said: “With the way the police are enforcing this ban, they will make nonsense of the whole thing. They are going beyond what the government sent them. Imagine what happened here this morning. Apart from the fact that this area, Ayobo, is not part of the restriction by the government, most of the motorcycles that were taken away were parked by their owners. We were still discussing what happened in Agege yesterday (Tuesday) when they invaded the Oju Odo area of Aboru and took away about 15 motorcycles. The owners were not on the restricted roads and they even parked their motorcycles to eat where all of them used to assemble. This is very bad. Immediately after they left Oju Odo, they went to the other side of Raji Rasaki. By then the Hausa riders had been notified of their presence and they all locked their bikes in a place. Surprisingly, the policemen broke into the place and took away all the okada.”

Adedeji, a resident of Iyana Ipaja, said: “It appears that the police have a motive other than the reasons given by the government for the ban. I wonder if the government had given them a target on the number of okada that should be impounded on a daily basis. The state government expects them to also use their discretion.

“They (police) are ones causing this wild protest here and there. They go out of their way to taunt riders, who are already angry and are waiting for any slight provocations to vent their anger. The government should have specifically trained some policemen for this duty. This is something that is capable of setting the state on fire. You cannot compare Lagos with any other state. What works in other state may not work in Lagos. Endorsement of this restriction is very important.”

A deal in the pipeline?

The chairman of the Lagos State council of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, while reacting to the restriction, disclosed that the union was in talks with the state government. He was quoted as saying that the union was already negotiating. Although the state government has insisted that the restriction is irreversible, Saturday Tribune gathered that there are “political moves” to force the governor to adjust. It was gathered that the NURTW is using its connection in government and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to secure a deal that would readjust the restriction.

A source within the NURTW told Saturday Tribune that the son of a very powerful leader of the party is being counted on to help talk to the state government, adding that the restriction, if sustained, would affect the revenue of the union, since most of the affected places are under the control of the NURTW.

“Our leaders have people who can talk to the governor. We are part of the party and we contributed to the success of the party in the last elections. What will happen to our members in Apapa, Ikeja and other places? Some of them control motorcycles union, while others control tricycle. What does the government want them to be doing now? I am sure they will consider them.”

Riders prone to suicide –UNILAG professor

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As affected riders and operators of okada and keke adjust to the new reality around them, findings by Saturday Tribune showed that some of them are already seeking alternative means of survival while others are still hoping that the government will soon allow them back into business. As these people try to get their lives back in shape, a professor of psychology at the University of Lagos, Professor Oni Fagboungbe, is waving a red flag.

According to the don, the intentions were good but the ban was badly executed.

Reacting to the bloody protests across the state, he disclosed that violent aggression was indicative of the frustration of losing their means of livelihood.

Professor Oni Fagboungbe said: “Physiological need is compulsory for our daily survival. At the same time, the government must perform its statutory responsibility of ensuring the safety of its citizens. But the problem with our government is that they lack insight and they destroy to build. The people must live and to live, they have to eat. Even animals deserve some rights to be protected. In Cotonou, our neighbouring country, they created a path for motorcycle but there is nothing like that here. Our government acted without thinking ahead into the future. What palliative measures did the Lagos State government put in place before slamming the restriction order on Lagosians? It is not enough to roll out buses and ferries as palliative measures. This can only take care of an aspect of the society. What palliative measures do they put in place for riders that are directly affected by the ban?

“Will monies realised from the operation of these buses and ferries go to the riders? What’s palliative in what does not address the challenges of the riders? The population of okada riders and Marwa operators are overwhelming. You’ll feel terrible with their number. What is the government doing to absorb them?

“I am not against Lagos state government restricting the operations of the riders but this should be done in phases. They should implement it segment by segment, and not just slamming it on riders. The restriction should be in a long-term planning with its implementation carried out when the government must have designed policies that can bail out the people from poverty and not policies that impoverish them the more.

“During the apartheid regime in South Africa, a period marked by institutionalised racial segregation where black South Africans were displaced from their land, the apartheid regime still got a place for them, equipped with electricity, schools, hospitals and other things that could make life meaningful for them. But reverse is the case in Nigeria. Our government takes decision and implements it without giving any consideration to the effect of their policies on the citizenry. This is a serious problem. While we may not prevent the government from ensuring the safety of the citizenry, the citizens they are protecting must not starve to death. The Bible also recognises the fact that we must eat from our labour and when people don’t have jobs to do, how do they feed? Motorcyclists engage in the riding business to meet certain expectations, of of which is to feed their families. But as this is blocked, it produces two types of effects.”

The UNILAG lecturer identified the effects of the aggression as self-directed and social-directed. The self-directed aggression, according to him, is what brings about suicide in a frustrated person while social-directed is when aggression is taken back to the society that frustrated you.

“The self-directed aggression focuses on self by way of committing suicide. On the other hand, a socially-directed aggression is the protests, violent clashes and bonfires that pervade Lagos State in the last one week. This is a form of aggression that is directed at the society. For many riders, suicide is a high possibility. Following the restriction order, they wake up in the morning realising that they have nothing doing and they have wives and children to feed, they could take up arms and engage in criminal activities without blinking an eye,” he said.

Terrorists may recruit out-of-job riders –Security expert

The yet-to-be confirmed report of the infiltration of the riders’ community by Boko Haram is gradually changing the narrative in favour of the ban but a security expert is pointing to the danger of the ban producing the exact result the state government was trying to avoid.

Dr Kabir Adamu told Saturday Tribune that there is a high probability that the terrorists and criminals could recruit the riders into their fold because they are financially disadvantaged.

He said: “That the riders are disadvantaged financially is never in doubt. This hardship would further be compounded by the ban. It would (now) be very easy for any determined criminal or terrorist to recruit from among the impoverished segment of the society. However, rather than the ban, the Lagos State government just needed to register with the state ministry of transportation, all motorcycle and tricycle operators in the state with an attempt to know those that are licensed to operate in the state.

“What this does is that it gives information about the rider vis-a-vis his nationality, either he is a foreigner or local, his physical composition, age, and every other vital information about him. It is unfortunate that the Lagos State government didn’t have this kind of data. One of the advantages of this is that it will put in place additional measures like monitoring and evaluating the rider to know if he is a drug addict or a criminal. Therefore, if anyone of them is found wanting, the record will be brought up.”

Commenting further on the security implications of the ban, Dr Adamu said: “The economy and security are like two sides of a coin. Once the economy is down, it (will) definitely affect the security of the country. They are stopped from operating without alternative means of income. This makes them vulnerable for recruitment by criminals. Apart from this, they will add to the burden of security challenges we have in the country. We have also seen protests across Lagos State as immediate response to the ban. There was a protest at Iyana-Ipaja and another in Ijora. This is expected as it arises from grievance from the policy of the government. But the question remains, what is the government doing to reabsorb the affected riders? It is not enough to slam the ban on them. They need to be given alternatives for them not to turn on the society that made them jobless.”

Artisans are reducing because of okada riding –Lawyer, Ubani

Constitutional lawyer and social commentator, Mr Monday Ubani, wants the activities of the riders regulated, noting that the influx of people from neighbouring countries into Lagos State to take up okada riding business calls for concern. The former Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) argued that if such popular means of transportation like okada and keke are to be banned, there should be a safety net, which wasn’t provided ahead of time by the state government.

He said: “Any serious government should be concerned about the issue of security. The rate at which riders are increasing in number and the influx of people from all other states into Lagos to take up okada riding business, which is the easiest means of livelihood, has become worrisome for any serious government not to be mindful of them.

“The Lagos State government was very right for considering insecurity as part of the reasons for the ban. It was not a total ban. They were being restricted and this is not the first time such would be happening. There is a law in place. It is just that the law was relaxed by the last administration in Lagos State.

“Okada riders have become nuisance on the road. They endanger their lives, too. This is not good for Lagos which is known as centre of excellence.

“The rate at which the youths take up okada riding is alarming. They don’t want to learn any trade. It is only foreigners that are into handiwork. Nobody wants to learn a trade anymore. Nobody is a good carpenter anymore. There are no watch repairers anymore. We don’t have good tilers anymore. Foreigners have taken up these works because of this okada riding business.

“Everyone has taken to okada riding because they are bent on making quick money. Nobody wants to learn any trade. And to develop the economy, we need these artisans but they are depleting in number as many of them have gone into okada business. I think other states, too, must look in that direction where our young boys who didn’t go to school should have something meaningful doing and not going into okada riding. Everybody now sees okada riding as a means of livelihood.”

Social media war

Meanwhile, as news of policemen’s overzealousness hit the public domain, Nigerians have taken to the social media to blast the law enforcers.

Fuming @ehcuno tweeted: “Imagine criminals. Any police that enters a compound to arrest or seize okada is a criminal and must not be allowed to go freely.”

@Tholuluv couldn’t take it anymore: “We really need to go on a break in this #Lagos. Let everyone stay at home to declare a #Noworkday.”

For @Naija, it is, “What kind of rubbish is this? Is it now forbidden to own a motorcycle anywhere in Nigeria? The level of official lawlessness in this country is exhausting.

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