By Taye Obateru & Hope Ofobike
When the Plateau State Government banned the operation of commercial motorcycles, otherwise known as ‘Okada’, in the Jos-Bukuru metropolis sometime back, there were mixed reactions to the ban. While there are those who felt the ban would compound the difficulty of commuters who had depended on them for ease of movement, many other residents heaved a sigh of relief for various reasons, principal among which was because of the negative use to which the bikes were being put by criminals and miscreants.
Prior to the ban of Okada, many residents alleged that it was used to perform all kinds of criminal activities, including the bombing of churches and government offices in Jos. Thus over time, the business of Okada riding gradually built for itself a bad reputation. Most of its riders were seen as outlaws and junkies who are reckless on the road, causing accidents that result in death or maiming a lot of people. Their ban was therefore a welcome relief to many.
In a bid to cushion the effects of the ban, the state government on Thursday May 11, last year, introduced the use of tricycles popularly known as Keke NAPEP as a means of transportation in Jos and Bukuru metropolis. However, the introduction of the tricycles is already generating fresh anxieties as taxi cab operators are complaining that the tricycles have taken over and might soon drive them out of business.
The Association of Taxi Drivers in Jos, for example, said the coming of the tricycles which they welcomed initially is now becoming an albatross. Spokesman of the association in the Terminus area of Jos, Mr. John Okoli told Vanguard Metro, VM, that “we saw the ban of Okada as a welcome development; however, the tricycles have largely affected our means of livelihood”.
Okoli pleaded with the government to provide alternative routes for the tricycle operators saying: “We will be happy if the government can make the Keke operators to ply different routes from ours, so we can also have passengers because when we ply the same route, most passengers prefer them to taxis.”
VM gathered that the frustration of what is now seen as ‘unfair’ competition with the tricycles is forcing may cab operator to consider selling their taxis and opting for the tricycles. An example is Mr. Shamsudeen Mayowa, who said he is thinking of selling his taxis to purchase two of the tricycles.
“A friend of mine who drives Keke Napep makes up to N3000 daily whereas with my taxi I barely make a thousand naira. I am thinking of selling the taxi and buying two new Keke Napep, I can hire one out and use the other to make a living,” he said.
Another interesting find by VM is the large population of well educated youth among the tricycle operators. Some of the operators who spoke to VM confessed that they have found the business worthwhile. Among them is Paul Ujah a graduate of Chemistry from Kogi State University who said he was left with no other choice than to operate the tricycle after hunting for a white collar job unsuccessfully for years. He said he has no regrets venturing into the business as with barely a year in the business it has proved a sustainable source of livelihood for him and his family.
Speaking on the war between taxi drivers and the tricycle operators, Mr. Shola Ogunyiola, a business man whose shop was burnt in the 2011 crises in the state capital said: “The introduction of Keke Napep in Jos has changed my status; each day I make about N3000, and we are the envy of taxi drivers.
“At the park, some of the taxi drivers wish we can be banned also, they complain bitterly about us, but everyone is here to make money,” he said.
Investigations showed that many workers in now prefer the use of tricycle to get to their places of work early.