Lawrence Enyoghasu and Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
A week after the ban on motorcycles and tricycles from Lagos’ roads, Lagosians are gradually settling down to the new order. However, operators of the vehicles declared “off-road” are licking their wounds. A few of them shared their misery with Saturday Sun.
One of them, Abdulmummin Oyedele is a father of two who had lived off tricycle earnings since the past three years.
“Since the ban, we have been idle. This has really affected me,” he lamented. “Even when we were not banned, when our tricycle developed a fault, within those few hours of repair, we’d have incurred a big loss. Now we haven’t even worked for days.”
In his case, cutting his losses is easy. He is one of the lucky few who purchased their tricycles with their money and therefore did not have a debt hanging over his head.
“I just parked it (tricycle) at home but I’m still on the lookout for areas where tricycles operate so I can go there and start all over again,” he said. “On the other hand, I am trying to see if I can raise some money, sell the tricycle and add more money to buy a minibus. For instance, in Ogba, Ishaga, Obawole, and Aruna, tricycles still operate there but we do not know the plans of the government.”
During the years of the “Keke boom”, Oyedele had earned a daily wage of N4, 500. Now that the stream of income had dried up, his immediate problem is how to complete payment of his children school fees. “They are both in private schools and I had paid half of the fees. I was planning to complete the payment this week but now that this has happened, I have to use the money to offset some things first,” he said.
Noah Fasasi is another person trapped in the “Keke swamp”––he acquired his tricycle by hire purchase.
The owner of his tricycle had retrieved it from him because there was no way he could keep the vehicle without remitting payment.
His saving grace was that he acquired the vehicle four months before the ban, unlike other operators who were almost through with their payment before the incident. “But now, both the drivers and operators are at a loss,” he noted.
Fasasi who is not married claimed the effect of the ban would be felt most by dependants of the men now rendered idle.
“I have parents who I send money to, younger siblings that I feed and a six-year-old boy I had when I was in secondary school and I am responsible for the child’s upkeep,” he wailed.
While he can choose to return to his old vocation as a bricklayer, he, however, envisaged a difficulty because most people around do not know he possesses such a skill.
“So it will be difficult for me to get people who will patronize me,” he said gloomily.
Emeka Akpa and his colleagues who operate tricycles along Idimu-Ejigbo road found themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous police officers who now feed fat on them since the ban came into effect.
Narrating his ordeal to Saturday Sun, he recounted how he had conveyed a passenger to Iyana Odo and on his return was accosted by police officers who charged him for non-compliance on a federal road.
“I told them I didn’t know it was a federal road. I had always thought it’s a state road; they insisted that ignorance is no excuse and so seized my Keke from me. On our way to the station, I pleaded insistently. They collected N1, 000 from me before releasing my tricycle,” he recounted.
Tricycle operators now work in fear, he claimed. “Police officers are placed at strategic places along the routes, at Council bus stop, Pipeline, Olorunfunmi Grammar School to arrest any tricycle operator in sight,” he stated. “Why should I be doing a legal job in fear? When I’m not a thief or a kidnapper? They’ve just made everything difficult for us with this policy.”
The situation is worse with motorcycle operators, who do not have the leeway available to some tricycle operators. John Esom, an Okada operator at Egbeda said he is tired of the issue because the police disturb motorcyclists in Alimosho, which is not part of the affected areas. John, who had been making N10, 000 daily said he had not been able to raise a quarter of that amount since the ban came into effect. He stated that all he had been using to sustain himself and his family is the money he had saved over time, which would soon be exhausted and might mark his passage into crime in a bid to survive.
Their condition had become precarious in the past one week. Okada riders apprehended by police officers had to part with N10, 000 or N15, 000 before releasing the motorcycle, he claimed. “There was a riot here yesterday because the police officers arrested an Opay driver inside the street and asked him to pay N20, 000 before they could release his bike,” he said.
He continues his tale of woes: “I am married with four children. Since morning, I haven’t even done a single job. Before now, I used to take people from here to Ikeja but now people are not willing to board bikes because they’re scared.”
Esom had ventured into the Okada business when his previous business had gone bust. He had no regret becoming an Okada rider, as he was providing for his family.
“To be sincere, since this happened, I had been having bad thoughts,” he said. “I need to survive. The issue is still calm now because operators are still using the money they have saved to survive, but once that is exhausted many will take to crime.”
Another Opay rider, Sunday Emmanuel, claimed the bike hailing company insisted its riders continue working because Egbeda is not affected. The problem, however, was the police officers pestering them.
According to him, the office (Opay) had called its riders in the areas unaffected by the ban to remit their payment for the day.
“We are not even working to feed our families,” he vented his frustration. “Police are disturbing and you have the Task Force people who would come and raid at short notice; how then can one remit money to the company?”
He added: “I’m supposed to pay my child’s school fees this week but there’s no guarantee I can do that now. Inside this bag, I have government permit, working permit, parking permit and all, my plate number is this year and they still banned Okada. Why then, was I given plate number this year?” he quipped.
Had the ban not been too sudden he wouldn’t have found himself in the dire straits he currently wallows in.
“Assuming the government gave us a six-month notice to get ourselves together, we would have saved enough money to buy minibuses or even process how to get one via hire purchase; now, before someone processes Uber and gets accepted as a driver, the children would have suffered hunger,” he said.
Emmanuel had little faith in the company’s (Opay) assertion that they are “trying to see what can be done about the issue”.
“I don’t have anything or anybody that’s why I ran to this company that embraced me and gave me a bike to work with, hustle for myself and family and bring the company their share but the government has stopped that,” he said.
Where others have tried to be diplomatic, John Lawani was blunt. Lawani, who trained as a furniture maker in Benin, had moved to Lagos and raised a family from Okada earnings.
“My first son is writing JAMB and GCE this year but I don’t even have anything to give to him. I have been riding Okada for over 20 years now. That’s what I use to feed my family of four boys. If I had money to set up a workshop, why would I be riding Okada in the first place? Now, I don’t know what to do. And I have a family to feed,” he wailed.