Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Commercial motorcycle riding, popularly known as ‘”Okada” has become a means of livelihood in Nigeria especially among unemployed youths. Aside from fending for their families, okada operators also bridge the gap of transport fare monopoly which commercial bus and cab owners enjoy and as a result, inflict hardship on the users. Unemployed youths and those who lost their jobs have embraced this business.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the ban placed on the operation of okada within the city centre, has limited the business to satellite towns, urban slums and villages within the area councils. While the business thrives, so many hazards surround its success as a means of transportation.
For instance, not all operators of the trade go out for business and return home alive. Those lucky to be alive have ugly stories of how their motorcycles were snatched.
Akin to the above are the avoidable accidents, which occur on daily basis with attendant loss of lives.
Some of the operators who spoke with Daily Sun gave sordid accounts of their experiences as they confirmed the menace of the trade. Adamu Isiaku, an indigene of Kano State operates within the Karu axis: He “Walahi, the thieves have killed many of our colleagues. They will kill the person and carry his machine and go and sell. The police are not helping us. They don’t arrest them and bring back our machine.”
Samuel Okon operates in Jikwoyi, one of the densely populated settlements within the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). It has many phases without good roads and they are far from the major road linking Nyanya and Karishi.
There is no commercial bus operating on these roads. The passengers are at the mercies of the commercial motorbike operators who are at the mercies of the hoodlums:
“Operating a commercial motorbike is a big risk. Our lives and properties are in danger. First, these thieves will pretend to be passengers. They will arrange with those who will buy the motorbike from them and then lure you to carry them to a place they will pretend to live. On the way they will overpower you and snatch your machine. Some will kill you to close the matter.”
He revealed that as a result of the deadly menace, they have marked some areas as “danger zones” to avoid no matter the amount of money the customer bargains to pay. He listed those dangerous zones to include the road to Dagbana, Phase 4 around the road to Fulani residence popularly called Angwa Fulani.
Speaking on the prospect of the business, Okon: “There is money in the business but the risk outweighs the money we make. You know that in most cases we are afraid of operating and the places that will fetch us more money we avoid them for fear. You see us cluster one place and scrambling for the few passengers like in this Phase 2 junction in Jikwoyi.”
The situation is same at Mararaba, a boundary town in Nasarawa State, with high concentration of the commercial motorbike operators. They assemble in large numbers in places like Abacha Road Junction and Sharp Corner as well as pockets of bus stops, before the Mararaba over head bridge, on daily basis to struggle for their daily bread.
The story is same at Sharp Corner linking Kabayi, Aso, Ruga and Gbagalape as Joseph Shile, who plies the areas lamented: “The situation is getting out of hand because snatching of motorcycles is almost a daily occurrence. Our members have resolved to fight back by means of jungle justice.
“The resolution aroused from alleged inaction of the police. The police in Mararaba and on Abacha Road do not only turn cases of reported motorbike snatching against us but also see it as means to extort money from us.
“We are not only faced with the incessant killing of our members and snatching of their motorbikes alone. The police have continued to make life more miserable for us. Their patrol teams are always arresting and carrying away our machines. Sometimes they demand between N1000 and N1500 to release the machine and sometimes the machines got miss from there.”
Daily Sun discovered that this ugly trend is not limited to villages on the Nyanya/Karu axis of the FCT. Commercial motorcycle riders in Jabi and other parts of the city have equally cried out against the snatching of their motorcycles and deaths of their members.
Ejifor Sunday, a spare parts dealer whose friend was once a victim said those who snatch machines seem to be expert riders. He said in 2016, at Lugbe, his friend purchased a brand new machine, which he gave someone to use for commercial purposes, but that it was the grace of God that the young man was not killed. And that was the last they heard of the machine.
It was, however, found out that most commercial motorcycles are not registered. They have neither registration papers nor number plates. This makes it difficult to trace them when they are stolen. Commercial motorcyclists have also devised means of survival. This includes the use of charms, knives and outright killing of suspected motorcycle thief.
What is going on between the motorcyclists and snatchers is very serious in Kuje. Daily Sun was told how hoodlums sometimes kill any motorcycle operator that refuses to let go of his motorcycle: “In retaliation, the Okada people vent their anger on any suspected thief.” Lawrence Okoh, a resident of Lugbe said.
“If any Okada person should call you a thief, you are in danger of being lynched. Innocent people are also affected by the situation.”
Having been attacked once by the hoodlums, Shehu Immam, a commercial motorcycle operator Lugbe, said he would have loved to carry charms to protect himself from knife and gun but for his religious injunction. He said several motorcyclists now have knives hidden in their clothes or under the motorcycle seats in preparation for the hoodlums:
“If you are carrying knife then you have to be sure that you have charms so that the knife will not penetrate your body, because such attacks usually ends in a fight in which the hoodlums are more prepared.
“I rely on my experience and instincts in this business. There are some places I do not go at night and people I don’t carry.”
Another operator, James Adinu, narrated an attempt to snatch his motorcycle: “The man used sense. I took him to Student Villa in Phase III where he met a man who pretended to be his boss. The boss asked the passenger why he did not come with his wife, insisting that he must go and bring his wife.
“He then told me to give him my motorcycle while I stay with his boss. With his request I was suspicions, I forced the man down from my motorcycle and I left hurriedly.”
But Abubakar Mahmud was not as lucky as he lost one motorcycle to the thieves. He described his experience from the hoodlums as sad and pathetic adding that he had thought he was smarter than his friends whenever they share their experiences until he met his Waterloo.
“I picked a passenger from Karu Bridge who claimed to be a driver going to NNPC petrol station. He told me that police impounded his car and he wanted to see his boss so that he could collect the vehicle from the police.
“When we got there, two people came out while I was trying to give him change. They pointed a gun at me that I should give them the motorcycle or they would kill me. I was left with no option than to hand over the motorcycle keys to them.”
Some of the victims said the thieves have flair for new motorcycles. Haruna Saidu said his motorcycle was stolen from his house in Kurudu village, at gunpoint two weeks after it was bought. He explained that the rise in motorcycle snatching within Gwagwalada metropolis has continued unabated.
Ahemd Gambo said before he got a place where he lives, there were cases whereby armed thieves would invade where they sleep, usually an uncompleted building or shanty, requesting for their keys: “They would go and select the best Okada.
“After the selection, they would request for receipts of the motorcycle. If you declined they would search your pockets and everywhere in the room for the receipts, money and other things.”
FCT police command denied allegations that its officers are involved in Okada theft or collude in anyway with hoodlums to disposes people of their motorcycles. A senior police officer and a Divisional Police Officer told Daily Sun in confidence said the police arrested and successfully prosecuted some motorcycle thieves in court:
“For instance, the Gudu Upper Area Court recently sentenced a 27-year-old man, Ali, who stole a motorcycle from one Salisu Umar at Durumi Market, Abuja. The Magistrate, Alhaji Umar Kagarko, who convicted Ali warned him to desist from crime, gave him an option to pay N60,000 fine.”