Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Kingsley Iweze report how the recent military ban on the use of motorcycle in seven northern states has led to the influx of commercial motorcycle operators in Abuja
The influx of commercial motorcyclists commonly known as Okada in many parts of the Abuja metropolis is posing a threat to security in the nation’s capital.
This threat followed the recently imposed ban by the Nigerian Army on the use of motorcycles in Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kastina, Sokoto, Zamfara states in the North west zone. The ban under exercise Harbin Kunama, which sought to wipe out banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities also affected Niger State in the central zone.
The army said in a statement that it would no longer allow the use of motorcycles within the hinterland, especially around the forests that provide sanctuary for armed bandits and kidnappers.
Army acting spokesman, Colonel Sagir Musa, who issued the statement said: “The Nigerian Army over time has observed the use of motorcycles by armed bandits, kidnappers, criminal elements and their collaborators as enablers to perpetrate their heinous crimes especially in the states within the North-west geopolitical zone of the country.
“This informed the decision and directive to ban the use of motorcycles within the hinterland particularly around the forests where the armed bandits, criminals and kidnappers hibernate and all around where troops are conducting operations alongside other security agencies.
“While this may cause some inconveniences to some law-abiding citizens in the area, the need to use all means possible to stop the dastardly activities of these bandits across the North west part of Nigeria needs no emphasis.
“The general public, particularly in the North west and some parts of North Central in Nigeria where Exercise Harbin Kunama is ongoing are enjoined to bear with the NA as concerted efforts are being made to combat the insecurity menace ongoing within the area.”
Since the order came into force, many residents have noticed an unusual but disturbing increase in the number of commercial riders roaming in several parts Abuja.
The sight of commercial motorcycle riders is now a common feature along the International Airport Road, Kubwa, Nyanya, Jabi, Asokoro and other satellite towns of the metropolis.
The menace of these commercial cyclists has also alarmed some residents, who fear that some of the operators could be some of the criminal elements perpetrating banditry, kidnapping and other crimes in the restive North-west before the army order came into being and forced them to disperse to the nation’s capital.
Following the latest order by the army, more Okada riders have shifted base to Kubwa, the FCT satellite town that is closest to Niger and Kaduna States.
Even though commercial motorcycles are banned by the FCT Administration from the Abuja city centre, many of the operators have evolved the means to slip away from the authority by using the satellite towns as cover up to evade arrest.
The lack of public infrastructure, particularly transportation in many of the satellite towns have made many residents to rely on commercial motorcycles as the basic form of commuting within those communities.
In addition to this, the strategic location of Kubwa as a satellite town on the border of Niger State, where commercial motorcycle operation was permitted also partly accounted for the influx of the operators. Immediately the FCT authorities imposed a ban on the operators from the city centre, they shifted to Kubwa and other nearby satellite towns.
And in the light of the latest military order, the cycle operators are capitalising on the location of Kubwa, being a few minutes’ drive from Madalla and Suleja in Niger State,
In Kubwa, which is to the north of the capital, the hum and buzz of the commercial motorcycles can be felt from many quarters. The operators are known in the local parlance as “Okada” or “Going” and they have conveniently infiltrated every access road in the area.
Until now, these motorcycle operators were offering alternative means of transportation for residents of the sprawling town mainly composed of workers and petty traders. But gradually their number has grown such that they now routinely constitute a traffic menace.
The cyclists are like an invading locust, causing traffic jam at every road junction. Motorists and pedestrians alike are bearing the brunt of the excesses of these commercial cyclists who are mostly untrained and uneducated. They neither have the basic driving skills nor do they understand traffic regulations.
Similarly, accidents, which in some cases are fatal, occasionally result from the reckless driving by the commercial motorcycle riders. A visit to the Kubwa General Hospital in Okitipupa Crescent, which offers accident and emergency services as well as other private hospitals in the area, will present a disturbing sight of several victims of motorcycle accidents.
Doctors and other health workers at the accident and emergency section of the General hospital which has 103 beds, constantly attend to patients who are referred to the hospitals for fatal injuries sustained from Okada accidents.
In reaction to the security implication of the influx of Okada riders in Kubwa, both Police Headquarters and FCT Police Command sources confided in our reporters that they have no intention to restrict the commercial riders on the grounds that people have a constitutional right to move from one place to another.
“We are monitoring the place and will proactive if there is any breakdown of law and order. But we don’t want to heat up the polity by infringing on individuals’ fundamental human rights. The commercial motorcycle owners have a right to freedom of movement. If there is a breakdown of law and order, we will act,” the police source, who did not to be named, said.
However, the FCTA has expressed distraught concerning how the military order on motorcycle has been forcing the affected cyclists to relocate to the FCT with the attendant security implications.
The Director FCTA Directorate of Road Traffic Services, Wadata Bodinga, said the authority viewed the development as a challenge and has been trying to ensure they take over the city’s transportation system particularly the menace of Okada riders.
“We have noticed that and that is why we are intensifying now our areas of operation towards the outskirts of the city. While I was talking about the issue of what we intended to do, I mentioned taking over such places like Kubwa because we realised that it is the gateway to the city, so it is important we intensify our operation there,” Bodinga declared.
He pleaded with the people of the FCT to cooperate with the authorities, accept the pronouncement of the army and stop the patronage of Okada.
Bodinga also noted that the call on the general public to stop the usage of this mode of transportation is for their own security and safety, adding that inhabitants of Abuja have an important role to play regarding road safety and security.
“For the government to be able to achieve success. Once you refuse to mount a commercial cycle the person will not have any customer to carry and you have already started the campaign.
I can tell you that we are up and doing, the number of arrests we are making is increasing. We are there and will continue emphasising, the government here is looking at the situation through one face. If the government has banned the Okada outright it would have been different.
“What we have now in FCT is kind of a ban within the city. However, because of the need that has evolved overtime, this kind of transportation is usually on the outskirts. The FCT administration has been looking at that as a kind of understanding. Before the infrastructure and development reaches those areas then the total ban will come there. The FCT generally in terms of transportation master plan doesn’t recognise the use of this transportation,” Bodinga said.
The Director of FCT VIO stressed that the appeal to the public to join hands and cooperate with FCT is because it is not possible for law enforcement agencies to be everywhere at the same time. He assured that if the public understands how the authority feels on the matter, the current situation would be a thing of the past.
On the operation of Keke Napep in the territory, Bodinga clarified that Kekes have always been allowed to operate in big estates like Gwarinpa and outskirts of the city.
“We are having series of meetings with their leadership. There are violations of crimes and traffic and it is our duty to make sure that this rules are enforced and we are seeking the cooperation of stakeholders, including the journalists to join hands with us. You can’t compromise security and safety, these are the two things you can’t compromise, all of us are victims of accidents and one criminal activity and the other because of the activities of these notorious keke, Okada, and unpainted taxis. We need to join hands so that we ensure that we have a safer and secured transportation system within the city”.