By Nkechi Chima
This is not the best of times for operators of tricycles, popularly called Keke NAPEP, in the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), particularly within the Federal Capital City, as a task force has for some weeks now been arresting them for violating the law by plying restricted routes of the FCT. The affected districts include Area 1, Ahmadu Bello Way, Area 3 and Area 10.
Abuja Metro learnt that the clampdown, which usually involves the seizure of tricycles, has not gone down well with some residents and other road users, who regard it as further aggravating residents’ hardship in the face of the current economic recession.
A tricycle operator at Garki Market Keke Park, Muhammad Gardos, said their union had a meeting with the Director of Vehicle Inspection, who informed them of government’s plans to ban keke from major roads in the city: “Indeed, it is a very painful and annoying situation in this period. I have a wife, with four children, though my family resides in Keffi, while I work in Abuja. The environmental task force has asked us to stop working along Garki roads. But, how do I cater for my family, since they want us to stop conveying passengers from Garki Market to places like Apo, Area 11 and others?”
Gardos, who said that he has been in business as a tricycle operator in Abuja for over five years, disclosed that he was yet to secure the release of his tricycle confiscated by the police in a similar encounter four years ago.
The tricycle operator accused the task force of demanding N16,500 from the riders for any tricycle confiscated, asking “is that not wickedness?”
Another operator, Hassana a.k.a Tantalaza, whose tricycle was seized by the task force, said that they had done everything possible for government to rescind the clampdown, all to no avail.
“My keke was seized recently at Area 3, Abuja, and I was asked to pay the sum of N16,500 to get it back, but I don’t have the money. I have a wife and two children. I had to relocate my family to the village to enable me manage to survive the recession,” he said.
At Wuse, an operator named Ali Ahmed said that government had also prohibited them from operating between Wuse Market and Berger.
He said, “They told us not to drive from Wuse to Berger. We asked VIO why keke should not operate in those areas, and they told us that it was highway, keke does not have weight to operate on the highway like lorries and trucks. Again, they want us to stay away from Garki, where we are managing, within the market and places like Apo, to earn a living in the face of the bad economy.”
According to Ahmed, more than a thousand tricycles were seized during the previous FCT administration and were yet to be released to their owners. Sounding frustrated, he said “Honestly, I’m tired of this government. They didn’t give us jobs, yet they are collecting what we are managing to survive. Why are we suffering after voting for change? Imagine, they don’t consider the hardship. An average Nigerian cannot afford three square meals, a mudu (bowl) of rice and garri are sold for N650 and N350, respectively, while a tin of milk is almost N200.”
The keke operator appealed to the federal government to come to their aid and alleviate their pains.
An Abuja resident and frequent keke passenger, Ruth Hyacinth, expressed reservations on the restriction imposed on keke operators on major roads.
She said it has further increased the sufferings of poor residents who relied on tricycles for affordable transport and called on government to reverse the order for the benefit of commuters: “In fact, the cost of living is very high in Abuja and keke is cheaper than taxi; how do they want us to survive?”
Also, an Abuja resident, Angela Ahmadu, in her reaction, said government was being unfair to citizens by the restriction: “If they chase labourers away from Abuja, who will do the labourer’s jobs; abi big man wan do labourer work?”
However, the Police Public Relations Officer for the FCT, ASP Anjuguri Manzah, explained that the arrest of defaulters was not a police operation, but a joint exercise with a ministerial task force inaugurated by FCT Minister Muhammad Bello, with the mandate to ensure that tricycles did not operate beyond various spots mapped out for them.
He stated that the ban also included taxi and motorcycle operators (okada).
“Before the exercise, it was announced to them, but the tricycle operators violated the law. That is why they are facing the consequences for their actions. Regarding the bailout fees for Keke NAPEP, I am not aware of that, but I will find out,” he said.