OKADA RIDERS UNDER SIEGE:
OKADA RIDERS UNDER SIEGE:
End The Ban; End The Brutality!
For Continuation of Mass Action!
By Chinedu Bosah
About 3,000 protesters including the operators of commercial motorcycle, popularly called okada riders and members of left organizations affiliated to the Joint Action Front (JAF) marched in Lagos on Monday December 10 and Wednesday December 19, 2013 against the Schedule 2 of a new Lagos Road traffic law which proscribes the operation of okada riders on 475 roads. The protest is also against the oppression, harassment and extortion of Okada riders by the police and agents of the Lagos state in the name of enforcement of the law. Before now there had been some pockets of protests especially for a few days after the enforcement of the new Traffic Law began which saw one of okada riders shot to death by the police.
Since October 2012, Governor Babatunde Fashola/ACN administration has intensified attacks on commercial motorcycle operators popularly called okada riders. In a brazen extrajudicial act the state has destroyed several thousands of motorcycles impounded from the riders.
The Lagos Traffic Law passed in April 2012 restricts the riders to inner streets as 475 roads are outlawed. Petrol stations can only be found on the affected roads. This means that riders cannot refuel their okada without violating the law. Besides, the 475 roads are mostly the link roads connecting different streets/roads. Technically, the law is aimed at banning the riders.
The Nigerian police officers have since enforced the law to extort and brutalise the okada riders. Under the guise of enforcing the law, policemen have turned the riders to cash cows. Even on the streets where okada operation has not been banned, the riders are arrested. In many instance, the police go about on mufti only to ambush the riders.
After arresting the riders, the motorcycles are seized; the police officers threaten to take the okada to Alausa (Lagos government secretariat) where it will be destroyed or to be released if the riders part with some money that are sometimes as high as N20,000. Understandably, most of the riders settle for “bribing” their okada out of police net even if it means borrowing from friends and relations. In other word, seizing okada on a daily basis and brutalizing them in the process is lucrative. So, you find more policemen chasing okada riders than the ones taking part in real business of protecting life and properties.
While these attacks are going on, police men and military personnel ride motorcycles on all the roads that are banned, including on highways even without helmets. More policemen now ride okada than they did before having benefited from ongoing brutality and seizure of motorcycles, apparently taking ownership of the ones abandoned by the riders who could not pay the huge bribe demanded by the Police.
Speaking in the Punch of December 17, 2012, Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, Ngozi Braide stated that Lagos State Government had given waivers to policemen riding motorcycles while putting on uniforms because according to her, “they are the ones enforcing the traffic law.” “We (the police) held a meeting with the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, and other state traffic management officials sometimes in November”, Ngozi Braide stated, “it was agreed that policemen riding motorcycles while putting on their uniform would be exempted because they are the ones enforcing the traffic law.”
Therefore, according to the police and Lagos state government, the enforcer of the law is above the law! The logic of this police argument also means that policemen could rob a bank because they are the ones protecting it. This has further proved that all the reasons given by the state government as basis for law are mere invention to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. The sole targets of the law are okada riders. The law is conceived by the anti-poor ACN government of Lagos just to eradicate okada operation out of the megacity obsession. Yes, okada is a primitive means of mass transportation. But it is the failure of the successive capitalist governments to provide good roads and efficient mass transport system that has made okada a necessity.
What is required to phase out the use of Okada as a means of mass transportation in a mega city of about 18 million people is an integrated public transportation system that ensures that all major roads between the local governments and within the communities are properly paved with suitable drainage. In addition to reliance on road transportation is the urgent need to develop a master plan for mass rail and water ways transportation.
Also condemnable is the ban of commercial motorcycle operation in other states. The most recent is the banning of the operation of commercial motorcycle popularly known as Achaba in Kano after the attack and murder attempt on Emir of Kano. The National President of Amalgamated Motorcycle Riders and Owners Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN), Alhaji Muhammed Sani Hassan has said this will render at least 1.5 million of their members jobless. Security has been one of the reasons for banning Okada riders in Lagos, Kano and other places. One thing that is peculiar with the ruling elite is that while pretending to solve a problem, they create multiple problems in the process. This is because what inspires their actions is self-serving interest with no consideration for the masses. They claim to fighting crime while in actual fact, they constantly create conditions through anti-poor policies that breeds crime.
The ban on okada operation affects not only the okada riders but also the majority of the working class people who commute daily around Lagos and elsewhere through commercial motorcycles. We call on workers, youths, artisans, traders and the poor in general to join the Okada riders in the struggle to defeat this anti-poor policy. It is time the masses stood as a united force against Fashola’s onslaught on their means of livelihood. We call on all genuine Okada associations to unite for joint action and mobilize their ranks and the public for more mass meetings, rallies, protests as a means of defeating this government and its anti-poor policies. We also call on NLC and TUC to support the struggle of okada riders in Lagos and across the country.