Last week, Nigerians discovered two news reasons why being born Nigerian is an extreme sport. The first was Uncle Donald Trump and his immigration visa ban. We may choose to pontificate at length (our regular trademark) and adjudge the root causes of the ban to be racial or religious discrimination, or we may accept the facts as they are stated: Nigeria is under the grip of terrorism and the US cannot see any real reason to continue to allow an influx of Nigerians onto her soil, especially as we have no means of national identity.
Nigerians do not have social security numbers or National Insurance numbers and passports are easily obtainable. A criminal deported today can return to the US under a new name tomorrow. If we can’t differentiate between Nathaniel Samuel and Muhammad, or a fireworks specialist and a suicide bomber, why do we think the US will do that for us?
In truth, we have enjoyed a far greater laxity than our statistics ought to command. In 2018, Boko Haram ranked the fourth most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world after the Taliban, ISIL, and the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State. Nigeria was the third most devastated country in the world as a result of terrorist activities. Today, figures suggest that Boko Haram is now the third deadliest group, with the Herdsmen coming a close fourth. Statistics which will no doubt come as a surprise to President Buhari.
The reason for the laxity of old was most likely because many of the US’ security strategists tasked with these policies have always understood that most Nigerians are not terrorists and most of the ones who engage in terrorist activities are not travelling abroad. They’re quite content to kill Nigerians on Nigerian soil, thank you very much. The impunity with which they can operate carries with it a certain appeal, I’m sure.
Yes, the US has always found Nigerians among the most successful and highly educated immigrants, with Nigerian names surfacing in every sector from sports to healthcare to science and innovation.
But the US is a country serious about security, led by a man obsessed with external threats from certain religious groups. If we don’t like it, it behoves the Nigerian government to remove all trace of doubt as to its handling of terrorism activities and expose Trump’s decisions as discriminatory if that is indeed what they are.
The second news is the Lagos State Government having a bit of a spring clean - at the expense of her poorest citizens, of course. Firstly, there was a mass eviction at Tarkwa Bay as thousands of impoverished, desperate residents found themselves homeless after a raid to demolish the makeshift settlements was carried out by naval officers, ordering them to leave within an hour. A Navy Commander spokesman on behalf of the operation assured attending media that the residents had been advised to leave before the demolition crew moved in. It’s a shame he could not confirm the location of the new buildings erected for the thousands of people being chased out of their homes.
There is one woman last seen reportedly looking for all five of her children.
Never one to do things by half measures, the Government decided to compound the suffering with the abrupt banning of transport bikes (okadas) and tricycles in 15 of the busiest LCDAs in the state.
The morning of Monday, 3rd February was met with chaos: commuters walking for miles, horses seen in Lagos’ busiest epicentres as some tried to ease traffic issues while making a quick buck.
This seems like reckless governance. A decision with such far-reaching consequences with no palliative measures for the residents of this state is not only cruel, but potentially dangerous.
Okadas are undoubtedly a menace. There are far too many of them and they are unregistered, anonymous and untrained. A comprehensive strategy for dealing with them must be reached and the general public must be advised as to the steps taken for restoring order to our roads.
Firstly, the influx of Okadas and tricycles are a direct result of the government's failure ab initio to provide adequate and alternative means of public transport, widen and repair roads, and regulate the transport industry.
Today, we have no data on the Okada riders. We have no idea how many there are. Guestimates on their numbers or the breakdown of their tribes or nationalities are just that – guestimates – at best. There is no taskforce in the country that can take away the licence of a faulting Okada rider because they do not have licences. Previous curbed and/or failed attempts to register riders mean we can't ask to see a licence and impound a bike in the event of the rider being unable to produce one. There are no lessons required to ride a bike. They are not mandated to pay any monthly or annual fees and exactly one hundred percent of them have no insurance. Helmets are no longer mandated or required and there is no organisation created for their registration. We have seen that they are capable of obeying instructions because there have been none on the banned routes since Saturday, yet they have not been instructed to follow any laws that could lead to a civilised transport system. What we have instead is a population being punished because the government did not own or control a state-wide mode of transport.
Many who support the ban, most of them car owners, have baulked at the accusation that their opinion might come from a place of elitism. While it is true that many of the people who use bikes most likely do not own cars, Okadas are certainly not the preserve of the poor.
More than one person has left a car and driver in standstill traffic and taken a bike to the office, the airport or meeting venue for the sake of punctuality, and many more would do the same if they had drivers. No one rides bikes for the thrill of it. People are doing insane things because the city (country) doesn't work and they are having to come up with solutions for themselves. We are hearing decisions that seem to be knee-jerk reactions to deeply rooted issues and these broken eggs are not giving off the sweet-smelling aroma of frying omelettes. Just an awful lot of broken eggs and sore feet everywhere. Lagosians are literally losing years off their lives sitting in traffic. We provide our own water, we buy our own converters, group together to work the drainage on our streets, and now the government is taking jobs they didn't even provide.
There was a time you could not open your pot of soup without seeing the Governor’s face smiling at you from a poster inside it. If there is a comprehensive plan, then this is the right government to tell us about it. They know how to do an awareness campaign.
Okadas are dangerous, yes. They are being slammed as being the vehicle of choice for the quick robber: the handbag snatcher, the quick getaway for the armed robber. A vehicle is only as dangerous as the intent of the person handling it. I have stared down the barrel of a gun twice. One was from a bandit in a car, the second time was an unstable, drunk policeman. Many Lagosians can tell you tales of “entering one chance” in Danfo buses. I sincerely hope the government has no plans to scrap cars or Danfo buses. Or policemen.
People are suffering. It is not an inconvenience or a slight discomfort. Strategy and action are needed. Government is best served when there is an opposition party for checks and balances. A leading opposition must do more than tweet their doubt regarding the Okada restriction; they should use the opportunity to enlighten the people on what they could do better. Assuming they have strategies to that effect. If MC Oluomo is one of the only people meeting with the governor to discuss the ban, then perhaps Lagos truly deserves the leaders she gets.
There are some options. Lagos State may declare that they have heard the cries of the people and start to work with the verified Okada agents - Opay, Gokada and Max.ng – getting them to register their riders with adequate verification and identification. This will effectively eliminate the hundreds of thousands of Okada riders who cannot meet the thresholds for these companies, providing a win-win for all. The licensed companies will enjoy their monopoly, Lagos State will enjoy the fees charged for the license, and Lagosians will see their now-enhanced calf muscles return to a resting state.
Or perhaps we will see Okadas reintroduced on the major highways a few months to elections. After all, nothing makes a man more eager to vote than a few crumbs offered him from the slice he used to previously eat freely from.
Or perhaps it will all go to hell in a handbasket and police will gradually start to allow bikes on banned routes for 'wazo' or 'hundy'.
Whatever happens, this is Nigeria and aluta will invariably continua.