Lagos will attain a smart city status free of illegal commercial motorcyclists

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…Says phased enforcement will wradicate Okada riders

In continuation of the Lagos State Government’s public enlightenment and advocacy on the reinvigorated enforcement of the ban on Okada riders in six local governments, during the first phase of the clampdown, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso was on Channels TV, to shed light on the exercise and provide clarity about concerns raised by the public since the exercise started.

Below is a transcript of the interview session with Sunrise Daily on Channels television.

Introduction by Anchor: Since that order came from the Governor, there have been a lot of reactions. Yesterday, we hosted the Lagos State Police Commissioner who spoke to the enforcement on the part of the police. Of course, you know there has been a lot of reactions/backlash from a lot of people about that particular thing. Of course, the Ojo axis of Lagos is one such example. We have the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State here this morning, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso to shed some light on the issue.

Anchor: Clearly, it is not something anyone is taking lightly, that backlash and I am almost certain that is not the only report we have. Can you give us an inkling into how Government is handling all of that in the first place?

Omotoso: Well, before Mr. Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, made the pronouncements he made, you could see from the footage that you showed that he had a meeting with all policemen, the DPOs, the Area Commanders, the Commissioner of Police, so it was very well planned and strategic because we expected that kind of backlash that you saw. But let me just assure you that it is something the Law Enforcement Agents are used to. So, they were not bothered in any way and we were not bothered because we knew there was going to be some resistance. People like a kind of laissez-faire situation where you can do whatever you like at any point in time. And if the Law Enforcement Agencies and the Government should come out to say – enough of this; we don’t want this in Lagos; this is not the kind of thing that we want in Lagos. Naturally, human beings would resist. Human beings resist change; they don’t want something that would make them go away from their old ways. And so, the kind of things that we saw yesterday was not unexpected; it is not new and it is not something that the Law Enforcement Agencies cannot cope with.

Anchor: But if you inform us about the strategy that is being employed, that is your office; Information and Strategy. So, this announcement was made two days ago by the Governor that it would take effect from June 1st. So, how does that work? Does it mean that as of today, May 20th, about eleven days from June 1st, the motorcycles can still operate within the areas?

Omotoso: First, there is a history to this. There is a law that states that so and so motorcycles cannot operate on highways, major roads, and on bridges. So, the Law is still there, it has not been removed. When we made the pronouncements, when the Governor made the pronouncements about two years ago, he has not reversed it. So, it still stands. So, if today, like what happened yesterday, the enforcement that you saw is not new and it is going to continue. The June 1st deadline stands, but that will not stop the enforcement at all.

Anchor: Help us understand why there is a June 1st date when there is a Law that already forbids whatever it is that the Government is saying, that the enforcement takes effect from June 1st?

Omotoso: We all knew what happened when that first pronouncement was made. It was well enforced and many of these people riding bikes were already leaving Lagos out of their own volition. Unfortunately, nobody thought at that time that COVID-19 would come upon us and when COVID-19 came, the enforcement got weakened and we couldn’t enforce the restrictions the way we ought to have done.

So, now that COVID-19 has given us some space, our doctors are complaining that more and more people are coming with (Okada-related) emergencies. About 1,712 accidents have been recorded in Lagos in the first quarter of this year. Out of this figure, about forty-five percent, to be precise, 767 of the accidents were caused by Okada. And it is shocking to know that the victims, most of them, at least 54 percent of them, between the ages of 30 to 39, our able-bodied young people, are getting cut down like that, all because they mounted Okada. So, the Government felt we should stop it. So, the deadline is for them, like the Governor said, to go and look for something else to do. There are so many things to do in Lagos if you want to stay in Lagos and you want to be law-abiding. You should go and collect your LASRRA card and be an official resident of Lagos and find something to do. Artisans who left their jobs to mount Okada and ride all over the place should find a reason now to go back to their jobs.

Anchor: Unless we missed it, Ojo Local Government was not named in the list of Local Governments the Governor mentioned yesterday that would be affected. So, if the timeline is to give the riders an opportunity to find an alternative to their trade, why did the enforcement begin on that axis of Lagos State?

Omotoso: That is what I said. The Law has been there. Ojo has highways. All highways and major roads in Lagos and bridges, these guys are not supposed to be found there. So, if the deadline is first like you said, the Law is still there, it has not been repealed. So, the old order is there, it has not been repealed. What Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Governor, has simply done is to reinforce this order and to give these people an allowance for them to be able to move out and find some other things to do or take their bikes away to some other places. There are about 9,500 roads in Lagos. Now, what we are talking about are less than 500 roads. So, they should have other places to go to.

Anchor: If they go to other places, they will still be breaking the Law in that process, in other places. You have said that regardless, the law covers the whole of Lagos. If you are saying they should leave those five or six LGAs and move to others, they are still breaking the Law?

Omotoso: The Law covers all highways, major roads, and bridges.

Anchor: Regardless of the Local Government?

Omotoso: Regardless.

Anchor: So, they actually shouldn’t be operating anywhere?

Omotoso: They can operate on inner roads in all the Local Governments that were not mentioned. But the LGs that were mentioned, they should not be seen at all. They should not be seen, they should not be heard, they should not be felt.

Anchor: What about the highways in other LGs that were not mentioned?

Omotoso: The highways in all these LGs, they must not be seen there. The bridges in all those LGs, they must not be seen there.

Anchor: Yesterday the Police Commissioner was confident in his assurance that the police have the capacity to enforce, but what we saw yesterday in Ojo Local Government, particularly in the videos that went round, were policemen ducking the attack by rampaging Okada riders. This leaves, further, a question mark on the capacity of the police to enforce this law. So, what if another situation arises where there is tension? How can the police then deal with it, if they were unable to rein in the Okada riders in Ojo Local Government?

Omotoso: It is very nice that Lagosians saw what happened yesterday. Some perceptive Lagosians have told the government that these guys are violent, that these guys are not the kind of people you can handle with kids’ gloves and it is not just a matter of advocacy. It is a matter of enforcement and not just enforcement, thorough enforcement. And that was what you saw yesterday that the police went there to do. At the end of the day, they were subdued. Once you have the law backing you, you do not have any weakness to go and do your enforcement. Whatever they may have done yesterday, the police tried to use minimal force but if their lives are endangered, they could go beyond that. It is their trade, it is their job. They know it. So, I will not want to speak for the police on how to enforce this. all I know is that they have the backing of Mr. Governor to enforce this law and they are going to do it.

Anchor:  What happened to tear gas, what happened to arms? What happened to, being able to shoot in the air to disperse Okada riders?

Omotoso: What I am saying is that these enforcement officers are professionals. They know when to use tear gas, when to use the baton, when to use all of the equipment they have. I will not want to talk about the way they do their operations. They are in the best position to talk about that. All of the things they need to strengthen their enforcement, the government will give them. The Governor gave the assurance during a meeting with them. This is the first time in a long time you will find a governor meeting DPOs, Area Commanders, and Commissioner of Police. The officers are ready to do their job.

Anchor: Do you have an idea of how many motorcycles will be affected by this?

Omotoso: The problem is that they are not registered and if you look at motorcycle operators in Lagos, most of them don’t have number plates.

Anchor: They have people that collect taxes from them?

Omotoso: The Unions say they cannot account for many of these people. These are people whose bikes don’t have number plates.

Anchor: Imagine 50,000 motorcyclists are taken off the street, what do you think will happen to the crime rate and security in these areas?

Omotoso: All of these reasons were put on the table before Mr. Governor made the pronouncement. What will they be doing? What are they going to be eating? Will the crime rate not go up? But the situation in which we have found ourselves is, ‘If you cannot bend it, end it’ and see a way everybody can have a win-win situation, we have to end it, and the government decided that we have to end it. So, if we are going into inner areas, Lagosians are prepared, and Law enforcement agencies are prepared.

Anchor: You find that workers and commuters find it hard to meet their targets because of the heavy presence of articulated vehicles, they resort to the use of Okada. How soon will this place receive the attention of the Lagos State Government?

Omotoso: As I speak with you about old Ojo road, if the contractors are not there, they are preparing to go there. Government is going to work on Old Ojo road and that corridor has gotten the attention of the Lagos State Government, with the provision of more BRT buses. And don’t forget that it is where we have the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which we are working on seriously, and part of the places that the rail that is coming will be going to. The Marina, Okokomaiko, Mile 2 Blue Line will pass through that place. Everything that will make commuting a very sweet experience on that corridor is being done. The road is part of the priority roads by the State government.

Anchor: As the Last Mile mode of transportation for many people, did the government factor in that concern? With the ban of Okada in Lagos, is the government ready for the backlash?

Omotoso: I do not know the kind of things that you are taking as the backlash. You talk about people having Okada as the last mile means of commuting, that drops them at their bus stops. The simple question is – Lagos State is the smallest State in Nigeria with the highest concentration of people, the highest concentration of black people in the world. I came into Lagos when I was really young, I never experienced Okada as a means of transportation.

Anchor: Was the population 20 million or more at that time?

Omotoso: The population has increased but the land size has not increased.

Anchor: With the Lagos traffic and the transportation system, can Lagos really fare without these guys? Is the goal to have a Lagos without motorcycles?

Omotoso: The goal is to have a Lagos without motorcycles because there is no megacity in the world with this kind of mode of transportation. Lagos does not want it and that is why we are doing everything to ask our people to embrace the waterways.

Anchor: When do you want to meet the goal of a Lagos without motorcycles?

Omotoso: We are working towards it, that is why we say, ‘GREATER LAGOS.’ Apart from that, we consider the security implication of having Okada run around the whole place. Lagosians are now complaining, Lekki residents had a press conference yesterday to say they don’t want Okada. The other day, people in Ajao Estate came to Alausa to say they don’t want Okada. Everybody is complaining, they don’t want Okada.

Anchor: Let’s still talk about the transport system in Lagos. How well are you able to handle that? For example, the Berger axis, knowing the amount of traffic there is essentially caused by the yellow buses on the highway to pick up passengers. Is it something you’re looking into as well as sorting out the yellow buses?

Omotoso: That is what we are looking at, but first let me tell you that the kind of problem you have described now, I know it is real, but in most of the cases, it is just a human problem, and the signs are there. When our people go overseas, they respect a simple road sign of ‘NO PARKING’. We also do that here but people grumble, and they put everything down to the economy. Nobody wants to obey the law. We have to talk to ourselves, as Lagosians who are proud people, because we are cultured and civilised. The law is there. LASTMA is doing its best.

Anchor: Do you think it’s a fair proposal that some of the riders have for the Governor, asking him to lift the ban and they would vote for him?

Commissioner: In my view, it is preposterous, absurd, ridiculous for anybody to say, ‘For our votes, come and mess up Lagos,’ the Governor won’t do that.

Anchor: Are we going to see a relaxation of enforcement, perhaps in January or December, a few months before the election?

Omotoso: If anything, it is going to be a reinforcement of the enforcement; there won’t be a relaxation for politics or whatever.

Anchor:  The reason we are asking this Mr. Omotoso is that it is not the first time Lagos State would propose this; it goes way back to 2006, to the government of Tinubu and the government of Fashola and the government of Ambode. Every government since the Third Republic began has made pronouncements about the Okada rider. Minimal restriction, partial restriction, full ban and we always come back to this point of discussing it all over again. Is this the last time we would be having this?

Omotoso: This is the last time. The assurance is that like I told you this is the first time the Governor is meeting with all DPOs and Area Commanders. That is just one level of the security aspect of this whole thing.  There is another level, which is work in progress. Everything the law enforcement agencies need in terms of equipment, welfare and encouragement, they would get, I assure you. Lagosians have cried enough about this; so, it is going to be enforced.

Anchor:  The menace of Okada riders, do you see the problem moving now to the tricycle, and did you ever have a problem with implementing the Laws which the Lagos State had set out, given the fact that it has to rely on the police provided for by the Federal Government?

Omotoso: If you go back to the past two years when this pronouncement was first made, it was well implemented and enforced. The police were dutiful and diligent about it. Unfortunately, we had COVID-19, which nobody planned for. It was an emergency, a calamity that affected everybody. So, there was no time for us at that time to really concentrate on implementing this law and the guys who are bringing Okada into Lagos saw that loophole, exploited it and brought Okada in. Unfortunately, the insecurity we have in some parts of the country is not helping matters; people are leaving their farms, leaving their places of work to come to Lagos to make ends meet by riding Okada.

People are losing their limbs and getting their heads smashed; so, we need to go back to the drawing board and ensure that this mode of transportation is banned in Lagos and we should not be having it. We are not going to have any problem with enforcement. And talking about Keke that you spoke of, it is the cousin of Okada and at times they do the same thing. The law that bars okada bars keke. Keke should not be found on major highways and bridges in Lagos and I hope the guys who are running that kind of business are also thinking of having another thing to do because Mr. Governor said ‘it is a phased ban.’ By the time it becomes an all-encompassing ban, I do not think people would say they have not had enough notice to find some other things to do.

Enforcement is what people are afraid of, they feel the government would want to go back because of politics, but I have told you and you have seen it. Mr. Governor himself has spoken, he is a man of integrity, he is a man of his word, he is going to ensure that whatever it takes for us to enforce it, we will enforce it. We have been encouraged by Lagosians who have seen the danger, who feel that if you want to consider that moving with okada from one place to another is very fast, efficient or whatever advantage you say of it.

Anchor: Let me quickly clarify what you have said with respect to the Keke people. If I understood you clearly, what you are saying is that Okada is the first phase and that as time goes on, you could also be extending what you have done with the Okada people to the Keke people.

Omotoso: The Law that bans the Okada people also bans keke. Keke should not be found on highways, bridges and major roads in Lagos.

Anchor: Let me clarify that there are trunk A roads and trunk B roads; does that mean Keke can be found on Trunk B roads that are not necessarily expressways or bridges? Can Keke be found on Trunk B roads, besides the inner-city roads?

Omotoso: Major roads are quite clear, like 3rd Mainland Bridge, Ikorodu Road, those are major highways, the road that leads to the airport and all of those places, they are not supposed to be found there.

Anchor: When you say they bring bikes in, do you know where these motorcycles come from?

Omotoso: That is a mystery Lagosians are worried about; they don’t know where they come from, the riders are unknown, they don’t even have number plates, they don’t come for LASRRA registration so we can account for them.

Anchor: Are you returning the bikes that have been confiscated, or you are destroying them; what exactly is going on?

Omotoso: They are being crushed, there are pictures to show that they are being crushed; we are going to continue to show pictures of the bikes being crushed to show people that we are very serious and communicate to those bringing them in that, ‘enough is enough.’

Anchor: Does this invalidate the provision of the Law that talks about 200CC capacity bikes, yes or no?

Omotoso: No.