Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM


CDWR Opposes the Use of Force and Arrest of Okada Riders and Passengers While Calling for Provision of Integrated and Democratic-Managed Public Transport System

As the Lagos State government’s ban on Okada operation kicks off, the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) condemns the ban as an anti-people policy that in the face of the non-provision of alternative means of transportation will inflict enormous suffering on workers and poor people who rely on this means of transportation for their daily commute in Lagos state. In addition, we consider the ban as a face-saving gimmick by the Governor Sanwo-Olu-led Lagos State government to avoid addressing the real issues behind the insecurity and transportation crises in Lagos State. The real issues behind insecurity and criminality in Lagos state and Nigeria as a whole are the conditions of mass poverty in the midst of abundance and elite corruption. Okada are only one of the means through which this wanton criminality is carried out. Therefore, banning it does nothing to address the fundamental issues.

We hereby condemn the use force to impose the policy and call for an end to attacks on democratic rights as well as the exploitation of citizens by the Nigerian police who have, as usual, turned the implementation of such a policy into a money-making enterprise. Particularly, we condemn the plan to arrest Okada passengers which is a new development in the Lagos state government’s habitual clampdown on Okada operations. As far as we are concerned, this is a vexatious policy by a state government whose irresponsibility and refusal, despite the availability of resources, to develop public transportation and road infrastructure in order to address the perennial gridlocks that commuters face daily is what has forced many to patronize Okada even when aware of the unsafe nature of such a means of transportation. It means commuters who are compelled by traffic gridlock caused by government irresponsibility now stand the risk of arrest and detention. This is unacceptable and must be opposed by the labour movement, civil societies, and community groups.

On 18 May 2022, the Governor of Lagos State, Babjide Sanwo-Olu announced the ban on the operations of commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada in six Local Government Areas (LGA) and nine Local Council Development Authorities (LCDA) in the State. The six LGA are Eti-Osa, Ikeja, Surulere, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, and Apapa. The decision to ban Okada operations, the third of its kind in the last few years, appears to have been provoked by the tragic killing of Sunday David Umoh, a sound engineer, in the Lekki area of Lagos by an irate mob of Okada riders over a disagreement in the fare.

Undeniably, Okada operation has become an undesirable menace not just in Lagos but across the entire country. Not only are they responsible for a huge number of deaths and hospitalization due to accidents that are more often than not a product of reckless driving, but Okadas have also been fingered to have been used to commit crimes like theft and armed robbery, especially in the early hours of the morning. Aside from this, Okada riders regularly constitute themselves into a mob to execute jungle justice on any member of society, including passengers and motorists, that cross their path. However, it is not every rider that uses Okada for crimes. Besides, the use of means of transportation for crimes is not peculiar to Okada as some criminals also use buses to rob people in what is commonly known as ‘One Chance’, but this does not warrant the ban of buses. Nonetheless, the nefarious activities of criminal elements among Okada riders deserve the collective condemnation of all members of the public.

However, it is equally important to condemn what has, year in year out, become a cynical effort by the Lagos State government to use the Okada riders as a bogeyman to avoid answering serious questions about its serial failure to ensure the security of lives of residents of the State as well as provide an effective, comfortable and safe transportation system for millions of Lagosians. It is undeniable that while Lagos is one of the richest states in the country and on its own is the 7th largest economy on the African continent, it parades one of the crudest, backward, and inadequate transportation system as well as an antiquated road network that is only tarred in a few places, mainly the highways, while a majority of what passes for roads, especially in residential communities, are dirt tracks.

To be candid for a city of Lagos state’s size and importance, an integrated, publicly-owned and democratically managed transportation system alongside a modern road network linking residential areas and industrial centres to public highways and transport hubs is a compulsory infrastructural architecture the provision of which will enable ease of movement, end habitual perennial traffic gridlock, aid labour productivity and contribute to citizen’s health and safety.

Unfortunately for over two decades of civilian rule and despite the enormous resources at the command of the State, the Lagos State capitalist ruling elite have failed spectacularly in this regard thereby leaving the bulk of Lagos population to rely on private vehicles, inadequate BRTs, old tattered, and environmentally-polluting yellow buses, Keke and Okadas for the daily commute. According to a 2021 report by a Lagos-based research institute, the Danne Institute for Research, entitled “Connectivity and Productivity Report”, Lagos loses over 4 trillion hours annually, while Lagosians waste 14.12 million hours daily, while commuting to work and back due to traffic congestion. This is the crux of the matter and it is why it is the Lagos state government, not poor riders of Okada who are trying to eke a living while filling a vacuum created by government irresponsibility, that should be primarily held responsible for this crisis.

It was only recently that the Lagos State government ramped up effort to complete the long-abandoned blue and red light rail project which is not expected to become operational until between the last quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023. But even when it becomes operational, this project will not fundamentally solve the challenges faced by commuters as it is expected to move only about 750, 000 to 1 million passengers daily out of over 8 million daily commuters in Lagos. Also, this project will offer no relief for Lagos commuters who rely on Okada because of the completely inaccessible nature of their residential communities due to bad road network, etc. Despite an annual revenue of over N500billion, only a few highways and roads in Lagos are tarred. A majority of roads in Lagos, especially in poor communities where workers, lower middle-class elements, and the poor reside, are dirt tracks which are often so deplorable that they are hardly passable for vehicles. This, alongside economic factors like lack of gainful jobs and opportunities, is the basis for the rise of Okada and Keke.

Therefore while sympathizing with residents of the State who have fallen victim to the malevolent aspect of Okada operations, either via ghastly accidents borne out of reckless driving or Okada-related crimes and violence, the CDWR believes the Okada ban will do nothing to make Lagos safe because, in reality, the proliferation of Okada is a direct consequence of the failure of governance both in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. Rather the ban will only worsen the transportation situation in Lagos in the absence of integrated public and democratically-managed transport system while increasing insecurity due to the high number of Okada riders who would be rendered jobless as a result of this policy.

Suffice to stress that it is not true as the Lagos State government tries to argue that banning Okada will lead to crime reduction in Lagos state. Okada is only one of the means for criminals to carry out a crime. The real issues behind insecurity and violence in Lago state are on the one hand the condition of mass poverty in the midst of abundance and elite corruption and on the other, the habitual failure of the corruption-ridden police and other security agencies to respond promptly to incidents and protect the lives and property of citizens.

Therefore if Okada is successfully banned today, criminality, gang, and mob violence will not necessarily subside in Lagos state so far tens of millions of young people continue to exist with little or no education and lacking gainful employment. So if the Lagos state government actually wants to address crime and violence in the state, what we expect is for the government to roll out a public works programme to provide education, decent jobs, and gainful opportunities for the teeming mass of young people, from all tribes and faith, littering the state.

We hereby call for a public works programme to develop an integrated and democratically-managed public transportation system in Lagos state, expansion of road networks and repair of damaged roads as well as a plan by both state and federal governments to provide alternative jobs and opportunities for all especially those forced to take up Okada riding due to lack of gainful employment, through the provision of basic infrastructure, creation of industries, etc. This is the only sensible and pro-people approach to resolving the age-long transportation crisis in Lagos state while also ensuring that security is guaranteed for all.

Unfortunately, neither the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) nor the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other opposition capitalist political parties in Lagos state as well as across the country including Buhari’s government are capable of carrying out programmes mentioned above effectively or on a lasting basis. Hence there is the need, side by side with the struggle and demand for such programme, for the building of a mass workers’ political party to fight for political power and establish a socialist-oriented government which can utilize the enormous resources and wealth of Lagos to provide a safe, efficient and publicly-managed integrated transportation system under democratic workers control and management.

Comrade Rufus Olusesan

National Chairperson

Comrade Chinedu Bosah

National Publicity Secretary

E-mail: [email protected]