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Okada Riders vs FCTA: Bows, Arrows, Daggers…And Guts

By Itunu Ajayi, Abuja
10 May 2015   |   12:03 am
COMMERCIAL motorcycling has become a major means of transportation in many Nigerian cities and villages, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is no exception.

Achaba Abuja

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Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.

COMMERCIAL motorcycling has become a major means of transportation in many Nigerian cities and villages, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is no exception.

Politicians have often leveraged on unemployment and need to win hearts by facilitating so-called empowerment, handing out motorcycles to youths who could have been engaged in more productive ventures.

Able-bodied men, whom government could have assisted through mechanized farming, so that less focus is placed on the country’s black gold, have strayed into cities including the FCT, to earn a living. For these, it is more blessed to be an Okada man (commercial motorcyclist) than do any thing else. Besides the promise of daily pay, they are also excited at being in the country’s capital city.

The fallout, however, has been more carnage on roads, increase in crime rate, and an overstretching of public facilities. The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) is insisting that no Okada must operate within the city centre and its expressways; the Okada operators, on their part, are saying the FCT belongs to all Nigerians.

And besides, they cannot afford to be jobless. In recent time, especially after the general election, they have grown defiant. And at some points, they have even assaulted FCTA officers tasked with curbing their excesses. The situation between the task force and the motorcyclists, at the moment, is one of survival of the fittest.

Expectedly, residents anxious to commute are at the receiving end. Men of the task force would often raid an Okada park and impound motorcycles, which are never returned to the owners.

People would, consequently, be forced to trek long distances. This scenario would play out for some two or more days. And then the situation would revert to the pre-raid era, the recalcitrant operators having acquired new sets of motorcycles and swung back into business.

The transport system in the FCT is such that both the government’s high capacity buses and privately owned taxis drop passengers at bus stops along expressways like Airport Road, Kubwa/Zuba Road and Nyanyan/Mararaba Road.

Elsewhere in the world, the high capacity buses would be routed through estates along the highways, dropping passengers at designated bus stations, and making the people’s experience of walking to their homes less tiring.

In the FCT, however, people have to, first, alight along the expressway, and then ride an Okada home. This is the challenge: Okada operators have become necessary evils in the FCT. Could bicycling be a solution? In some countries, the contraption is an acceptable mode of commuting.

Its use not only reduces air pollution occasioned by the burning of fossil fuel; it is also a proven way to getting a healthy body. In China, for instance, people would park their bikes at train stations, get in the coach, return, and ride their bicycles home. People who choose to ride bicycles in Nigeria, however, may well prepare their will before embarking on the apparent suicide mission.

There are simply no provisions for such indulgence. ONE high profile individual who tried to stamp biking on the psyche of Nigerians was Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Transport Minister during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Maduekwe had been to China and seen how people moved around easily on their bicycles.

Fascinated at the thought that Nigerians could one day ride to work like the Chinese, he returned brimming with ideas, eager to replicate the trend. What Maduekwe failed to realise, however, was that China had routes designated for bicycles, with iron rails that shielded riders from motorists, and other related traffic conveniences. Bent on being exemplary, Maduekwe rode a bicycle to the federal executive meeting. But twice, he had stories to tell. Once, he was drenched by rain.

On another occasion, he lost balance and fell when an oncoming vehicle took a shot at him. While the VIP cyclist had no control over the first incident, the second was clearly man made – the product of a city’s lack of infrastructure.

The entire Airport and Kubwa Roads are under the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). These areas are considered part of the city centre and are among the no-go areas for Okada.

But the reality on ground is that there are no alternative means of transportation for residents from the expressways to their homes in these areas. If the FCTA is insisting that Okada riders should not operate, is there an alternative arrangement to ease the movement of people? The Guardian spoke with Director, Road Traffic Services (also known as VIO), Danjuma Aliyu Garba. There is nothing anyone can do to alter government’s policy, stressed Garba.

He said: “The point is that there has been a ban on the use of motorcycles in the FCT, even before I came. Everybody is aware of that. It was even during El-Rufai’s tenure that the ban was imposed. There is a task force, headed by the commissioner of police, to rid the city of Okada, and other security agencies and we are collaborating to achieve this. We also have similar mandate against unpainted taxis.

“It is a government policy. I, as a government worker, cannot tell you how people should get to their destinations. It would be unfair to me.

If you reflect on what is happening in other parts of the country, these Okada are likely tools in the hands of criminals, and they do all kinds of evil things. The same Okada stray into the highway.

Sometimes, in the evening, they will be driving against the traffic with their headlights on. And that Airport route is an international one; that is the window to this country.

The Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMMAC) and the entire city centre is a no-go area; they are not expected to operate there at all. But they are allowed in places like Bwari, Gwagwalada and Kuje.

“The irony is that a lot of them are becoming so desperate, and they are attacking our staff. There is an army lady on the task force; they threw a heavy stone and it hit her by the side.

There was a time some Fulani boys used bows and arrows on our people. They have become lawless.” Garba noted that the attacks became intense after the general elections, with the operators becoming more daring.

According to him, they now ride on the expressway with impunity, armed with dangerous weapons and the slogan that change has come; hence they can do whatever they like.

“Taxis could enter those estates instead of dropping people by the roadside, which they do illegally too. But because they want to maximise profit, they drop people along the expressway.

No one stops them from entering the estates,” said Garba. He said the commissioner of police had stressed at a stakeholders’ meeting that the issue of Okada is linked to safety in the FCT, adding that that there has been proven reduction in Okada related accidents in states like Lagos and Kaduna where the motorcyclists have been banned.

“Okada are not even supposed to be licensed for commercial purposes and so the agency does not license them,” he said. “For us to have a robust transport system,” Garba said, “we need infrastructure. But taxis can enter places like Gwarimpa, Lugbe and other estates, instead of Okada and Keke NAPEP (tricycles) often used for theft and other criminal acts.

Let the transport system be streamlined. We would have the buses going to places, the taxis going to the estates and the rest. That would help. Because of unemployment, people see the FCT as a fertile ground. They just gather, say N100,000 to N150,000, buy an Okada and begin to operate.”

Jide Macaulay, a resident of the FCT, thinks Nigeria should have a workable, people-friendly transportation system. He called for good road networks that would enhance movement without recourse to the use of Okada.

“How did we get here in the first place? Before politicians and their wives started the idea of empowering youths with Okada, Nigerians transported themselves around. One would then wonder what went wrong.

These Okada boys are very reckless. Don’t forget, they are a bunch of illiterates; majority of them can’t even dialogue in simple English. But can you blame them? There are no jobs and they have to survive.

Don’t be surprised to find daggers strapped to their waists.

At the slightest provocation, they are ready to kill. Tell them to ride gently when they carry you, and they become furious, as if they are carrying you for free. Something radical should be done about them. But this cannot be achieved, unless we have the proper structures on ground.”