The ban on commercial motorbikes (okada) and tricycles (keke) on selected roads and areas of Lagos is a necessary measure, even if it is inconvenient at the moment. It is a task that has to be done if Lagos city is to become the kind of city the government and the people so much desire. Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso quoting scary casualty figures, explained that the government “decided that the security and safety of lives of Lagosians are paramount. From 2016 to 2019, over 10, 000 accidents had been recorded at the general hospitals alone while over 600 deaths were reported. He added that, “the rate of crimes aided by motorbikes and tricycles keeps rising including being used as get-away means by criminals.”
This is not an unusual measure in the country. Years ago, the Abuja city authorities banned such vehicles; successive governments of Imo State banned first the motorcycles, and subsequently, the tricycles. But it is worthy to emphasise that these governments quickly put in place alternative and effective means of transport. The somewhat seamless implementation of the policy indicated good planning.
Lagos is unarguably the most important business city in Nigeria and indeed in West Africa. The more livable it is, the more it can attract business and ancillary activities to make it thrive. The current disorganised structure, the undisciplined behaviour of most of its inhabitants –in public hygiene, in traffic – and the glaring weak enforcement by government of its own laws, be it in traffic matters, building codes, public sanitation, all contribute to make Lagos untidy, inconvenient, and less attractive than it should be.
Two examples will suffice: Despite the provisions of extant laws and the design of an existing Lagos master plan on what, when and how buildings should be erected, people build with substandard materials in areas not designated for such purpose. Fuel service stations are erected in high-density areas and commercial activities are allowed in areas not so designated.
In the past eight years, successive governments have enacted three edicts on public transportation with specific pronouncements on the activities of motorbikes and tricycles. The then Governor Babatunde Fashola signed into law on August 2, 2012 the Lagos State Traffic Law, which barred “persons, form riding, driving, or manually propelling a cart, wheelbarrow, motorcycle and tricycle on 11 highways, 41 bridges and 496 routes within the state including Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki. It further forbids commercial motorcyclists from carrying more than one person, pregnant women and children below 12 years of age, as well as an adult with a baby or with a heavy load on the head.’’
In 2018 too, the Akinwumi Ambode government enacted the Lagos State Transport Sector Reforms Law 2018, barred motorcycles and tricycles of 200cc engine capacity on major highways within the state. The justification was in part prevalent insecurity. The law then covered 520 roads but in effect did not stop outright, the operation of motorbikes and tricycles, only that the vehicles must meet the stipulated engine capacity, among other provisions of the law such as wearing a protective helmet.
That incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has found it necessary to make another set of laws – the third in eight years – on a problem that seems intractable is only evidence of failure of government to live up to its duty as empowered by the constitution. A nation, it is said, is about to perish that makes the most laws. There is hardly a need for a new set of laws; there is an obvious need to enforce existing ones and sanity will return to Lagos roads.
Doubtless, if there is any state that should be well structured, well organised, and strict in its traffic regulations, it should be Lagos with Nigeria’s busiest seaport, airport, tens of millions in population, and home to diverse multi-trillion naira businesses. The matter at hand is even larger that traffic offences: this city must live like a 21st-century megacity. There must be no room for the bedlam that prevails. Of course, this demands that laws must be made to work.
We would admit the need for small vehicles to transport people and goods in the inner parts of the city. Certainly, people need such to get to the main roads where bus stops are located. Certainly, not everyone has a personal vehicle, or can drive one. Certainly, not everyone can endure a long walk –especially the aged and the sick. Besides, barely two weeks into the implementation of the law against motorcycles and tricycles has shown just how much so many Lagosians depend on these means to get around.
The bus stops are ever so full of hapless people waiting for the very inadequate number of alternative means of transportation. People are truly stressed and under pressure. Regardless of the “representations to the government concerning commercial motorcycles and tricycles, including rights groups, unionists and traders”, according to Omotoso, there appears to be inadequate planning to alleviate the difficulties that will arise with the law. Of course, the state government has done a few things – more buses and ferries. Beside that these are not adequate, they are not at all appropriate to inner-city transportation needs.
Granted that security of lives and property is the first –and one aspect – of the constitutional duty of government, the criticisms that attend the new measure are not totally unfounded. First, the point must be made that many – including well-educated ones, are engaged in the tricycle and motorbike business for lack of a better choice of work. The ban has thrown them back into the unemployment market. The social implication is dangerous.
Second, many persons who hypocritically voted for the decision to ban these modes of transportation actually abetted them by distributing these vehicles to their constituents for the so-called ‘‘poverty alleviation.’’ It was short-sighted not to have appreciated the implications of their ‘‘generosity’’ for public security and personal safety. The stress that the law has put on commuters is such that many consider it ‘‘anti-people.’’ Another reason for this is that it hurts the poor who eke a living from the service they provide. Third, more structured, and legally incorporated operators who have reportedly invested huge sums in the business are being hurt by the ban. They claim to be properly and duly approved for the business whereas Omotoso maintains that, “government has not registered any company to operate special motorbike business.”
It is instructive that Sanwo-Olu has repeated that his government “will sustain the ban…mainly because of security and safety reasons.” That cannot be faulted. But he must not lose sight of the second aspect of the constitutional duty of government, which is to ensure the welfare of the people. It is hereby suggested that government should partner with the private sector to introduce smaller buses and cars to eventually phase out the unwanted modes of transportation including the motorbikes and tricycles.
In the main, Lagos State government must go and study how modern megacities are planned, designed, run and how they efficiently function. Above all, laws must be made to work if the desired result is to be achieved. Meanwhile, law enforcement officers, notably the police in Lagos should not be allowed to abuse their powers to violate the rights of the people at this time. There have been reports of enforcement of the ban and restriction in local governments and development areas not affected yet. This is unconscionable.
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