To many residents of Lagos and those doing business in the city, the construction of the January 27 Bridge was a big relief. The new bridge brought a huge relief to residents of densely populated suburbs like Isolo, Ejigbo, Isheri-Osun, Ikotun, Abaranje, Igando, Idimu and Ijegun. The bridge, also called the Oke-Afa Link Bridge or Canoe, was built in response to the numerous agitations for a bridge to be built over the canal, so that those killed at the site during the January 27, 2002 bomb blast might be immortalised.
But as soon as the bridge was commissioned, it became a living nightmare and an albatross for residents, business owners and motorists within the axis.
For residents of Ajao-estate, a peaceful community through which the bridge runs, the 2.1km dual carriageway, which starts from the NNPC depot at Ejigbo and terminates at Chivita Avenue, has turned out to be a curse. This is due to the brazen acts of impunity displayed by commercial cyclist operators popularly known as Okada riders.
But of late, residents of the area are said to be enjoying relative peace of mind and can sleep without fear. This development, which most of the residents are praying should last forever, is due to the ban on the operation of commercial cyclists within Ajao-Estate and Oke-Afa. This was the fallout of a violent clash between okada riders and officials of the Lagos State Task Force who were on routine operation within the axis.
During the clash, which saw the okada riders brandishing various types of weapons, a police Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) stationed by the bridge was set ablaze, while two patrol vans were vandalised. A policeman was left for dead. For hours while the protest lasted, gunfire echoed throughout the neighbourhood, halting activities within the area.
According to Daily Sun investigation, the task force officials were out to enforce the restriction on commercial motorcyclists around the axis. But on reaching Ilamose Estate at Oke-Afa, some okada operators reportedly made access into Ajao-Estate difficult by blocking half of the road to pick up passengers.
This, it was gathered, made the officials to impound some of the motorbikes. The action got the motorcyclists agitated, sparking a violent protest that shook the whole area.
For those who witnessed the violent protest, it was a total breakdown of law and order and could be likened to a war zone. Majority of the protesters who were from the northern part of the country displayed unusual violence.
Residents of Ajao Estate admitted that getting to work now is quite challenging, but they said they were happy that the okada riders’ reign of terror was over.
Speaking with the reporter on the ordeal of residents while the okada riders were allowed to operate in the area, Mr. Festus said the area was now back to its once peaceful state.
He lamented that for years, residents bickered over the right of way with the Okada riders, denied access to their homes and were also forced to endure long, agonising hours in gridlock.
“These okada riders, besides displaying brazen acts of impunity, park indiscriminately and drive against the traffic unchallenged. On many occasions, school children were knocked down by commercial cyclists riding against the traffic. They always constitute themselves into a menace by flagrantly violating the one-way traffic rule boldly displayed on a huge road sign. They speed recklessly in order to make as many trips as possible and are always colliding with their counterparts. In the mornings and evenings, they impede the flow of traffic, as they block the bridge in a bid to pick passengers. Even the 7/8 Bus Stop along the International Airport Road is not spared. Now, we are better off without them,” he said.
Also thanking God for the relative peace that currently pervades the community, another resident revealed that violent crime had been reduced to the barest minimum in the area, noting that most of the robberies and other vices were perpetrated by criminals riding on motorcycles. He said that such criminals would then easily disappear into the sea of motorbikes meandering through the traffic.
At the moment, residents are appealing strongly to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Inspector General of police, Solomon Arase and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, to rescue them from the possible doom that would envelop the estate if the okada riders are allowed to return.
Daily Sun investigation revealed that serious efforts are on-going by stakeholders who stand to benefit from the thriving okada business to ensure that the motorbikes are back on the road, residents, especially landlords, have vowed to resist the move with all their strength.
According to a landlord who didn’t want his name in print, the brazen acts of utter violence displayed by the commercial cyclists to the police were expected, as they and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) usually turned a blind eye to their lawlessness.
The landlord also alleged that the senior police officers in Ajao-Estate and Aswani Police Stations own significant number of motorcycles that ply the route and have been among the major people agitating for okada riders to resume operation.
He noted that some commercial cyclists were honest and genuine, but said they would have to relocate elsewhere or look for another means of survival.
“This is not the first time residents are surviving violent riots by commercial motorcycle riders, believed to be mostly from Chad. Just like they have always done, some youths, majorly from the north, used all manner of weapons to challenge the policemen who were trying to discard them. The more the policemen tried, the more the boys got agitated. We are appealing for sanity in this area. It is not too much to ask. Before the coming of Okada, people survived; so they can survive now. We don’t want okada riders in Ajao-Estate again,” he stressed.
Sounding optimistic while chatting with the reporter about their chances of returning to the road, Yahaya Sulaiman, a commercial motorcyclist said he had to temporarily return to his former job as a security guard. He disclosed that most of the commercial motorcycles are owned by policemen within Ajao-Estate, Ejigbo and Ikotun.
The Kano State indigene who admitted riding against the traffic, was however quick to defend his action in smattering English.
“We dey follow one way to make money sharp, sharp. If we no do like that, we no go fit pay permit to local government, association and police. Everyday, we dey pay N200 for one permit and N100 for security money, so that police no go catch us.”
Corroborating his claim was Mohammed Saliu, who claimed to have left his family and home in Maiduguri due to insurgency. He noted that for him and other commercial cyclists plying their trade in the estate, the business had come to stay even as he insisted that he would soon return to business. He boasted that they could not be banned.
“We dey settle well well.” Saliu, who also claimed to be a Muslim cleric, however, denied their involvement in criminal activities within the state. He blamed it on those he described as criminal elements who capitalise on the Link Bridge to ride in from places like Ejigbo, Ikotun and Igando to carry out their nefarious activities.
“We don dey contribute small, small to settle police and some people wey dey beg for us. Dem don tell us say we go soon start work,” he said.
Source: Daily Sun Nigeria