By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South
FACTS have emerged that the outlawing of motorcycle, otherwise known as okada transportation in Warri, Effurun and Asaba in Delta State, November 1, by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, was impelled chiefly by very serious threats to the security of the state.
Kidnappers’ delight: A top security official told Vanguard: “Besides the incontestable truth that motorcycle transportation is not out of harm’s way, many lives lost and others maimed in the state because of motorcycle accidents, government had troubling intelligence information on how armed robbers and kidnappers were using okada for criminal acts in the three cities. So it cannot watch languidly, while criminals run riot with motorcycles”.
It was gathered that okada had practically turned to a delight for kidnappers, who found it very efficient for their operations. A student of one of the higher institution in the state told Vanguard how kidnappers hire motorcyclists and use them for their operations. She said: “Often times, even the motor cyclists do not know their purpose until they see them in action, and if they are not lucky, they could even be arrested as accomplices.”
Boko Haram warning: “Apart from that, there was top-secret information detailing a grand design by Boko Haram terrorists to infiltrate the state by sending their members to the state as okada riders and government found out that it is true. It has to take a preemptive measure because their targets were Warri, Asaba and Effurun.”
Police commissioner confirms apprehension: Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, explained in an interview that kidnappers were using motorcycles for their operations and stated the readiness of the state Command to implement the ban.
He spoke about Kokori community, where he said the most dangerous kidnapper in the state, one Kelvin, had bought motorcycles for practically every okada man the area, who act as informants to his kidnap gang.
Broad consultation: Two prominent human rights activists in the state, national chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Organization of Nigeria, HURDON, Sir Casely Omon-Irabor and national coordinator, Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, FJHD, Oghenejabor Ikimi, said the governor consulted with a broad spectrum of the society before the ban was announced and so there should no fury over it.
Omon-Irabor said: “The governor consulted with the leaders of the okada union in the state, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, human rights activists, engineers, surveyors and different segments of the society to prepare their minds about the ban. At the meeting, some of them disagreed with the plan to restrict okada, arguing that it was counter-productive. There was an intense argument; I was one of those opposed to it. I attended over six meetings on this matter.
“Nevertheless, the governor gave the security implications, which included the plan by Boko Haram to infiltrate the okada sector in the affected areas. And the tell-tale signs were already there. In Warri and Effurun, Hausa people have practically infiltrated the okada sector and the next thing will now be to use them to plant bombs.
In addition, he gave overwhelming statistics of how kidnappers are using okada for their business. It was obvious when he finished speaking that ignoring the danger of continued used of okada in these cities will be at the peril of the state.”
Palliative measures: He said the governor, however, provided an alternative, as he told the motorcyclists that he was thinking of providing tricycles. “I think he said they were going to be purchased from either India or China and that it would be sold at subsidized amount to them.
He also disclosed that government would buy buses and that those motorcyclists who want to drive buses would be given employment and that 10,000 jobs were going to be created through the recruitment of traffic controllers.
Alleged hijack: “The proposal was accepted, but when the first set of tricycles were bought, there was a problem as some merchants from outside the state and members of the Delta State House of Assembly bought the tricycles, which they planned to sell at inflated rates. His words:“It was hijacked, not just by merchants and unscrupulous leaders of the motorcyclists, but by lawmakers. I confronted a member of the House of Assembly over and he did not deny it”.
A principal member of the House, however, dismissed the claim when contacted by Vanguard. He said it was not true, adding, “On the day the governor presented his 2013 budget proposal, it was the matter we were discussing before he came in. We were saying that he manner of distribution of the tricycles left much to be desired, as the tricycles purchased for use in the state were being used in Anambra State.
“Members of the House were angry over the matter and we did not hide our anger against the Commissioner for Transport, who you know was a one-time lawmaker. We lashed him for the lapses and I can tell you that members of the House were not involved. Anybody who says so should mention names.
“Even when some members of my constituency asked me, I told them that motorcycles are not restricted in my constituency, so why are they asking me of tricycles. In fact, our position is that if tricycles bought by the state are found in the cities where motor-cycles have not been restricted, they should be taken to the areas where they are meant to be used”.
Omon-Irabor, indeed, mentioned some names, which this reporter kept until further clarifications have been made.
November 1 protest: However, there was protest when the restriction came with okada riders destroying buses, particularly as there was not enough tricycles, given that the distribution was hijacked by none-members.
Omon-Irabor said the protest was stopped through the intervention of some persons and a meeting was convened in Asaba at which the issues were laid bare and the governor said he was to use soldiers to bring the protesters to book because of the destruction, but for some persons who appealed on behalf of the motorcyclists.
Apology: He said the motorcyclists said they want the tricycles to which the governor explained that the government bought at a high cost and gave to them at subsidized cost, only for their leaders to shortchange them. The motorcyclists apologized for the unbecoming act and it was explained how efforts have been put in motion to recover the tricycles from wrong hands.
The activist said the governor explained the plan to create jobs for interested okada riders and while government was still going to buy more tricycles, they should withdraw the case they had taken to court. He said the counsel for the motorcyclists was at the meeting, but somehow, against the agreement that was reached at the meeting, some people are pussyfooting. In his words, “The reason for the restriction is clear. Those who are parading themselves as leaders of okada union are not their real leaders; the real leaders know what they want and the reason for the restriction”.
Provide enough tricycles
Ikimi told Vanguard: “Sincerely speaking, as a Deltan, I am not against the ban on motorcycles in major cities of the state. However, my worry is that the population of tricycles and mass transit buses in circulation are still very few to meet the demands of the commuters in the affected cities. I, therefore, call on the state government and well-placed individuals and businessmen to procure tricycles for willing riders at affordable prices to boost commercial transportation in the state and to alleviate the plight of commuters. I believe that commercial motorcyclists themselves prefer tricycles to their motorcycles, but for the prohibitive cost of tricycles in the market.
“And as an antidote to the above challenge, I am advocating that riders should form cooperatives and while government put in place a public/private partnership initiative to make soft loans available to these cooperatives and who in turn, would be made to pay back loans through their members with ease.
“Furthermore, the roads in major cities of our state are in very deplorable state and the only cheering news is that the state government has identified same and has declared a state of emergency in that sector. I just hope that government will match its words with action with the December 15 deadline to all her road contractors in the state.”