The Lagos state government has reiterated its stance that a recent ban that took commercial motorcycles (Okada) and tricycles (Keke) off congested roads in the city center, will not be reversed.
The okada was a favorite among hustling Lagosians for its ability to weave through the city’s notorious gridlock and get commuters to destinations in record time.
Its ban--or restriction, as Lagos state government officials prefer to call it--has sparked violent protests, gun duels and skirmishes in different parts of Nigeria’s most populous city since February 1.
At least five persons have reportedly been killed since the ban took effect.
The operations of the commercial motorcyclists have been restricted in six local governments; and state government officials say they can’t fathom what the hullabaloo over the ban has been all about.
“The local government areas and council development areas affected by the ban are in Lagos central senatorial district, Lagos mainland, Surulere, Apapa and Eti-Osa which encompasses VGC and all the other areas on the Island. These are so called elitist areas,” says Deji Balogun, Director of Social Media in the office of the State Governor.
“The real population of Lagos is in Lagos West. And the only local government affected by the restriction in Lagos West is Ikeja. Lagos West represents comfortably 60 percent of Lagos state in terms of landmass and population. If you look at Alimosho, Agege, Oshodi, Isolo, Ajeromi Ifelodun, Ifako Ijaiye, that's where the population is and they aren't affected.
“Lagos East, which is a cultural area encompassing Ikorodu, Epe, Ibeju-Lekki etc, is not affected. One is beginning to wonder how 12 percent..the population of Lagos at the moment is 27 million..how 12 percent of the city is complaining the most. The people affected by this restriction are less than 4 million.
“If individual associations are banning the okada and the state government is enforcing the restriction in just six local government areas, what is the hullabaloo about?”
Balogun also says alternatives to the okada and keke are in the works.
“In the next couple of days, I’m confident that apart from inter-modal transport, services would have increased. The blue line and red line would soon be completed. The blue line runs from Okokomaiko to Marina. Small buses that will be able to navigate the nooks and crannies will soon come in. We just launched the Lagos state ferry services and rolled out brand new mass transit buses.
“No responsible government will sit back and allow the large scale of insecurity and accidents perpetrated by the okada to continue.
“Do you know that because of the economic drawback occasioned by their nefarious activities, you are not yet enjoying the best of mass transit? There is a bus intelligence system that is supposed to come with it. You are supposed to stand at the bus stop and be able to tell when the next Iyana Ipaja bus is coming. Why do you think they built the Oshodi interchange?”, he adds.
Okada riders as Boko Haram poster boys
Sina Thopre who is a Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Information says; “there is no going back on the okada restriction...there is no going back on plans for a ‘Smart Lagos’. We have more buses that will soon be cleared from the ports as alternatives.”
Thopre adds that the restriction imposed on bike hailing companies in the six local governments, stands. “The law is that you cannot use any commercial bike, no matter the cubic centimeter capacity. This is a ban on commercial bikes of whatever hue,” he says.
Lagos state government officials who crave anonymity for this story, tell Pulse during separate chats that in December 2019, security and law enforcement personnel nabbed members of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Lagos, who had disguised themselves as okada riders.
“We caught top commanders of the Boko Haram sect in Lagos who came in here, posing as okada riders. And that's the problem. Okada riders are difficult to identify and profile. We also had security reports detailing an influx of persons who posed a security threat to Lagos. This was the last straw for Governor Sanwo-Olu, especially because security operatives kept advising him to effect the okada ban or watch Lagos get attacked by terrorists.
“After numerous stakeholder engagement sessions and intelligence reports, the okada restriction notice was issued. We couldn’t give a three-month or six-month notice because we didn’t have the luxury of time. These guys were invading Lagos as okada riders, camping in sleeper cells and ready to blow up the city someday. It was coming,” one top Lagos state official says.
State government officials also say they are working to stop the "over-zealousness of police officers" who have been arresting riders of power bikes and seizing commercial bikes in local governments where they haven't been restricted.
"We've been speaking with the Commissioner of Police about this unfortunate development," they say.