Okada riders protest restriction on 496 roads

By: David Oscar Yawson

Commercial motorcyclists, popularly called okada riders in Lagos state on Monday thronged out in their thousands and barricaded the road stretch to the state House of Assembly and Government House to protest against the Road Traffic Law of the state

, recently signed into law by the state governor, Babatunde Fashola.

Huhuonline.com understands that the protesters, supported by civil society groups, displayed various placards conveying their grievance against the traffic law, and condemned government insensitivity to their plight.

The protesters, who defied the rains, said they would not relent until they got a specific commitment from the government concerning the Schedule 2 of the law which bans them from 496 roads in the state as well as the highways and all the bridges in the state.

They said they were in support of the law except the Schedule 2 and called on the lawmakers to repeal that part since they put it without considering that they would be further plunged into the labour market.

Meanwhile, several attempts by officers of the Nigeria Police to frustrate the protest was rebuffed by the protesters who claimed they had no other choice since their motorcycles had been impounded by the agents of Lagos state government.

The protesters also disrupted the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, from using the main entrance of the state House of assembly, as he had to escape through an alternative exit door in the Assembly complex.

The commercial motorcyclists had described the state governor, Babatunde Fashola and the legislators as hypocrites, accusing them of using police officers, men of the state Traffic Maintenance Authority (LASTMA) and the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) to attack them and confiscating their motorcycles.

One of the protesters, Mr. Timothy, told Huhuonline.com that, “they always tell us that the government has mandated them to ensure that every okada rider is sent packing from the state.

“They said by the time they arrest most of us and impound our motorcycles, we would be forced to either relocate or go into other businesses, but what else do they want us to do?

“These security men you are looking at are our worse enemies. When they are going anywhere, they make us carry them for free and when they are financially broke, they arrest us without reason and make us cough out between N5, 000 and N15, 000 to recover our okada and if you don’t bail the okada in time, then that is the end; you would never see it again.”

While addressing the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Taiwo Kolawole, Comrade Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), who accompanied the protesters to the Assembly, said: “The government cannot provide jobs, it cannot provide electricity for the artisans among them, yet it also wants to push them further into abject poverty and make them take the laws into their hands.

“Does the government feed their families? Does the government send their wards to school? Does the government provide for them? So why do you want these people to become a problem to the society because of the draconian law that you pass?”

Another civil rights campaigner, Gbenga Komolafe, described the law as inhuman and asked the lawmakers to immediately begin to work on creating peace instead of looking for trouble from their comfort zones.

According to him, “my office is on Acme Road and it is known that commercial buses don’t operate there. We make use of okada. Now you listed the road among those banned by the law. What would the workers in that area do?”

In a protest letter they submitted to the Deputy Speaker, they said they endorsed parts of the law which stopped them from carrying pregnant women or carrying more than one passenger. They also said they were in support of the use of crash helmets.

They however drew the attention of the government to “the fact that under the new law, there are routes listed in Alimosho, Badagry, Epe, Ikeja, Ogba, Ikorodu, Mushin, even Lagos Mainland, Victoria Island, and other parts of Lagos state that commuters have no other means of affordable transportation other than okada.

“Banning okada operations on these routes will not only inflict serious hardship on members of the public but also send scores of thousands of okada operators into the already choked labour market.

“Our demand remains the immediate delisting of the 496 inner routes from the law. All harassment and arrests of okada operators and impoundment of their motorcycles to cease forthwith.”

Addressing them, the Deputy Speaker told the okada riders that their petition would be looked at by the House to ensure that their grievances are met.

 

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