Isaac Anumihe and Fred Itua
For the residents of Nyanya-Maraba axises, a suburb of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other users of AYA-Nyanya corridor, the activities of commercial motorcycles, popularly known as okada, is a mixture of curses and blessings. For the operators, it is a safe haven for crime, criminality and brisk business opportunity.
Although the business is carried out in most parts of the city like Lugbe, Kubwa Gwarinpa, Kuje etc, with fear, the effrontery and impunity with which the operators carry on along AYA and Nyanya axis has become very worrisome. Their operation gathers momentum mostly during traffic jam along that axis with a conspiratorial silence of the law enforcement agents along the corridor.
It is highly regrettable when the operators move against the traffic in the full glare of security agents mounting sentry at the roadblocks. However, commercial motorcycle operation is the fallout of lack of good roads and commercial vehicles to transport the large number of Abuja residents to their destinations. It is also a poverty-alleviation enterprise and an employment opportunity. But apart from the good sides, there is an overwhelming ugly side of criminality in the business.
Recently, there has been an upsurge of criminal activities along the AYA-Nyanya corridor, a situation that raised fresh fear of banditry and other nefarious activities. According to a source, the surge is due to the ban of the okada business in the neighbouring states of Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kastina, Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger states in the North West zone.
Also, the spate of armed robbery and other criminal offences have been traced to the activities of these groups of people to the extent that the Army spokesman, Colonel Sagir Musa, warned the motorcycle operators to desist from operating in those states including Abuja.
“The Nigerian Army over time has observed the use of motorcycles by armed bandits, kidnappers, criminal elements and their collaborators as enablers to perpetrate their heinous crimes especially in the states within the North-West geopolitical zone of the country. This informed the decision and directive to ban the use of motorcycles within the hinterland particularly around the forests where the armed bandits, criminals and kidnappers hibernate.
“While this may cause some inconveniences to some law-abiding citizens in the area, the need to use all means possible to stop the dastardly activities of these bandits across the North West part of Nigeria needs no emphasis. The general public, particularly in the North West and some parts of North Central in Nigeria where Exercise Harbin Kunama is ongoing are enjoined to bear with the Nigerian Army as concerted efforts are being made to combat the insecurity menace ongoing within the area,” he said.
While the ban on the business persists in the FCT, the operators along AYA-Nyanya passageway are not likely to comply with the law as long as there is gridlock on that road. The operators themselves are making a huge amount of money from the business because most Abuja residents would not want to be stuck in the gridlock. So, they take the alternative means of transportation provided for them by the motorcyclists.
Daily Sun learnt that on a good day, a motorcycle operator can rake in N3,000 from 6pm to 11pm or 12 midnight. Some of the commercial motorcycle operators told Abuja Metro that they go home every night with not less than N3,000. But when there is less traffic, they can go home with N2,000 or N1,500 a night.
An operator, David Musa, said: “I make up to N3,000 a night when the gridlock is heavy. But when there is less traffic, I make between N2,000 and N1,500. I started the business last year after my secondary school. As soon as I make enough money I will use it to start a trade.”
Another operator, Ibrahim Abdulraman told Daily Sun that his friend introduced him to the business. He explained that he came from Kano early this year after the business was banned in the state. However, he has found solace in the AYA-Nyanya road night business as he makes enough money to take care of himself.
Similarly, the “okada” commuters who are not comfortable with the ban, said that it will inflict more hardship on the Nyanya residents. Mrs Agness Okoro said: “We use ‘okada’ because it is the only alternative means of transportation where there is gridlock on the road.
“After work, some of us would like to go home early to cook for our husbands. We cannot be in the traffic and our husbands will also be in traffic while the children will be alone in the house. As long as there is a perennial gridlock on the road, nobody can stop the activity of the commercial motorcyclists. They are doing a good job,” she said.
Emmanuel Elijah, a civil servant, called on the government to fix the roads first before enacting any law and that since the roads are inadequate and the existing ones are dilapidated, government has no moral grounds to ban ‘okada’ in the city.
“The road network is grossly inadequate and even the tarred roads are in descript condition due to lack of maintenance. Also, there is no organised form of transport system as obtainable in major cities of the world and the cost of transportation is unusually high,” he said.
However, acting secretary of Transportation in FCT, Achu Alice Ode, told Daily Sun, said the administration will soon enforce the relevant laws and ensure that okada riders involved flouting the rules will be punished.