Thousands of commercial motorcycle riders known as okada riders in Lagos State, Southwest today protested against the Lagos State Road Traffic law which bans them from plying 475 roads in the metropolis.
The okada riders carried placards and sang anti-government songs. The protest led to traffic gridlock on Obafemi Awolowo Way as the okada riders marched to the State House, Ikeja to express their grievances over the new law.
Some of the placards read: The Wicked Shall Not Go Unpunished By Allah’s Grace, Now, Opeifa Don Become Anti-human Rights Activist and United Okada Riders Stakeholders of Lagos State, In Conjunction With Civil Society and Human Rights Group Say No To Banning Of Okada In 475 roads In Lagos, among others.
The protest was organised by the United Okada Riders Stakeholders’ Forum, UOSTF, in conjunction with the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR; Path of Peace Initiative, PPI and the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisations of Nigeria, FIWON.
The protest took off from under the bridge, Ikeja through Obafemi Awolowo Way to the Government Secretariat.
Comrade Olukayode Amadi, Branch Chairman, Okada Association, Ikeja, told P.M.NEWS that the okada riders were united in resisting the ban placed on them from plying 475 roads in the metropolis.
“With this ban on major roads leading into the various councils, they are banning okada riders from Lagos. We are not against the new traffic law, but we are protesting against the ban on 475 roads in the Lagos metropolis,” he said.
Comrade Dandy Eze, National President, PPI told P.M.NEWS that it was unfair for the government to ban okada from plying 475 roads, saying this amounted to stopping okada business in Lagos as millions of Lagosians would be deprived of means of transportation.
The protesters under the aegis of the UOSTF, in a protest letter to Governor Babatunde Fashola demanded a review of the ban on 475 roads to save jobs and source of livelihood.
The letter was signed by Comrade Tony Keroro, Chairman, UOSTF; Comrade Gbenga Komolafe, General Secretary, FIWON; Comrade Adewole Ojo, CDHR and Comrade Dandy Eze, PPI.
According to the okada riders, they were shocked and embarrassed at some aspects of the new law that seemed to be designed to get rid of motorcycles, popularly known as okada.
They said the ban on okada operators from carrying pregnant women and under-aged children and the requirement to make use of crash helmets as well as the ban of operations on highways and expressways are all measures, they believe are designed to ensure safety on Lagos roads.
“Okada operators have been labelled armed robbers and criminals by government spokesmen trying to justify the new law. We believe this is as unnecessary as it is unfair. It is true that criminals have used okada to perpetrate crimes the same way they have used mini buses to commit ‘one chance’ crimes while fast cars have been used as quick getaway means by dare devil armed robbers.”
“Just as it will be patently false and unjust to dub all drivers of mini buses and fast cars as armed robbers, so also would it be to categorise those that operate on okada as criminals.
“In deed, many okada riders are not only responsible family men, many are college and university graduates trying to survive through honest means. We render invaluable service to members of the public. No okada would be on the roads if there is no patronage by members of the public,” they said in the letter to the governor.
The okada riders said there were some routes listed in the new law, such as Alimosho, Badagry, Epe, Ikeja, Ogba, Ikorodu, Mushin, Lagos Mainland, Victoria Island and other parts of Lagos State where commuters had no 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 475 inner routes from the law. We want all harassment and arrests of okada riders and impoundment of their motorcycles to cease forthwith. Okada riders are no criminals. Don’t take our jobs away.
“While we enjoin all okada riders to remain law abiding and be vigilant about criminal elements among us, we affirm that we have a right to defend the only means of livelihood available to us. We call on the Lagos State Government to urgently review downwards the number of routes from which we have been banned,” they stated.
As at the time of filing this report, government officials had not yet addressed the protesting okada riders, who were bent on ensuring that government met their demands.