Residents lament operators’ recklessness
By ROMANUS UGWU
Kuje Area Council, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is not only popular for housing one of the nation’s medium prisons, it is also a community where ordinarily free residents are prisoners of many things.
Apart from being ‘prisoners’ of terribly bad roads that often send many car owners to mechanic workshops, residents also grapple with the menace of reckless commercial motorcyclists and rising rate of okada theft.
A resident and civil servant with the Ministry of Works, who did not want his name in print, buttressed this assertion in a chat with Abuja Metro. He said his relocation from Nyanya to Kuje was like to jumping from frying pan into fire.
“We are prisoners of the menace of commercial motorcyclists who torment other road users with their reckless riding or indiscriminate parking along the road, which narrows the already bad roads, making things difficult for other road users.
“It is even worse when you notice that almost all the commercial and privately-owned motorcycles operate without registered number plates. It is more agonising when Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officials pay less attention to the rascality of these motorcycle operators, preferring to go after motorists that will give them something.
“We are prisoners of the armed robbers who invade many homes, shops and operate for several hours without intervention from security agents. Life in Kuje is such a torment that one wonders most time if government exists at all. There is so much impunity and bestial behavior, especially from the youths who arrogantly do whatever they feel without giving a damn,” he said.
However, his lamentation is a child’s play compared to the horrifying experiences by a traffic warden police sergeant, who has lost his motorcycles twice to robbers.
Narrating his ordeal, a sergeant who doesn’t want to be named, told Abuja Metro that the second theft was inside his compound on December 25, 2015 after he left the church where he was on a special duty during vigil.
“It was like they had been monitoring me for some time before they struck that day. I had left the church where I was posted to control traffic during Christmas vigil on December 24. I got home around 5am, parked my motorcycle and went to sleep. I was shocked when I woke up four hours later, and did not see it.
“Although the robbers did not steal any other thing in my house apart from the motorcycle, it was very painful because it was the second time I had lost my motorcycle to robbers. It was not long after I bought it with the money I collected from group’s contribution. There was nothing I could do to recover it because it had no registration number just like thousands of others in Kuje Area Council,” he lamented.
How the robbers operate
Theft of motorcycles in Kuje and the neighbouring communities has become almost a daily occurrence, and the robbers keep evolving different strategies to outsmart security agents and Okada operators.
It was gathered that they usually lure their victims into the bush and at gunpoint or armed with other weapons, dispossess them of their motorcycles. In some cases, they tie binding wires across the road to bring down unsuspecting Okada riders who run into them in the dark of the night.
An Okada operator, who identified himself as Musa, told Abuja Metro that he lost a motorcycle he had bought on hire purchase after a few months to robbers, describing the experience as terrifying.
Musa recalled that a well-dressed young man had contracted him to take him to a particular place, and while on their way, he was ordered into the bush at gunpoint, and told to choose between his life and the motorcycle.
Musa said: “Many people have lost their Okada to these thieves. They have operated the same way, hiring operators to take them to a particular place, without minding how much you charge them.
“However, as you get close to the place, they would tell you to take right and before you know it, you will run into their gang’s ambush inside the bush. They would surround you with guns and other weapons, asking you to choose between your life and the Okada.
“The unfortunate thing is that, even if later, you see them ride past you, it is almost impossible to recognise your motorcycle because like many others, we do not register them. We cannot even report to the police due to lack of means of identification.
“Without registration numbers, it will be difficult for the police to identify the motorcycle because there are more than 6,000 motorcycles operating in Kuje and the environs. The most painful is that they would sell it at a ridiculous give-away price of N20,000 in nearby areas like Gwagwalada.”
Death of Okada operator
If Musa and many other victims were lucky to leave the bush alive without their motorcycles, Joseph Pudza, an indigene of Chibok in Borno State displaced by Boko Haram insurgent, was not. He was killed by Okada robbers along Pegi-Kuje Road last month.
According to his elder brother, Habila, police had recovered his body in a bush nearby the road with a severed throat. Two men had hired him at night to take them to Pegi, but killed him along the road.
Another operator, Ibrahim, narrated how he escaped the robbery and perhaps, death by the whiskers, while returning to Pegi in the night. “I almost ran into a binding wire tied across the road but I was lucky to see it and made an immediate U-turn.
“When I alerted other operators coming behind, we had to move in a convoy, but on approaching that spot, I noticed that they have removed the binding wire. What it means is that they laid ambush. If I had run into the binding wire, it could have brought me down and if I survived, I would be very naive to know what happened to my motorcycle. We now live in fear and in most cases, try to avoid operating on that road at night. It is even deserted during the day, let alone at night,” he stated.
Although a source at the Kuje police station confirmed the increasing rate of Okada thefts and the challenges of tracking down the culprits, a VIO offcial in Kuje command said the menace was really becoming unbearable.
On the issue of number plate registration for identification, he said: “On many of the unlicensed commercial motorbikes in Kuje, I want to let you know that the ban on motorbikes in FCT is still in place. They are banned in FCT except in the Area Council suburbs like Kwali, Kuje, Gwagwalada and Karu axis which includes Nyanya.
“When the ban was announced, many of them did not believe that it would work. However, in the case of Kuje, a large number of residents use more of bikes than vehicles because it is one of the thriving businesses in Kuje. Some of them, who have vehicles also have bikes for personal and commercial uses.
“But the biggest challenge we face among the commercial motorcyclists is their inability to be trained. Many of them are inexperienced and without licence. In fact, it is so bad that even when there is an indication of ‘no oil’, they do not know or care to know. Most of them rather see the indicators as fashion, so long as the machine moves.
“If I must tell you the truth, the failure to regulate is due to lack of proper information and communication. We are facing a problem because as indigenes, they do not believe security agents have the authority to tell them what to do.
“There have been several complaints about stealing of motorbikes. It made few of them appreciate the need to register their motorcycles. Yes, we are the licensing authority, but because the use of bike is banned in FCT, we had to out-rightly stop the registration of motorbikes in AMAC.
“When we realised the security risk at the peak of insurgency in Abuja, we had to lift the ban on the registration but the truth is that the VIO cannot do it alone. We can only do it with the involvement and collaboration of other security agencies like the police, the DSS, National Orientation Agency, the Area Council and the information unit that will disseminate the message.
“Last year, the FRSC moved to ensure that commercial motorcyclists in Kuje comply with the traffic rules and regulations, but they were attacked until it almost degenerated into an uprising. They peddled rumour of plans to ban motorcycles in Kuje. It is really a big constraint we face here.
“They do not join any association or union and the worst is that we do not even know where many of them come from. For the VIO to ignore them is more or less a way to get out of trouble. You cannot imagine the number of motorcyclists that will gather when there is a minor accident.”
Lack of political will
The official said regulation of Okada in Kuje has to do with the political will of the leadership of the Area Council. He said: “It looks impossible because many of them operate on the guise of indigenes. Stop anyone of them, others numbering over 5,000 would gather round you.
“Anyone wishing to know the real headcount of motorbikes in Kuje should recall what happened during the electioneering era. There have been reports about their unbecoming attitude, but the reality is that we are facing a helpless situation in their hands.”