THEY ARE HUMAN BEINGS AND DESERVE THE RIGHTS TO LIVELIHOOD!!
Text of the Press Conference by Joint Action Front (JAF) held at CCG, Lagos, Thursday, November 15th 2012
We welcome our dear media compatriots to this press conference aimed at two issues:
1. The anti-poor policy of the Lagos State Government in banning the Okada operators and the ongoing extra-judicial brutality unleashed on the Okada operators and the destruction of their motorcycles;
2. The State of the Nation and the way forward.
1. The Anti-Poor Policy of Lagos Government in Banning Okadas
The Joint Action Front has deemed it necessary to draw the attention of Lagosians, Nigerians and international public to the obnoxious New Traffic Law enacted by the Lagos State Government and its attendant excesses and escalating gross violation of human rights of Okada riders and commuters in Lagos State, which should never be permitted in any democratic society; and the need to urge Lagosians, Nigerians and patriots all over the world to RESIST this unjust law, because of its disastrous consequences on the socio-economic life and security of life and property in Lagos and Nigeria in the no distant future.
1.1 The Ban on Okada Operations in 475 Roads by the Anti-Poor Lagos State Government: The Facts the PUBLIC Must know
· JAF wishes to state that Governor Fashola anti-poor policy measures had never been in doubt except that Lagosians have allowed themselves to be taken for a ride for too long. As is in the instance of the Okada riders, the Fashola’s administration had to put its plan to deal with the Okada riders and their families on hold, simply because he needed their votes in 2011 for a second term, which they obliged him. We recall then, that Governor Fashola distributed free helmets and jackets to Okada riders and deceptively told them that Lagos would not ban Okada operations.
· First, we in JAF recognise that there are safety issues involved in defining regulations on the use of roads and infrastructure, and most especially on plying the highways. The central issue of contention in the New Lagos Traffic Law was the fraudulent listing of the 475 inner roads in Schedule II (which was not presented as part of the Traffic Bill during the Public Hearing), but was fraudulently appended as part of the new Lagos Traffic Law as passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly and signed into law by Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola.
· Second, the need for regulations on roads and infrastructures as it affects all vehicular traffic and commuters should not an excuse for punitively denying the Okada operators access to earning their means of livelihood.
· Third, the 475 listed roads are inner routes that actually connect the other unlisted routes and majority of them don’t have alternatives to the use of Okada because state and private buses don’t ply those routes and taxis are not affordable. For example, the Ogba industrial area such as Acme, WEPCO, Akilo, Guinness, etc.
· Fourth, banning Okada on the 475 roads is not simply about the survival of the Okada operators, it also has serious effect on millions of Lagosian commuters. And since the so-called ban order, Lagosian commuters have been going through daily agonies because of the shortage of the yellow buses, unaffordable taxis and state buses. This clearly bears testimony to why Lagosian commuters board Okadas despite the risks.
· But what has Governor Fashola done now? He not only ensured that he denied Okada riders their means of livelihood, but equally asked all those who cannot obey his anti-poor laws and policies to leave Lagos. Could Fashola and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ban Okada from the 475 roads in an election year? NO. This is the time to REJECT and RESIST this deceptive and anti-poor LASG!
1.2 The Brutality of the Okada operators and Extra-Judicial Excesses of LASG
· In the guise of enforcement of the new Lagos State Traffic Law on Okada operations in the 475 roads, Okada operators and those with private motorcycles have been subject of various forms of extra-judicial brutality. We have reports of extra-judicial brutality across the State on anyone (exception uniformed personnel) sighted on motorcycles. There are such widely media reported cases in the past two weeks, of an Okada rider stripped naked in Akoka and another Okada rider killed at Ilupeju Byepass, Mushin area, who was reported shot in the chest by the police and died hours later.
· Why should the Lagos State Government (LASG) resort to the rule of force when there is a rule of law?
· Why should Governor Fashola call on the GOC 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Gen. Kenneth Minimah that the army should join in brutalising the Okada riders in the guise of implementing an unjust law?
· The LASG should stand condemned for this act of executive lawlessness and human rights violations being perpetrated by its Task Force, the police, KAI and LASTMA officials
1.3 Why Do Commuters Patronise Okadas despite the Risk?
· One of the reasons why Lagosian commuters patronise Okadas is the horrible state of the roads especially in the heavily populated areas like Alimoso, Agege, Ifako Ijaye, Ikorodu, Amuwo Odofin, Ajegunle, Orile, Amukoko, etc.
· Why do people patronise Okada despite the risks? Taxis in Lagos are unaffordable and unlike FCT Abuja and Port Harcourt and other major cities in Nigeria where taxis charge as low as N50 – N300 per drop, in Lagos, the minimum charge per drop is not less than N600. As a matter of fact, Lagos taxis are three times more expensive, which makes it unaffordable for a worker on a Minimum Wage of N18,000 per month.
· The Okada issue has revealed the inadequacy of the state public transportation system – the lack of mass transit. With over a million Okadas carrying an average of 10 passengers per Okada per day, it means that the Okadas in Lagos service an average of 10 million commuters per day.
1.4 Why we are opposed to the Anti-Poor Policy of LASG on Okadas?
· The banning of Okada operations on the 475 roads is unjust and contrary to the spirit and letter of Section 16 of the 1999 Constitution that Government shall operate the economy in such ways that wealth is not concentrated in few hands at the expense of the majority and also to protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities.
· The purported recognition by Lagos State of two (2) Okada groups for patronage, politically motivated purposes and as agents-provocateur to curtail the rights of other Okada groups is contrary to Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria on Freedom of Association and Assembly.
· As to the question of why is JAF opposing the ban on Okada in Lagos and not in FCT and PH? JAF wishes to state that it is opposed to the banning of Okadas anywhere in Nigeria as long as the state abdicates its responsibility to the citizenry. We are committed to urging Nigerians any where they are to RESIST any exploitative and oppressive policies targeted at their survival, and security of life and property.
· However, we should state clearly that the Lagos situation is different from Abuja and PH in several ways. First, the Abuja metropolitan roads are wide and well paved and there is negligible need for Okada because the buses are cheap and taxis are available at N200 – N400 on routes that will cost three times more in Lagos. Also, to note is that the rich lives in the metropolis of Abuja and not the poor. But Okadas ply the inner routes of the outer settlements where most residents of Abuja live, and as such there are Okadas everywhere in Gwagwalada, Nyanyan, Karu, Mpape, Dutse, etc.
· Mr. Kayode Opeifa, the Lagos State Commissioner for Transport was reported to have admitted that over 450,000 Okada riders purchased the Riders permit from his office. If that is correct, therefore, the issue should not be banning Okada operations in those 475 roads in places where their services are mostly required, but getting Okadas without permits to comply with Safety regulations, while defaulters should be duly arrested and prosecuted in accordance with law on safety and standards protection.
· Despite the ban, why do stranded commuters still risk taking Okadas and why do some of the Okada operators defy the ban order. It is simply because those operators have to survive. The commuters also need to get to work and back home. The alternative to what the Okada operators are doing now is to force some of them into armed robbery and other acts of extortionist violence; which any responsible government should not allow to happen.
1.5 The Lagos Government’s Lies and Deception on Alternatives to Okadas
· The Lagos State Commissioner for Transport – Mr. Kayode Opeifa has been playing to the gallery on the question of alternatives. He has been widely reported by the media that the LASG has trade centres and agric opportunities as the alternatives to take care of the over million Okada riders affected by the ban order on the 475 roads.
· Let it be stated clearly that Okada operators do not need the trade centres because more than 80% of them are skilled artisans and graduates who as a result of growing unemployment, lack of job opportunities and infrastructure deficiency such as electricity to function in their chosen trades, have been compelled into the Okada transport, which is now servicing more than 10 million Lagosians per day.
· If we may ask: how many jobs has the Agric-YES of the Lagos State Government benefitted? 600 or so unemployed in 4 years and what is even the fate of those 600 beneficiaries at present? How many has the so-called trade centres benefitted?
· Government (not just Lagos State) over the years has reneged in its responsibility for job creation and employment opportunities; hence some of the unemployed resort to providing services through Okadas.
1.6 Our Demands
We in JAF demand:
· That the Chief of Army Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the President Goodluck Jonathan as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces should call to order immediately all armed personnel being used to brutalise hapless citizens in the name of a jungle law being enforced by the LASG.
· The abrogation of the obnoxious new Lagos Traffic law.
· The return of all the unjustly confiscated motorcycles because there was no judicial pronouncement on such acts of lawlessness.
· Immediate End to arbitrary arrests, shooting and extra judicial killings of violators of traffic laws by the Police, Army and LASG officials and agents.
· Full compensation to the individuals, families and dependants of all victims of the current repression and extra judicial excesses on the account of the obnoxious and inhuman traffic law.
· That the National Human Rights Commission should investigate the ongoing extra-judicial excesses being perpetrated by the LASG and bring to justice all those found culpable.
· And urge Lagosians and Nigerians to be prepared for MASS RESISTANCE against the repressive policies of the Lagos State Government.
2. The State of the Nation and the way forward.
SYSTEM CHANGE REMAINS OUR GOAL!
· We STAND by SYSTEM CHANGE, which means:
“Nigeria is rich. The wealth belongs to the people. Most Nigerians are hungry, have no jobs, no education, no healthcare, no potable water, no electricity supply and no affordable transportation. Most cannot feed their families or educate their children. Those who are lucky to have jobs are not much different. They also cannot afford a decent living for their families. On the other hand, there is a very tiny group of Nigerians who have cornered the wealth that belong to the working people and the poor, who are in the majority. They loot the treasury and use their stolen wealth to sustain themselves in power through their political parties. They use their power to get richer and richer when the poor get poorer and poorer. This is the system of exploitation and oppression. It is the system that brings out the army and the police to kill poor people when they protest against oppression and exploitation.
We want to change that system and replace it with a system where the working people and the millions of people who are sufferings under the system of exploitation will win power and ensure that the wealth of Nigeria is used to ensure a good life for the majority of the people who are now exploited and oppressed. System change is not replacing one exploiter’s government by another exploiter’s government. It is replacing an exploiter’s government by a people’s government to reorganise Nigeria and put an end to exploitation and oppression”.
FORWARD EVER, BACKWARD NEVER!
Dr. Oladipo Fashina Comrade Abiodun Aremu
JAF Chairperson JAF Secretary