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Okada and the overwhelming of Lagos

Published by The Nation on Sat, 19 Oct 2019


UnderTowOne of the biggest headaches Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwoolu will have to grapple with in the years ahead will be what to do with the motorcycle mode of transportation popularly called okada.Lagos State is literally drenched in swarms and swarms of okada, nearly all of them undisciplined, uncontrollable, and posturing around the city-state with a sense of entitlement flowing from their perceived numerical and electoral strength.Since the state had failed for nearly a decade or more to deal with what has clearly become a menace to the reputation and well-being of the megacity, the problem had ballooned into a veritable nightmare requiring very drastic but less disruptive and intelligent solution.The Babatunde Fashola government tried in its own limited way to tackle the menace. It met with qualified success. With every okada impounded by his government, nearly four or five more replaced what was lost. Not only did his method of curbing the proliferation of okada fail to succeed as he desired, even limiting their operations to defined routes also met with about 90 percent failure rate.Under the Akinwunmi Ambode government, the menace simply spiralled out of control due to the states half-hearted and awkward attempt to curb it. Mr Sanwoolu has, therefore, inherited a nightmare. Instead of building on the successes of his predecessors, he in fact has nothing to build on but failure. He will have to start from the very beginning if he hopes to make a dent on the menace.The vexatious legal action brought by some 123 Jigawa indigenes who trucked themselves and dozens of their motorcycles into Lagos late August is indicative of the severity and complexity of the problem, not to say of the urgency needed to tackle it before it becomes even more intractable. The Jigawa indigenes, citing their constitutional right to free movement and the pursuit of their economic choices, sued Lagos for wrongly profiling and humiliating them and inhibiting their free movement as citizens of Nigeria.They gave the impression that other than the federal government, the state had no business, at a time of widespread insecurity, suspecting and questioning the movements of groups of people. The consequence of more than a decade of slack enforcement of the laws regulating transportation modes is the avalanche of okada riders recklessly menacing the city-state and complicating and jeopardising its security.But it makes no difference where the okada riders come from or what their political and ethnic affiliations are, even though this point seems lost on the Jigawa State-born litigants and others similarly minded. The plain point is that Lagos simply has a very urgent and overriding constitutional responsibility to regulate and control the states modes of transportation, including more importantly those who chose to run them as a business.For many years, perhaps afraid of the electoral impact of a backlash by okada operators, Lagos had failed to discharge its obligations as both a state and a megacity. The time to make amends has now come, and the state must face the task squarely and without hesitation.Lagos must begin the task by focusing less, in the first two years of the Sanwoolu government, on the electoral consequences of resolving to carry out its duty of regulating and controlling the states modes of transportation, particularly okada. It must first wield the big stick; and then three years later, think of the electoral impact of its actions.However, there is nothing in fact to show that the measures to be deployed by Lagos cannot be a win-win formula. It is possible that the state is already thinking of vigorously tackling the problem. If so, the following points are additional suggestions to help it refine the measures it is contemplating.(1) It appears that while there are graduates among the okada riders, most of the riders possess questionable education qualification and have become unresponsive to state laws and safety regulations. The state needs to first revoke and rework the licensing of okada and their operators to make success in satisfying state laws a precondition for registration.This task must not be left to FRSC alone. The VIO, as the law currently provides, must certify the okada and its operator educationally and mentally fit to operate within the ambits of the law. The number plate assigned a rider must also reflect only the areas where the state permits the operation of okada. Both the state and FRSC must reach an agreement to create a template in consonance with the needs of the state.(2) The details of the okada operator must be duly and fully captured in the states VIO data bank for security regulation and tax purposes. Such details, including the riders forwarding address, must be verified before licence is issued. A flat monthly tax rate should be imposed on the operator to widen the tax net, and non-payment should lead to flagging of his licence and interdiction.In addition, the state must also independently licence, for a fee, the okada operator just as it licenses commercial drivers to operate in the state. A certification must be issued and produced on demand by state regulatory and enforcement officials. If these rigorous regulatory procedures had been in place, the Jigawa 123 or any other group of riders from any part of the country would have thought twice before bringing a frivolous lawsuit. At the moment, all it takes is for an aspiring operator to procure an okada and almost immediately he could commence operation.(3) Okada operators must paint their machines in a distinct state colour, procure certified jackets from the relevant state agency, apply for certification through an okada cooperative society specified for defined routes, and be fully insured together with his potential clients.The days of easy entry into the okada market must end, and Lagos must begin to act scrupulously and firmly to preserve its integrity and restore sanity. The situation today is maddening.(4) It is known that okada riders most inclined to undermining the law regulating their operation are either military personnel or policemen moonlighting in their spare time to augment their poor pay. Despite the peculiarities of Nigerias hangover from military rule, a hangover complicated by a recalcitrant and still militarised federal government itself, this category of operators must be compelled to be registered according to the laws of the state, and in case of default, their details should be published for necessary legal action. Lagos must begin to think and act ambitiously like London and New York. Commuters themselves must be made aware of their liability when they patronise a rider who is not licensed to operate an okada.(5) Lagos must develop a comprehensive and futuristic transportation plan that gradually phases out okada. Okada mode of commercial transportation is a disgrace that has been left to blight the reputation of Lagos, notwithstanding the blackmail by unemployed people swarming into Lagos and threatening a life of crime if okada should be phased out. Apart from restricting the operations of okada to defined routes, that mode of transportation should be phased out in the next few years.The state plan must indicate a timeline for that exercise. It wont be easy, especially given the lack of foresight from the federal government and the leprous implementation of federalism. But the alternative has become simply unbearable.
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