Anambra: Okada ban in Awka, Onitsha one year after

On July 1, 2018, when the Anambra state government placed ban on driving of commercial motorcycle popularly referred to as Okada in Awka and Onitsha, there was mixed feelings and concern among the populace.

While Awka is the capital of Anambra state, Onitsha is the commercial nerve centre.

Some were unhappy that their major source of transportation would no longer be available. Okada is the major means of transportation capable of convening passengers to their respective door post in the fast growing capital city and commercial nerve of Africa.

Poor road networks and transport policies of alighting passengers at parks or bust stops make it almost impossible for commercial bus drivers to drive residents home.

Governor Willie Obiano, in a statement signed by Mr James Eze, the Chief Press Secretary, on May, 2018, announced that the decision to ban okada was a resolution by the Anambra Executive Council after a meeting.

“The ultimatum given to Okada operators in the two cities is part of the overall strategy adopted by the state government to deepen its crackdown on crime and restore sanity to Onitsha, the commercial never centre and Awka, the capital city,” he stated.

Residents and business executives including dealers of motorcycle spare parts in Nnewi kicked against the policy. Nnewi is known as an industrial hub of Anambra if not the entire South East geopolitical one. The President of Fairly Used Motorcycle Dealers Association in Nnewi, Mr Eloka Ubajiekwu, in one of his press briefing then, said “There will be serious hunger, diseases and even death of many people over the ban of Okada at this time of harsh economy. The governor should device means to fight crimes emanating from Okada riders in Onitsha and Awka instead of banning their operation completely.”

Ubajiekwu, while acknowledging that some criminals used motorcycle operators to rob people at gunpoint, added that solution to it was not ban because “Criminals also use Sport Utility Vehicles, taxi cabs and buses to rob people at gunpoint but nobody has ever thought of banning such vehicles. A lot of people are fending for themselves and their families with Okada. An Okada rider is taking care of a minimum of five to seven persons daily, feeding them and paying children school fees.

“Motorcycle traders are earning their living from the business; likewise mechanics, vulcanizers and allied workers. By banning Okada transport, they are all in a big trouble because they have lost their jobs. Onitsha and Awka and other places in Anambra are quite different from Owerri, Benin and Enugu where such bans had been effected because the people of those states are not major dealers in motorcycles.

“We can comfortably say that there are no well known motorcycle dealers in those places, but here in Nnewi, we are too many to mention and even though the Okada ban was not extended to Nnewi, it will affect us badly because Onitsha and Awka are our major base.”

But governor Obiano, while addressing the 2018 Annual Seminar of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council in Awka, maintained his stand on the ban, adding “There is no going back on the directive. The ban will be for commercial motorcyclists operating in Onitsha and Awka and their neighbouring towns. Government is making alternative arrangements to provide shuttle buses to cover as many routes as possible. Transporters should take this opportunity to invest in shuttles and tricycles to complement government’s efforts.

“The state government has designed a hire purchase arrangement where the motorcycle operators will be provided tricycles and shuttles and they pay in instalments over a period of time in consideration of the plight of the people who may be affected by the ban.”

The state government succeeded in using law enforcement agents to enforce compliance to the policy, thereby making motorcycle operators to relocate to rural communities. The immediate effect of this on residents of the areas where okada was banned was that it suddenly turned them into ‘addicted’ trekkers as there were neither vehicles nor tricycles to convey them to their destinations namely, homes, churches, schools, business centres, ministries, among others.

A public relations expert, Hon. Chiedo Casmir, who claimed that it turned him into a chronic trekker, said “It made people like me who don’t map out time for trekking to be trekking. And to be frank with you, am enjoying this unwarranted trekking. But it made people in Okada to venture into other businesses. Snatching of bags, phones, robbery & other vices reduced drastically. People freely move about making phone calls unlike before. But it is not cheaper to go around these places now. At times people are stranded. Those who can’t afford the high price of the mini bus are left with no job, this increased joblessness even amongst our graduate youths.”

Ifeoluwa Tope, a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, said “It makes life unbearable to us, the poor masses. This is ridiculous and excruciating. Can you imagine how it turned everyone to a trekker? The road is empty. We suffer to get to our various destinations especially in terms of emergency. There are insufficient tricycles and buses to conveh people.  The government should quickly do what it promised by providing the shuttle buses in a jiffy.”

Perhaps, the dissenting voices and challenges residents of the state faced in the first month of the ban prompted the governor, in a release signed by the state commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, to implore for cooperation and understanding among the populace.

Adinuba, while commending Okada operators, security agencies and Anambra over full compliance on restriction of okada operations in Awka and Onitsha, said “We also thank the people of Anambra State for their great understanding, cooperation and support. They have always been with this administration every inch of the way because they know that every policy has been designed to take them to the next level and make Anambra State truly the Light of the Nation.

“Despite the huge success recorded in compliance with the restriction order on Okada operations in Awka and Onitsha, the State Government is aware of certain challenges with the implementation of the new policy. For instance, some people went late to church yesterday because there were not enough vehicles in the inner streets to transport people early enough to their destinations. This very problem was, however, solved in most places within a few hours as tricycle operators moved into these areas.

“Still, we are not oblivious that the erstwhile Okada riders in Awka and Onitsha have yet to receive the 1000 seven-seat shuttle buses which the Anambra State Government has ordered for them from Japan at the cost of N765million and will be handed over to them at the exact prices at which they were procured. The Government will bear the management charges because it regards the replacement of commercial motorcycles with buses to be owned by the former Okada riders as a key economic empowerment programme for the poor in society.  

“To quicken the process of accessing the interest-free loan for the shuttle buses from the Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA), prospective bus owners must be identified by the Okada Operators Association in Awka and Onitsha as bona fide members. They will then go for one week training to be conducted by the Anambra State Vehicle Inspection Office and the FRSC. On satisfactory completion of the training, they can apply to ASBA for the loan which has to be repaid within 18 months. They are required to pay an initial deposit of N100,000; those who cannot afford the deposit can form groups of two or three persons or cooperative societies to be eligible to apply for the facility. They will sign an undertaking to pay some money every two weeks until the loan is repaid.

“The empowerment programme for the Okada riders has understandably been generating acute interest across the nation probably because this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that such a programme has been developed. However, we would like to reiterate for the umpteenth time that only registered Okada riders who are members of the Association of Okada Operators in Awka and Onitsha are eligible to participate in the programme.”

However, checks by Blueprint shows that the nonexistence mini buses which were yet to arrive the shore of Africa were not even captured in the current Anambra State budget. As residents embark on trekking spree with hope that the vehicles would definitely come, weeks passed, months passed, and now one year and one month, nothing to show for it. The laid off transporters, are lamenting untold hardship and inability to fend for their families in the last one year, adding that to readjust to another business like Keke (trycle) was almost impossible due to economic downturn.

Mr Ifeanyi Eze, a former operator of okada in Okpuno, Awka South LGA, said since the ban of Okada, he has not found meaningful thing doing but resorted to loading Keke “because I cannot buy my own Keke. Government refused to give us money or shuttle buses as they promised.”

Another former okada rider, Mr Ikenna Ogugua, alleged that none of those who paid initial fee of N100,000 for the procurement of Government’s shuttle bus had gotten theirs nor a refund of money initially deposited.

A public affairs analysts and coordinator of OurMumuDondo, Anambra state chapter, Mr Ndubuisi Anaenugwu, in a post entitled “The Other Side Of Okada Ban In Awka and Onitsha ,Anambra State,” observed that the ban affected food vendors most. 

According to Anaenugwu, “Every afternoon beside my office around Kwatta in Awka, tens of Okada riders assemble to patronize Mama -Put Food Vendor. About 70% customers of this road side food vendor come from Okada riders. The reason is obvious; Okada Riders can easily make a thousand naira within few hours to go for N250 plate of fufu food.

“We need to understand what powers the economy. It is the micro economic activities of business units that keep the circular flow of income, consumption and expenditure afloat. Effective this morning, the policy on Okada ban within Awka and Onitsha will affect the purchasing powers of many households not just among the Okada riders but to that woman beside my office, to the Ugu sellers inside Eke Awka market, fish sellers, etc.

“This policy tends to reduce accident causalities within these two cities as well as stopping street robbery, however, government should have implemented a complementary policy before today to cushion the effect of a gap between demand and supply. Every economic policy comes with certain degree of pains but responsible government all over the world considers the welfare of the ordinary people before policy execution.”

When Blueprint contacted Adinuba, for a comment on the allegations, he said he was not disposed to comment due to health challenges. However, a source within the government cycle said the state government was working a modality to get its promise fulfilled.

According to the source, the state government was having an understanding with Innoson motors to see if they can produce a more affordable shuttle buses for transporters.

Influx of keke

Meanwhile, the ban of Okada, no doubt led to influx of tricycle operators and tricyles (keke napep) into the state. It also made it possible for keke operators to create more routes or ply more roads unlike before. But most of the operators believed the government should have given new entrants proper orientation about Keke transport business to get them acquainted with the rudiments of the Keke transport subsector.

Speaking to our correspondent, Mr Ndubuisi Nweke from Awkuzu, disclosed that the number of Keke riders on the street had exceeded passengers, while a father of five children from Umuchu, Mazi Ebere Umeojiako, bemoaned that Okada ban greatly affected his Keke business.

Also speaking, Mr Jude Ogbonna, said unlike before, he makes no profit as he rides on hire purchase and pays N15,000 every week since October last year to reach one-point-two million contracted as hire purchase fee.

They said they were making more money before Okada ban than now, even as multiple ticketing (taxation) runs down their businesses. The keke operators begged the government to help train new entrants in the business as they were allagedly constituting nuisance, and also appealed to the state government to reduce their daily ticket to N200 or N150 been paid in Enugu state. According to them, different people subject them into paying for tickets every day between N450 to N3000.

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