The nation’s capital is at the risk of both security and transport disorders if nothing is done to address the menacing incursion of commercial motorcycle riders as known as Okada plying unapproved routes. ELEOJO IDACHABA takes a look at the initial ban and why their return to the city centre is not checked.
Until 2006, when it was first banned in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), it remained the easiest and commonest means of transportation in the nation’s capital and almost every major city in the country. However, due to the nuisance associated with this mode of transportation popularly known as going in the territory and Okada in other parts of the country, it came under official ban with its activities restricted to certain parts of Abuja suburbs.
This development was disclosed initially by Hajiya Amina Salihu, a special assistant on information and strategy to then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, during a radio programme before it became a public discourse on various forums.
For its replacement, Hajiya Salihu said authorities of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) had acquired buses that would ply affected routes in the city centre even as she blamed the high rate of accidents on Abuja roads on motorcycle operators. According to her, it was the major reason for the decision apart from the social nuisance they constitute.
Also, at the time of the ban, it was discovered that motorcycle operators were the most reckless on the roads and consequently many motorists often had a raw deal with them. In the opinion of many, a modern, sprawling city like Abuja with all the architectural designs well laid out cannot afford the proliferation of motorcycles in every nook and cranny of the city; hence, there was the need to regulate their activities. Apart from their nuisance on the roads, in many states across the country, it was discovered that the majority of the crimes like day-light robbery, kidnapping and lately banditry were carried out on fast-moving motor bikes.
There have been reported incidents of armed robbers using motorcycles to commit robberies. Lately too, it has been reported that bandits currently running riots in almost every part of the country use fast-moving motorcycles after which they escape. It is for this reason that residents of Abuja are worried over what they call the return of okada to the city centre especially restricted areas, despite a subsisting ministerial order banning such.
Today, motorcycle riders now move freely on major highways including the Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway, Yar’Adua Expressway, Ibrahim Babangida Way, Area 1 round-about in Garki, Jahi district close to the popular NEXT junction, Jabi Airport Road, Gwarimpa and erstwhile restricted areas like Kubwa Express, Dutse-Kubwa roads.
Speaking with this reporter, a resident of Gwarimpa, Engr. Gabriel Agada ,said when everyone one was already getting used to the absence of motorcycles, their numbers have increased on a daily basis within the estate.
He said, “If you want to see motorcycles in their large numbers, come out as from 7pm. Behind the Works and Housing Estate, you will meet them in droves especially now that it seems they have congregated around the same spot to break their fast. As soon as they break the fast, all of them hit the road simultaneously.”
For journalist Rasaq Ilori who resides in Jahi district, for motorcycle operators, it is business as usual despite the ban.
“I don’t think they have relented. They are everywhere. Come to NEXT junction and you would confirm the story. The way they stretch out especially in the evening reminds one of what we see in videos about the mode of attacks in other places. Although they are useful, experiences have shown that if they are not checked, it could soon be a security risk that would be difficult to address,” he said.
In December 2020, in Kubwa, the FCT Command of the Nigeria Police ordered its men to impound and arrest all motorcycles within Kubwa and Dutse axis because of a ministerial order that had banned such mode of transportation.
The task force
The field coordinator of the Special Ministerial Task Force on Transportation and other Public Nuisances, Mr. Peter Olumuji, said the task force was up against all such infractions. He added that “anyone who patronises the motorcycle riders within the restricted areas would be seen to be aiding illegality and such a person is liable to prosecution.”
He made it clear that the exercise was informed by the fact that residents of Kubwa had raised complaints about the recklessness of motorcycle riders. He gave an instance where riders go about with knives and at any little provocation stab another person.
“We are here to ensure that they are removed from Kubwa as it were before the Endsars protest. They have designated places far away from the city centre where they are allowed to operate, Keke NAPEP was brought in from town and they have been operating without hitch or constituting nuisances to the community,” he said.
In the same way, the area commander in Kubwa, ACP Sani Omilori, said with the onset of ENDSAR protests, motorcycle riders returned to unapproved areas.
“This is why we came out on this show of force to inform them to stay off Kubwa roads as the ban is still in force,” he said.
In the aftermath, several motorcycles were impounded and their operators arrested to face a mobile court. Despite these, their numbers keep increasing.
In the words of Mrs. Beatrice Chukwuma who returns late from her work place in Wuse II to her residence in Dawaki, “My heart is always in my mouth anytime I arrive at the Galadima Bus Stop as from 10pm. My fear is triggered by the fact that they may revolt any day especially at that time of the night when few people are on the road. Many of them on Okada gather to discuss. Only God knows what they gather to discuss at that ungodly time. Funny enough, it’s like they usually settle the policemen because they move about freely in Dawaki and Dutse.”
VIO’s reaction, efforts
In a reaction, the head of public relations and enlightenment unit of the Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS), Mr. Kalu Emetu, said the directorate impounds over 40 motorcycles on a daily basis even though the motorcyclists continue to defy official orders.
He said, “Since the ban on the use of motorcycles popularly known as Okada in the city centre in 2006, it has been the responsibility of the DRTS or VIO to enforce the ban. Everyday, more than 40 motorcycles are impounded in different parts of the city. However, it is discouraging that many motorcycles are still coming in, despite the efforts we are making.
“I will not say it is a system failure, rather Nigerians need re-orientation. They need to know that laws are made to be obeyed. It is society that suffers when orders are flouted. Different commands and teams have been patrolling to ensure that any Okada operating in a prohibited area is impounded.
“It got to a point that the FCTA had to say that the impounded Okada should not be given back to their owners. We have been doing just that, but it is still not stopping them. So, we encourage members of the public to also condemn such disobedience to law.
“When a group of people feel that what they want is what they must do, it is not in the interest of society. So, we encourage even the media people to join in the campaign to encourage Nigerians to obey the law. Every now and then, we change tactics at the directorate. Sometimes, it seems nothing is achieved, whereas we are achieving a lot. Those who witness our operations can attest to the fact that we are doing a lot.”
Meanwhile, the FCT Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma, has said on several occasions that the ban on commercial motorcycles and commercial tricycle riders otherwise known as Keke NAPEP in some areas was still in force.
During one of the meetings he had with the National Tricycle and Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association (NATOMORAS) and Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN) leadership, Ciroma said until otherwise stated, the order banning motorcycles remains in force in certain places within the territory.
In one of his interactions with the operators, he gave them three days to comply with the order as spelt out by the Administration.
“My brothers, the aim of this meeting is for us to give ourselves another opportunity to listen to each other and advise ourselves on how to cooperate with each other. As the head of this team, I would like us to stick to those areas earlier designated for operations.
“This has, however, become necessary because we are beginning to witness how some of your members flaunt the law,” he said.
On a general note, the importance of commercial motorcyclists in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised. According to Babalola Adeleye of Ekiti State University, “Most often than not, the Okada have become the fastest means of transportation because most places that cars cannot reach are easily reached by the Okada. Equally, they serve as a source of employment and a means of livelihood for its operators. As a result, people gradually accept them as viable means of conveying goods and people.
On the other hand, he said, “It has been observed that of various crimes so far committed such as causing havoc during elections especially voting-manipulation, Okada operators were largely used.’
On his part, Ogunmodede Akangbe of the Archival and Information Studies, University of Ibadan, noted that the availability of information on road safety on Nigerian roads especially by commercial motorcycle riders has been the subject of discussion by road transport administrators, medical practitioners and the media as a result of unsatisfactory performance.
“There is a general expression of dissatisfaction by users of services rendered by the commercial motorcyclists on our roads. As a result, the pedestrians have complained of the riding pattern of the motorcyclists, alcoholic drinking pattern, and over-confidence, over-speeding, effects of bad roads and the lack of understanding of road signs as factors influencing road accidents by commercial motorcyclists.
“Stealing of ballot boxes, kidnapping, assassination, and rape are traceable to okada riders. Besides, reckless speeding and traffic violations consequent upon taking alcohol are characteristic features of okada riders in every city,” he said.
An expert’s take
Writing about “The future of intra-city transport in Abuja,” U. U. Usani, an environmental management expert, noted that gradually the city centre of Abuja is experiencing a disorder as a result of traffic. Therefore, the government needs to step up efforts including traffic regulation to save the situation.
“Abuja Central Business District (CBD) is currently serviced by a grid road network. The zone services commuters from the satellite neighbourhoods located within a range of three to 80 kilometres.
“Entry and exit points of the city are basically dual carriageways which receive free and fast flowing traffic from several other dual carriages. Within the city centre, peak periods are characterised by stagnant jams while the linkage access roads observe as many as 60 –100 vehicles per minute at any given point,” he said.