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If it had been tears of joy, the herald of okada riders into the Nigerian transport system would have been a welcome development. But the tears are indeed painful in different homes of Nigerians as okada riders wreak their havoc endlessly in the course of transporting Nigerians from one point to the other across Nigerian cities.

Alfa Allimi was able to raise some money through the cooperative society in which he was a bonafide member. As a farmer based in Lagos and his farm located in Ogun State, he was excited about the idea of purchasing a Bajaj motorcycle in order to ease the stress associated with his weekly trip to his farm. But as soon as he made his purchase, the okada riders in his neighbourhood proved him totally wrong.

With tears in his eyes, he opened up to this reporter. “On the fateful day, I parked my Bajaj motorcycle at the back of the house. And as a security conscious person, I used to wake up around 2 a.m. in order to find out whether the bike is safe or not. But on this particular night, I just slept off. And when I woke up around 3 a.m., the motorcycle was nowhere to be found. And this is a motorcycle I bought through hire purchase. I am yet to complete the installment payment. Besides, there is a debt to be settled at the cooperative society.”

But how is he sure that the okada riders are involved in the theft? This reporter asked. And it was his wife that swiftly responded. “There is no doubt about it, the okada riders are the thieves. In the past three months, they have been stealing motorcycles in this neighbourhood. These are the new okada riders that have just settled in this area. They are from a village not far from the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic.”

A secondary school teacher in Lagos who wished to remain anonymous told this writer about his own unpleasant experience.

“In the school where I teach, it is customary for teachers to pool their salaries together at the end of the month in the form of monthly contribution. When it came to my turn, I received almost N300,000. My wife and I decided to invest this money wisely, hence we purchased two Sinoiki motorcycle. We gave them out to two okada riders in our area so that they can be rendering daily returns (money) to us at the end of every business day. Rather than honouring the terms of the agreement, they both failed woefully as they converted the motorcycles to their own use.

“Whatever they made every day was paid into their own account without reverting back to us.”

According to the teacher, it was a tug of war before he was able to recover the motorcycles which had been damaged almost beyond repairs as a result of reckless use. And rather than making profit from the transaction, the teacher incurred debt in respect of the okada business.

Mopelola is a 34-year old nurse in one of the private hospitals in Lagos. She was coming from a vigil organised by a church recently.

She had her baby strapped at her back when she got to the bus stop that early morning. She waved an okada rider to stop for her. And up till now, her experience seemed like a nightmare as she narrated the incident to this writer.

“I got to the bus stop around 5 a.m. I was having my baby strapped at my back. An okada rider was passing by and as I waved my right hand to stop him, the young rider quickly stopped. As we were going, heading in the direction of my area of residence, the okada rider took a face towel from the front of his motorcycle. He used it to wipe off his face, and as if he wanted to hang it on his left shoulder, he hit the towel on my head. From that point onwards, I instantly lost my sense of reasoning.”

According to the nurse, the okada rider began to ride at a great speed towards the outskirts of Lagos until they got into a bush. And by the time he stopped finally, it was on a bush path where the mother and the baby were finally handed over to a team of kidnappers. By the time they took me and my baby to a lonely hut in the jungle, my sense of reasoning was restored. It was then I realised I was now in the hands of kidnappers.

“I came across about 10 other people who had also fallen victims like me. It was at this time I began to call the name of Jesus, but my kidnappers were not deterred. They shaved the hair of my baby and mine. And when they finally led me to the presence of the herbalist in order to be slaughtered for ritual purposes, the old man shouted. ‘Take her away! Take her and the child away!’ Two of the kidnappers bundled me and my child away from that demonic premises.”

And when this writer asked how the nurse was able to find her way back home, she said it was really the divine guiding hand of God.

“By the time the kidnappers took me away from the hut in the jungle, they dumped me on a foot path. And after walking for some kilometers, I began to hear the sound of moving vehicles. Using the sound of the vehicles as a guide, I was able to get to a tarred road. The vehicles passing by were unwilling to stop for me. This is because passengers in those vehicles thought I was a mad woman who is nursing a baby. At last, a kind hearted Nigerian stopped and parked beside me. He took the risk and listened to my story. It was this man that gave me a free ride back to Lagos.”

Another person also spoke about an incident which would always cause pain and tears in the eyes of the victim for the rest of her life. And the unforgettable bitter experience was that of a young woman who had her baby strapped at her back. She mounted the back of a Bajaj motorcycle and the rider was so rough and careless in the way and manner he was contesting for the right of way with a bus along Ijoko Road in Ogun State. All of a sudden, the baby strapped to her back fell off from the back of the mother and only to be crushed to death by an on-coming vehicle.

A woman popularly known as Alhaja, real name (withheld) came recently to Lagos on a visit from Ibadan. When she alighted from the bus at Ojodu-Berger, she waved down an okada rider that would take her to Iju, a suburb of Ifako Agege. But that singular action was her undoing and she had a story of woe to tell in respect of that incident.

“In the first place, I was not supposed to stop the okada rider on that terrible day. But I was in a hurry to keep an appointment with my friend whom I had come to visit concerning an important issue. Besides, it was already getting late as I got down from the bus at Ojodu-Berger around 10 p.m. as we were riding along the way, the okada rider just stopped suddenly. As he snatched my handbag, he pushed me into the nearby gutter. He quickly made a U-turn and sped away with my bag, with all the precious things contained therein.”

In the far-away district of Aiyedade in Osun State, a tragedy occurred recently and the whole community is yet to recover from the shocking experience. It was the case of Pastor Ade who was the head of a vibrant Pentecostal church populated by youths in that community. According to eyewitnesses, on that particular Sunday, after the morning service in his church, he was off to clinic where one of his church members had been admitted for treatment the previous day. Rather than riding in his own car, he asked an okada rider to take him there.

The pastor got to the clinic which was located on the outskirts of the town some few minutes later. He prayed for the patient and as he was being taken back to his church by the same okada rider, an on-coming vehicle rammed into the motorcycle. According to the eye witness at the scene of the accident, the man of God did not die immediately and he was quickly rushed to a nearby hospital. The okada rider did not lose his life in the accident. He did not even sustain any injury. But through his careless riding of the motorcycle, he was involved in an accident that caused the death of the amiable young pastor...

Whenever an Okada accident occurs, passengers at the back of the motorcycle are not always the only victims of the mishap. More often than not, the okada rider himself might end up a major victim, with broken limbs or even losing his life in the process. And this seemed to be the fate of Mr. Ezinwa, although he did not lose his own life in the mishap, the broken limbs are the tell-tale signs of the unfortunate accident.

According to the wife of the victim, she was always disturbed whenever her husband rode the motorcycle that was involved in the accident. “My husband is a bricklayer. It is because of hard times that pushed him into riding okada so that he can make some money for the family upkeep. And by his nature, my husband is a carefree person. Had he been a very calm person, he would have been able to avoid the grave mistake that caused the accident. I had always warned him to take life easy. But look at the mess he has put the family now? And this is an accident that was quite avoidable. For almost one year, he was at the place of the local medicine-man who was mending his bones. Even now that he is on his feet, he is already deformed.”

With tears in the homes of their victims and even tears in their own homes too, will the okada riders take a break and learn some useful lessons from all these avoidable accidents? May be this will happen one day when they cease from the rat-race of making money by all means – whether fair or foul.

•Bayo Babatunde writes from Lagos

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