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Beyond Banning Okada in Our Towns 

Austyn Ogannah Column

May 22, (THEWILL) – A couple of violent outbursts in the country recently and, for the umpteenth time, threatened to rip the feeble shred of fabric keeping the nation from degenerating into an all-out war of attrition across tribal cleavages.

While one of these incidents was triggered by religious fanaticism, with the unfortunate lynching and burning of Deborah Samuel Yakubu to death, there were two others, in Lagos first and subsequently in Abuja, that had to do with violence associated with operators of the commercial motorcycles that have become an ubiquitous part of the average Nigerian’s daily commute.

Unfortunately, in the initial case in Lagos, there was another lynching and burning to death, this time in the elite suburbs of Lagos. A young sound engineer, David Imoh, was the unfortunate victim and when the gruesome details of his demise went viral, it was not long before hashtags like #JusticeForDavid began to trend on Twitter over various eyewitness accounts of what led to his death, which were making the rounds.

There are different accounts of the circumstances that led to Imoh’s grisly end. Whichever version that gains prominence will largely depend on which account is read. An early account claimed that there was a disagreement between him and a commercial motorcyclist over a paltry N100 meant to take care of the transport fare and which ultimately led to an altercation that devolved into the lynching and burning of the young man, but there were several head-scratching holes in that account.

It is unbelievable that a seeming minor dispute over that amount of money was enough to enrage a motley band of motorcyclists to rain blows on Imoh and set him ablaze. How could this have happened in a part of the state that is not as crime-prone as the more densely-populated mainland? Did the sad event occur in an isolated area? If it did not, as the account made it seem, how could the violence be allowed to go on uninterrupted until Imoh was killed? And where were the law enforcement agencies?

There was a lack of believability in the series of events that the first account sold to people, but it did not get any better when a more corporate account became public. From this second account, it turned out that there were more lives in danger than just Imoh’s. It happened that on Thursday, May 12, the deceased was at an upscale leisure facility in Lekki, known as Beer Barn, with his colleagues, who were hired as a live band to provide musical entertainment for its patrons before the incidents that would lead to his untimely end.

The management of the facility revealed that policemen deployed to rescue the deceased failed in their task. Their statement detailed conscious efforts to save Imoh’s life and that of his colleagues. Beer Barn staff alerted three naval officers when trouble broke out, but they were heavily outnumbered by the mob of irate motorcyclists bent on dealing with Imoh and his crew for ‘killing’ one of their own via what they believed to be diabolical means.

According to the Barn account, although the ‘dead’ motorcyclist later regained consciousness on his own, without third-party medical attention, it was already too late to save Imoh. They had assumed that he was a “Yahoo Boy” and had traded the life of their fellow motorcyclist for “blood money.”

Four other members of Imoh’s crew were locked in their car and surrounded by the blood-thirsty mob of motorcyclists desperately trying to deal with them for being his cohorts. Sensing further trouble as more motorcyclists arrived with the same purpose, the management of the Beer Barn called the police. But, by the time the Rapid Response Team arrived to help the outnumbered naval officers, they were in turn outnumbered. Seeing that one of Imoh’s colleagues, Philip Balogun, was in danger of death, the police were forced to fire into the air to forcefully disperse the crowd and to avoid further bloodshed.

Irrespective of which account is an accurate rendition of reality, one common denominator remains: the mob mentality of these commercial motorcyclists and their penchant to resort to jungle justice at the first sign of slight. The danger of such an illegality is immediately apparent. There cannot be a society of law and order where a group can snuff out the life of a citizen without recourse to the extant laws of the land.

Following calls for action and the extent of the vital hashtag, #JusticeForDavid, the Lagos State Governor, Babjide Sanwo-Olu, acted swiftly to impose a ban on commercial motorcycles in six local government areas of the metropolis in order to curtail the unruly activities of these riders. This led to the immediate seizure of some of motorcycles operating in the affected areas by the Lagos State Taskforce. It was an action that was met by forceful resistance and further violence.

Not a few Lagosians were apprehensive about reprisals from the affected motorcyclists rendered jobless with the impounding of their bikes. This line of thought prompted the traditional ruler in Lekki, the Oniru of Iruland, Oba Omogbolahan Lawal, Abisogun II, and the residents of his Community to highlight the urgent need to avert a security breach in the area and, by extension, the state, with the threats posed by these motorcyclists, who were on the verge of becoming their own law enforcement agents.

The Oniru, a former police chief, based his warning on intelligence reports from security service providers. He called for proactive measures to nip any threats before they blow out of proportion, while being on red alert across the six LGAs and nine LCDAs covered by the ban. The warning extended to other parts of the country experiencing conflicts between law enforcement agents and commercial motorcyclists, as Abuja had become involved in the day that followed the Lagos ban.

The truth is that a blanket ban cannot be the panacea for a problem of this magnitude and it is already obvious in the fight being put up by the motorcyclists, the sympathetic stance of Nigerians, whose daily commute depends on that mode of transportation and those who are afraid that the idle hands of the banned motorcyclists will simply turn to crime.

Although, this is neither Governor Sanwo-Olu’s first ban nor is his the first public statement by a governor of Lagos banning commercial motorcycles from major roads in the state. The fact that they remain operational demands more practical solutions than fiat bans that engender conflict.

My position has always been for a more structured and comprehensive application of sensible steps in any aspect of governance, if we desire to see results. The same should apply in this instance. We have laws that govern road use in Nigeria and it is time to make these rules work.

I suggest that only licensed individuals should be allowed to operate any motorised vehicle on our roads. This will ensure that the practice of buying motorcycles as a “poverty alleviation” measure must go hand-in-glove with ensuring that every motorcyclist, car driver, lorry driver, tricycle handler and powerbike adventurer must pass the stipulated tests and be certified as capable of respecting road signs and traffic rules before they can get on their motorised vehicles and ply our roads.

Secondly, motorcyclists that are so certified must be restricted to the inner roads and streets. Every motorcyclist will be required to belong to a recognised and registered association within their daily plying routes. Licence plates must be registered in their names and each must be assigned a unique code, which will be a combination of the abbreviation of their area of operation and a unique number. This will be stored on a database of state-based motorcycle system and visibly imprinted on the fuel tank of each motorcycle for easy identification. It should be possible to trace a motorcyclist by cross-checking this number with the database and triangulated with the identity of the motorcyclist by confirming it with the license plate.

Any motorcyclist that does not fulfill these requirements and any others that may be introduced by the relevant authorities must not be allowed to operate in the state. This will go at length to curtail acts of recklessness that have characterised the use of motorcycles and have been one of the reasons it was banned by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his successor Babatunde Raji Fashola during their tenures as governors of the state.

It was also mentioned recently by the current Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, when he said that “about 45 percent of accidents in the first quarter were caused by ‘okada’ [commercial motorcycles]. And most of the victims are between the ages of 30 to 39.”

Also, my recommendations will bring this imposter syndrome, where their mob mentality and power in numbers, gives these daredevil motorcyclists the tenacity to think they have become law unto themselves.