Lagos and the malignant okada banditry

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Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Gory spectacle. A young sound engineer bludgeoned to death in the open. Not a secret cult war. Passersby watched and recorded the lynching. Okada boys picked up cudgels and rammed blow after blow until he stretched out. Bizarre till the end. Nobody seemed to realize that a human being was being murdered. The okada boys seemed beside themselves, possessed by bloodthirstiness. Humanity had fled into hiding, leaving depravity to deputize.

It happened in 2022, in Lekki, not Ajangbadi.

David Imoh’s death was brutal and swift. Died at 38. The police came or didn’t come. The beer lounge where he had sought refuge has a thousand versions of the same story. The traffic continued, and shiny cars strode past, beside his battered body. If they had used a guillotine, they would have spared him a slow death and many broken bones. Was it possible the crowd that watched and filmed mistook him for an armed robber and offered no sympathy beyond gasps?

Some said the mob had rechristened him as yahoo-yahoo practitioner. But who kills yahoo-yahoo boys in Lagos? Whatever the version, his death is ultimately attributable to that ubiquitous army of violence-prone okada riders dispensing mayhem all over Lagos.

It’s a daily rampage. Some months ago, it was a senior police officer. Leader of the team sent to contain an okada menace in Ajao estate. Rather than disperse at the sight of law enforcement, the okada boys erupted and attacked the police. The CSP perhaps stood his ground. They bludgeoned him to death in broad daylight. The sight of naked police impotence is otherworldly scary.

After EndSars, the okada banditry went barbaric. 

This danger was foreseen; the looming disaster was foretold. Politics befuddles. It’s steadily acquiring an ethnic complication. Demons are tugging at the gates of hell. The sore has gone cancerous. But for over a decade, while others hurried for cover and excised the tumour, the Lagos state government fiddled. Handcuffed by infantile political calculations, successive Lagos governors have dithered and dithered and cuddled the monster. Sawno-Olu had promised ruthlessness against disorder. But we have seen him.

When a governor issues an order and allows it to fall to the ground, he tramples on his own authority. A visit to Mile Two will convince Sanwo Olu that he shares sovereignty of the state with the okada rascals. How else can anyone describe the easy cohabitation of the emblem of utter lawlessness and law enforcement officers at Mile Two. Without curbing okada, Sanwo Olu cant regain the slipping reins of Lagos.

The endemic traffic snarls can be explained. The bad roads are explicable. We always take shambolic excuses. But how can anyone explain the murder of the sound engineer or the police chief? The state government must take responsibility. But not by issuing lame ultimatums. We have moved from planting flowers and beautifying spaces to allowing okada riders and urchins to convert highways to motor parks and bare their anuses at the state. The okada riders have noted our collective impotence and metamorphosed into a warmongering cult pushing the state to the precipice of an ethnic conflagration.

But what is the psychology of their vengeance? They have a visible antipathy toward traffic regulation. They have animosity against cars. They are allergic to discussions and peaceful resolutions of road traffic conflicts. Their instincts are tribal. They have a particular propensity for violence. Once provoked, they pounce. Often times they are the offenders. Against them, you must run away. They have always been pugnacious, but they are now vampiric. They hunt in packs. Against the state, they feel invincible.

Other states in the federation didn’t outlaw okada because of their peculiar gangsterism. They did because okada became a public nuisance and created health and security risks. They filled the orthopaedic hospitals. They aided grave and petty crimes. Consequently, one after the other, states chased them away from their cities. Banished from the entire country, okada converged on permissive Lagos and adopted a feral survival mechanism. While other states outlawed okada Lagos dilly-dallied. Now, Lagos is on the brink.

Some months ago, irate okada men attacked LASU gate and destroyed cars. Had they gained entrance, they could have vandalized the university. They came in their hundreds, bearing cudgels.That day, at Lagos State University, the state retreated. The cowardice of the state govt against the okada boys is benumbing. The seeming powerlessness of the state government must bother Lagos residents.

Sanwo Olu’s first phase list is timid.   Festac and Amuwo Odofin have no business with Okadas. But they are not on the list. Many parts of Apapa have been made impassable by terrible roads, rendering okada almost indispensable. The governor must rise up and protect the state. He must engage Residents’ Associations and vigilantes. Many communities in Lagos are willing to help to contain the nuisance. The governor must invite Lagos residents to partake in reclaiming their living spaces.

The ethnic dimension the complexity is acquiring could make it exceptionally volatile. Most of the okada riders are from the Niger Republic. But social tension is growing. In the street, national distinctions are blurred, and ethnic associations are emphasized. Often the rights of the okada riders are championed by the leadership of the Hausa community. Ethnic chauvinism and defensiveness will make matters worse. Lagos is the most tolerant city in Africa. But its spirit of accommodation is being tested. Daily, truckloads of Okadas pour into Lagos. Most of the incoming riders have no homes. Lagos must act decisively. But the folks that have already arrived must be given alternative paths to livelihood. Lagos, it seems, is their last bus stop.

While opening up the waterways and establishing farms and artisanry schools to absorb the youths, Lagos must begin prosecuting okada passengers.

Eko O ni baje o

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