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How police ‘encouraged’ us back to Apapa bridges, roads —Okada riders

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okadaSix years and still counting, the partial restriction imposed on motorcycle, popularly known as okada, as a mode of transportation in Lagos, is believed to still be in force. At the height of the outcry against the nuisance riders of commercial motorcycles were believed to have constituted on all the roads and the city at large, the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola, now Minister of Works, Power and Housing, came down hard on the operators by imposing a major ban on their activities. Of the 9,100 roads in the state, their operations were restricted to only 475 while a total ban was placed on any form of movement on all the bridges in the state. As expected, all the posh areas, where the harshest criticism against the commercial motorcyclists came from as they were seen basically as total nuisance by the rich elite in those areas, became a no-go area for the cyclists.

Nearly all parts of Lagos Island were covered by the ban, and understandably, including Apapa, the commercial nerve centre of the state and a major revenue point for the country, where the seaport is domiciled.

Immediately the law came into effect, thousands of defaulting okada all over were raided and seized by law enforcement agents, despite complaints that their withdrawal would bring about people spending more on intra-city transportation.

In Apapa, the situation was not any different as many okada riders lost their livelihood to men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), who were accused of being overzealous in carrying out the state government directive, even as the responsibility of arresting defaulters is, by law, supposed to rest with the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit.


The clampdown

The intensity of the implementation of the law in Apapa was so ferocious that it literally became a clampdown. The development chased the men on motorcycles away from the area. Apapa soon became free of okada riders save for a few who risked working mainly at night – under the cover of darkness.

The clampdown also led to seizure of many motorcycles. Places like Barracks Bus Stop, Tin-Can First Gate Bust Stop, Burma Junction and Airways Bus Stop became a no-go area for those even doing the nightly duties due to the ever-present policemen and other security operatives at these spots.

Allegations of extortion against the security operatives were also rife from those who dared and were caught. Because of the heat brought upon the commercial cyclists and the unyielding determination of the government of the day to rid the metropolis of the much-touted Nigeria’s mega city of the perceived nuisance, compliance was near total, according to those doing business in Apapa and those living in the neighbourhood.

The after-effect was also felt by all, including the operators who were forced to relocate elsewhere and lose huge revenue and patronage, for which Apapa was said to be unrivalled. Nearly all the acrobatic okada riders were gone for good.


okada‘We suffered’

The perceived “nuisance” of the mega city, however, had their supporters – workers around Apapa who became overnight victims of the clampdown. They told Saturday Tribune their stories. Many workers who had offices in Apapa felt the pain of the absence of the okada riders because the roads leading to the seaport town are not motorable. The access roads have completely broken down and many had depended on the motorcyclists to get to their respective workplaces. Aside from the fact that the roads are not motorable, activities of articulated vehicles, which had made traffic in and around Apapa chaotic, did not encourage many workers to drive down to Apapa.

For Chukwuma Obasi, the period the okada riders were playing hide-and-seek with security operatives was hellish. “When the okada riders disappeared from Apapa roads, I was always getting to my office at Burma Road very late, all because there were no buses to take you as far as Wharf gate.

“At a point, due to the gridlock caused by the articulated vehicles, it became a normal thing for commercial vehicles to make a U-turn at Point Road junction. Many wouldn’t even dare to get to Airways Bus Stop. So every day, from Point Road junction, I walked down to Burma Road. It was a nightmare I don’t wish to go through again.

“The roads were completely broken down, so I usually parked my car inside the National Stadium in Surulere at the cost of N100 per day. It was a friend that introduced me to the idea of parking my vehicle inside the stadium because aside from the bad access roads, the menace of articulated vehicles struggling to take containers out of the ports or return empty containers into the ports was enough to discourage any vehicle owner to drive down to Apapa,” Obasi said.

Olabode Thomas’ story wasn’t so different. For the staff member of one of the commercial banks located at Creek Road, the menace of Apapa gridlock is the beginning of wisdom for him. He said, “Due to the presence of too many articulated vehicles trying to enter the ports, once the roads leading in and out of the ports are blocked, they could remain blocked for days. My car once remained in my office for days all because I could not find a road to drive on out of the ports. The whole access roads were taken over by container-carrying trucks. The oil tankers were also on the port access roads. I had to leave my car in the office and trek down to Point Road junction because there was no okada rider in sight due to the clampdown by the Lagos State government. It was that terrible.”


…and they returned

There is a saying about God answering prayer in miraculous ways, though the “Apapa miracle” for all shades of visitors and residents can be considered illegal and unconstitutional. But for commuters like Obasi and Thomas, anything that would bring relief would be a welcome development and whatever arrangement that brought their transportation agony to an end could only be divine.

Then, the motorcyclists suddenly flooded everywhere in Apapa again as if they were kept somewhere when the ban enforcement began and were suddenly unleashed on the area. Until Saturday Tribune unearthed the re-appearance of the commercial cyclists who have now taken over everywhere, servicing practically all the nooks and crannies and having all shades of persons as clients, many were just pleasantly surprised they were back and from findings, commuters didn’t really care about how but were thankful for their return.

A rider, however, let Saturday Tribune into the “miracle” that brought them back. According to Jibrin, “while the clampdown lasted, some of us never left Apapa, maybe, because we live right inside the town. At night, when we operated secretly, policemen at the ports gate asked us why we didn’t work during the day. We heard stories of how moving around Apapa had become more difficult due to the bad roads and menace of the articulated vehicles.

“So, some of us started coming out during the day. When we observed that the policemen and other security operatives no longer chased after us or seized our motorcycles, we started reaching out to our colleagues in Ijora and Olodi Apapa to come back, because the business is here, inside Apapa,” he disclosed.

That was mid-2014 and it is not surprising when the motorcyclists started trooping back into Apapa unhindered. It was from all angles.


okadaFree reign

People around the area suddenly discovered that police and other security operatives stopped chasing after the okada riders. From Burma Road to Creek Road, down to Point Road and Apapa GRA, and even the First Gate, Second Gate and Coconut bus stops on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, okada riders returned en masse and are now operating freely from dawn to dusk. Business can’t be any better for them.

For many of the workers in Apapa, God has, indeed, answered their prayers. When Saturday Tribune asked one of the okada riders if the police encouraged them to come back, he explained that some of their colleagues who live in Apapa and worked under the cover of darkness told tales of policemen and other security operatives who had a hard time using the horrendous roads in Apapa without riding on motorcycles.

Task Force impounds 196 okada, to prosecute 72 riders in court 

Helpless and complicit police?

When approached by Saturday Tribune, the image maker of the Lagos State police command, Chike Oti, declined comment on why the police had not been arresting motorcycles in the area, unlike other parts of the state where motorcycles are daily impounded.

He, however, said that the police and the state government were making efforts to ensure a free flow of traffic in Apapa and that the police would enforce the state traffic law.

The spokesman of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Kadiri Ibrahim, confirmed the presence of officers and men of the corps in Apapa but pointed out that they were only playing a complementary role to agencies that are stipulated to enforce the law. The NSCDC spokesman said, “It is not the core mandate of the civil defence corps to impound motorcycles but we are there to complement the efforts of other security agencies in ensuring a free flow of traffic.”


Terrain problem

However, a police officer who was part of the Lagos State Task Force disclosed to Saturday Tribune that the dreadful terrain of Apapa was a major impediment to the Task Force in making incessant raids on motorcyclists operating in Apapa. The officer, who asked that his identity be concealed as he was not authorised to speak on the controversial return, stated that “the difficult terrain in Apapa was our major challenge when I was still working with the Task Force. Sometimes we could not drive into Apapa in our Hilux vans because there were no roads. The whole place, from Wharf Road to Creek Road, was filled with articulated vehicles. Sometimes we could not even climb the Marine Bridge; the entire roads would have been taken over by trucks. Often times, we turned back from Ijora and focussed our raids on other parts of Lagos.”


Joint Task Farce?

However, the Lagos State Task Force, when contacted, dismissed insinuations that the agency was not involved in sanitising Apapa of menace of okada riders, saying its dragnet sill covered the area.

“We are still operating in Apapa. Last week, we were at Rainbow to carry out our operations,” Spokesperson of the Lagos State Task Force, Mr Taofiq Adebayo, stated while speaking with Saturday Tribune by phone.

Adebayo added that the operations against the recalcitrant okada riders were no longer the sole responsibility of the Task Force but now multi-dimensional as Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) have also been given the task by the Commissioner of Police, Edgar Imohimi.

“The DPOs are now allowed to arrest okada riders plying restricted routes in the state and impound their okada. The new strategy was put in place to ensure that roads in the state were made free of menace of okada operators,” Adebayo added.

Despite the threat of law, it appears that for now, there is a marriage of convenience between Apapa and okada which the law or a ban cannot dissolve. Although there are pockets of complaints about their ubiquitousness, their presence seems pleasing to many who do business daily in the busy area. The question is if this “indispensable nuisance” will disappear when Apapa becomes motorable again.

The post How police ‘encouraged’ us back to Apapa bridges, roads —Okada riders appeared first on Tribune.

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