– The Sun News
COMMERCIAL MOTORCYCLISTS

Pain, anguish in Onitsha, Awka as ban on commercial motorcyclists takes effect

  • Govt. has packaged better alternative for the operators, citizenry – Adinuba, Information commissioner

Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka and Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha

Implementation of the ban on the use of motorcycles for commercial passenger service, which took off on July 1, which was a Sunday, first hit people going to church in Awka and Onitsha. Ordinarily, most of those people, who would have taken commercial motorcycle (okada) rides to church, were left stranded. Finding no readily available alternative means of getting to church, they resorted to their legs (known in Nigerian parlance as Leggedis Benz) and trekked to various Christian worship places.

The option of trekking was further informed by the fact that commuter buses and tricycles do not get to the areas their churches are located. Since the ban came into force, residents of the two towns have been going tough times getting to areas in the two cities that buses and Keke do not go.

Until the ban, commercial motorcycles was the best and fastest means to move around
the town in that the two-wheelers could go into areas where vehicles could not access. Besides had come to be a source of great relief as the service offered a means of enabling the unemployed to earn a reasonable and legitimate living.

In a statement announcing the ban, the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, listed the areas affected by the ban as follows: Greater Onitsha Area which includes Onitsha urban (Onitsha North and South LGAs), Okpoko, Ogbaru Metro, 3/3 Area, Obosi/ Awada Area, Nkpor Area up to Ugwunwasike/ New Tarzan, Ogidi urban and Oba urban.

In respect of Greater Awka, comprising Awka Metro (including all adjourning streets within the town), Amawbia Metro (including all adjourning streets in the town), Nibo Metro, Okpuno and Amansea.

Other special areas include, all major highways from Head Bridge (Onitsha) to Amansea (including the Expressway and Old Roads and All major highways from Head Bridge (Onitsha) to Upper Iweka, to Owerri road and Oba Junction.

A resident who spoke with Sunday Sun, Chief Odogwu Ike while giving insight to the benefit the commercial motorcycle service had brought to society said: “Though okada people sometimes cause obstruction on our roads, okada has assisted immensely to take our youths off the streets and it has engaged most of them meaningfully too. I have been wondering what the crime rate would have been without this okada business going by the rate of unemployment in the country.

“I feel strongly that banning okada without first giving these young men alternative jobs might make a mess of the security success recorded in the state, especially when the notice of the ban was too short. Government would have found a way of giving the policy a human face. if nothing,
it would have given them enough time, at least six months, to look for alternative job.”

For Miss Uju, who is a student of Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, the ban has been particularly devastating because despite being her main means of movement, she is being trained by a brother who is a commercial motorcyclist in Onitsha.

She said: “Since that announcement, I have not been myself. My elder brother who is paying tuition fees is an okada rider; so with this ban, that means an end to my education. It is from there he takes care of his wife and three children, what will we do? I have been praying and asking God to touch the heart of our loving governor to change his mind.

Jide Ikechukwu, a businessman in Awka simply said, “That ban is not necessary and that is my problem with governments in Nigeria. It seems to me that they wake up every morning thinking of how to make life more miserable to the people. They do not first give the people reasonable or even just an alternative before throwing them out of their means of livelihood. It is disheartening.

“Did they take into consideration that Nnewi, one of the state’s commercial and industrial hubs thrives on importation, assembly and distribution of motorcycles? Why will you want to crush
your people’s economic power? Honestly, I don’t see any reason for this ban and hope government should have a rethink.”

Speaking on the implication of the ban on them, some okada operators who spoke to Sunday Sun said the ban had thrown them into the unemployment market with attendant hardship for their families.

Caleb Joseph who was operating in Awka said, “Really the issue of government banning okada is disastrous for us. Sincerely, this is from where I get my daily bread and most of us take care of members of our family. Look at the fathers who are engaged in this, how will they feed their children now? I don’t know how we will live our lives, some of us are students and we use okada to make money to pay our school fees.

Godwin Igwe, who is married with three children said: “Oga, (referring to the reporter) the ban will affect us well, well, because there is no job anywhere. Without this okada some people even me have no other thing to do. My family, my wife and children are there, even this morning before I came to work I took them to school, now they have banned okada, what it means is that there is no way, no hope again, because there is no money for you to go and start another business. All our hopes are in this okada service.

“Regarding the people using okada to commit robbery, I can’t say it is a lie because they use okada to do many things but if you look very well you will know that it is not okada people that were doing those things. We are begging government to allow us to operate because we do not have another business, how do we feed our families, they should please allow us. We that have family what will we do? If you go to the village more trouble.”

Another operator, Monday Usman lamented: “I am from Kogi State, I came to Awka in 2002, I have five children, my wife and my wife’s sisters live with me and I have been engaged in okada service. The ban has really affected my wife and children because my children are in school; it means I cannot pay school fees again. We are appealing to the government to give us time if they must ban it, at least up to December ending. Some okada riders bought the machines on hire-purchase terms. Some of them are members of a contributory scheme that would end by December this year.

Now the ban has created serious problem. Relocating our families from the town to the village is not easy, that is why we are appealing to the government to give us more time.”

Clement Ebelechukwu corroborated this, saying: “I have been in the okada business for about five years. I started after my studies at Federal Polytechnic, Uwana, Afikpo, Abia State. I am married with three children as of now. To be sincere, the ban will really affect me not because okada is really a great work, no, but because I remember that when I started this okada work after my studies, my father died. I really thank God that today I have achieved so many things through the commercial motorcycle service. I got married and did some other things. I am paying my children’s school fees through this and also taking care of my younger brother. So this ban on okada will affect me.”

The case of Umeaku David is more troubling. He started in 2008 with a motorcycle acquired on hire-purchase terms. Thus compelled him to save money to pay off the cost of acquisition. Eventually after paying off the loan, he then bought a new machine with his own. That year, he was able to save N350,000. Then problems came that wiped out his savings. He had hoped to start saving again after solving the problems that beset him. Now all that has gone up in smoke with the ban on okada service.

An okada rider Mr. Solomon Nwedu said that he bought his motorcycle at a cost of N200, 000 and less than two months after, the government banned the use of motorcycle. He wondered what his fate would be now.

“I bought my bike in April this year. I have not used it for complete two months before the ban came, what do you expect me to do now? I don’t have money to start any other business or to register for the government loan. It was sudden, government would have given us enough time to prepare ourselves, maybe till December this year, to enable okada riders to gather money for the bus loan or look for alternative means of livelihood. Then again the ban is total, they would have exempted some areas in Onitsha. The ban should have been on the major roads and expressways than all over the city, it is affecting everybody now and they should reconsider their decision,” Nwedu said.

Also some traders and residents have continued bemoan the ban as they had to trek to their places of trade or businesses, work, schools and other places due to lack of commercial motorcycles.

A trader at main market, Mrs. Joy Makama, who lamented over the ban told Sunday Sun: “The ban on okada in Onitsha shouldn’t have been total because of the nature of the area as a commercial city with the biggest market in West Africa. It is difficult for you to access the market with keke or other vehicle apart from okada because the parks are very far from the markets. Have you seen the suffering people are going through due to the ban? The first thing government should have done was to provide keke and other vehicles before going ahead to ban okada, in order to reduce the suffering of the public.”

National President, Motorcycle Transport Union of Nigeria, Elder Okongwu Charles, told Sunday Sun that the union was still holding discussions with the state government on the best way to assist the members.

“We are talking with the government and the governor has approved mini-buses and tricycles. He said that anyone that meets the criteria would be given. I am pleading to the governor to hasten the arrangement so that the suffering masses will have some relief.”

Meanwhile the state government has put up some palliatives to cushion the effect of the ban. The government has set aside N765 million to enable commercial motorcyclists purchase shuttle buses and tricycles.

Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano said the funds would be accessed through the Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA) and that the existing commercial motorcyclists would take delivery of the buses once they deposit N100,000 with ASBA, and an undertaking to make payments every two weeks.

Disclosing the government’s plan to Sunday Sun, the State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, said the interest-free loan would be repaid within a year and a half.

He said, “The shuttle buses will cost between N700,000 and N800,000 each. The first set of 200 units of the 1,000 buses in the scheme will arrive in the state anytime from now from Japan.”

Adinuba said the Obiano administration decided to phase out okada riders’ operations in Awka and Onitsha so as to economically empower the operators and quicken the process of turning the state into a modern place like Dubai.

He said, “A situation where some members of the public have been made to believe that they cannot rise beyond the level of okada riders is unfair and offends good conscience. Governor Obiano wants commercial motorcyclists to get to the next level by becoming bus owners. Bus ownership will generate far more income for the present okada riders because whereas a motorcyclist is not allowed to have more than one passenger at a time, a shuttle bus can carry as many as seven passengers.”

Another reason for the decision to phase out okada operations in the state’s two leading cities is the plan to make Anambra State the “Dubai of Africa within the next few decades, a status which no place can attain by allowing okada dominate the entire landscape.

He noted that the high rate of serious road accidents involving okada riders and their passengers is another reason for the restriction.

“Up to 70 per cent of accident cases in orthopedic and other hospitals in Anambra State and beyond involve commercial motorcycle crashes, and it is not right for any government which cares for the welfare and future of its citizens not to do something about this phenomenon considering that the safety of every individual is the primary constitutional responsibility of the state.

“Many robberies and other violent crimes throughout Nigeria have been traced to people using commercial motorcycles. We do not want anything that can compromise our hard-earned reputation as Nigeria’s safest state,” Adinuba said.

The National Coordinator of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Media Warriors Forum, Mr. Chinedu Obigwe, commended Obiano for earmarking funds for the purchase of shuttle buses that would be distributed to those affected by the ban in Onitsha and Awka.

He advised okada riders in Onitsha and Awka to utilise this life changing opportunity offered to them by the governor to earn a good living and better their lives.

He also lauded the governor for the decision to offer the shuttle buses to the affected commercial motorcyclists at cost price, which is fully covered by the interest free loan.

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Tokunbo David
Tokunbo David

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