‘We use rickety bikes because of past experience’
By Fred Ezeh
Today it is hard to think that someone would deliberately violate an order by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) banning the use of commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada, within the Abuja city centre despite knowing of the penaltiesm which include the confiscation of the motorbike, if arrested.
On October 1, 2006, then Minister of the FCT, who is now Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, after due consultation and several postponements, announced the ban on okada in the Abuja city centre citing several factors. He, however, asked the motorcylists to limit their activities to the satellite towns, where there were fewer or no infrastructure, particularly good roads, as it is in Abuja metropolis, that could be misused, resulting in road crashes.
El-Rufai equally directed that all security and traffic officers should be deployed to enforce the law, arresting and confiscating the bike of whoever they caught violating the order.
Shortly after, many commuters, apparently frustrated by the long walk under the hot sun, because there were few alternatives to motorbikes, kicked against the decision, requesting that the administration halt the policy pending when other sources of intra-city transportation were provided for the city centre.
But the Minister insisted that he was right in his decision, explaining that commercial motorcycles, as a mode of transport in Abuja metropolis, was never recognised in the master plan.
“Besides that, their recklessness and lack of knowledge of the road signs was responsible for the high cases of daily road accidents, putting undue pressure on FCT health service system,” he said.
Nevertheless, there was the general belief, with the benegit of hindsight, that the action of minster restored sanity and discipline to Abuja roads. Most importantly, incidents of crashes and demand for orthopaedic services dropped significantly.
El-Rufai challenged journalists and civil society activists, who kept harassing him about the complaints of the residents, to visit any of the district hospitals across FCT and see for themselves, the pains, permanent injuries and fractures inflicted on innocent people by some reckless okada riders.
Unfortunately, years after el-Rufai left office as Minister of the FCT, his successors have failed to maintain the pace of enforcement, leading to the gradual return of okada to the city centre.
His successors, particularly the immediate past minister, Sen. Bala Mohammed, empowered the Abuja Environmental Protection Board and the Directorate of Road Transport Services as well as the police and other security agencies to swoop on anyone flouting the order, but all their efforts yielded only cosmetic, temporary results.
While some of the okada riders operate under the cover of darkness, others who perhaps enjoy the backing of the police and other traffic officials operate unhindered all day.
AYA Junction in Asokoro
The okada riders now swarm freely around Asokoro, which is one of the most expensive districts in Abuja. Their presence is very conspicuous at the popular AYA Junction, day and night, where they stay in clusters waiting for patrons.
Daily Sun learnt that the okada riders, some of whom are very educated, begin work as early as 4am, when most white-collar workers are heading to their office. Most of the motorcyclists come from the nearby Koruduma village while others sneak in from Nyanya, Karu, Mararaba and Kugbo very early in the day to beat security operatives who often apprehend them on their way.
A commercial motorcycle operator who identified himself as Usman told our correspondent that he was aware of the ban on motorcycle operations within the vicinity, but he had secured the protection of some police officials who work with him.
“Even at that, we make good money daily as against what is obtainable in satellite towns. I rush out in the morning well dressed, then change to work cloth as soon as I arrive. My neighbours hardly suspect that I am an okada rider because of the way I dress when leaving the house in the morning or returning in the evening.
“Due to bad experiences in past, we chose to use rickety bikes so that, in the event that we run out of luck and get arrested by the FCT officials, which means automatic confiscation of our bikes, it won’t bother us much.
“For instance, I have forfeited two bikes in the last two years and I am not bordered because I had recovered the cost before the confiscation. We won’t stop, no matter what the FCT officials do,” he said.
Garki Area 3 and Maitama
An official of the FCT Administration claimed that their undercover investigation confirmed that security officials from the neighbouring barracks and many of those on duty were the ones that rode the bikes.
The official, who pointed out several other places where the military men on mufti violate the order banning okada in Abuja, said the offender were bold and unafraid because of their military status, as they usually displayed their identity cards when confronted for violating the ban.
A commuter who identified herself as Magdalene Nkasi informed our correspondent that even commercial bus drivers whose activities were banned few years ago, have also resurfaced and are operating freely at Banex, Maitama and Berger junctions as well as Garki Area 1 and 3.
She said that the resurgence of okada in Abuja’s city centre was the height of failure of the FCT administration to properly manage the city.
“The current FCT Minister, Musa Bello, seems not to be getting it right with his plans for FCT. It’s also a horrible situation that the beautiful city of Abuja with world-class architectural design, known for its neatness and structural discipline has turned to something else.”
“Dirt everywhere, destitutes at every traffic junction, broken sewage that releases offensive odour, sudden rise of illegal markets, motor parks, broken down street and traffic lights, crime, hooliganism among several other anomalies.”
FCT administration reacts
Meanwhile, the media aide to the minister of FCT, Alhaji Sani Abubakar reminded our correspondent that the use of motorcycle for commercial purposes remains banned in Abuja metropolis warning those who still engage in it to quit or be visited with punishment.
He however said that a Ministerial Task Team under the chairmanship of Abdullahi Adamu Monjel has intensified arrest of the operators caught violating the order and the confiscation of their motorbike.
He said, “Tricycle operators also known as ‘Keke’ who also violate the orders are not spared by the task team. So, it’s not limited to okada riders”.