Okada riders protesting in Ondo
Inside Zamfara, Niger and Katsina states after the ban of Okada to stem the tide of banditry, kidnapping and terrorism in the North-West
By Wole Mosadomi, Bashir Bello and Nasir Muhammad Gusau
As the orgy of violence and insecurity continues to sweep through most of the states in the North-West, different measures have been put in place in order to curtail the menace of kidnapping, banditry, rustling and marauding.
Front row narratives in Zamfara indicate that, right from 2011 when the state started witnessing some blazes of cattle rustling which later transformed into widespread violence and reign of terror staged by armed bandits, government, at different levels, have taken measures which include military operations, peace dialogue, imposition of curfew and the banning of commercial motorcyclist also known as Okada.
As the modus operandi of insurgents across the country differs, bandits in Zamfara carry out their operations on motorcycle, launch systematic attacks on villages and go back to their hideouts without intervention from security agencies.
They also come in large numbers with each bike carrying three persons brandishing AK47 rifles.
Even before the Federal Government decided to imposed the ban on Okada across the north-western states, Zamfara State government had, on different occasions, restricted the operations of Okada riders from 6pm to 5am.
Only recently, the state government imposed a ban on motorcycles and tricycles.
The development has stunted socio-economic activities in Zamfara because over 70 percent of the people of the state rely on motorcycles as a means of transportation even in urban areas.
As the mainstay of the Zamfara economy is agriculture, villagers are finding it difficult to transport their agricultural produce to cities and, therefore, the action, according to analysts, may fuel food scarcity.
Businesses are equally impeded as people who patronize them mostly come on motorcycles or tricycles.
Separate interviews with traders across the state revealed that patronage may have dropped to about 30 percent.
One Alhaji Muktar Tumbido, who operates a provision store along Sani Abacha Way, Gusau, expressed concern over the action of the government banning Okada in the state.
He explained that before the ban, he was making about N400, 000 everyday, saying, however, that since the ban was imposed, he hardly makes N50, 000 everyday.
A meat seller, who simply identified himself as Ummaru Sarkin Pawa and operates a ‘Suya joint’ at Eastern Bye Pass, Gusau, lamented that before this period, he used to sell ten rams a day but he now hardly sells two rams a day.
The traders, nonetheless, agreed that it was better to record low patronage and be alive in the face of the Okada ban than have high business patronage and die in the face of unrestrained Okada bandits.
The level of compliance of the ban in Zamfara is believed to be near total with the exception being people who are naturally defiant.
Meanwhile, the ban is taking a heavy toll on commercial Okada riders even as it is feared that the development may compound the problem of unemployment in the state.
Between 2018 and 2019, bandits have carried out hundreds of attacks in Zamfara with scores of villages sacked; hundreds of people maimed or killed; houses razed; mass burial everywhere; thousands of cows rustled and ransom in millions of naira paid.
Security agencies were not willing to speak on casualty figures, but unofficial sources said about 25,000 persons may have been lost to banditry during the period under review.
‘Enforce restriction from 7pm’
In Niger, the ban on Okada is not new to the people of the state especially commercial motorcycle operators.
The immediate past Babangida Aliyu administration first introduced the restriction order in January 2014 from 6am to 7am.
The restriction was as a result of insecurity in Minna, the state capital occasioned by frequent snatching of handbags by Okada riders which later led to full blown robbery and kidnapping.
The high rate of accidents of Okada, which led to huge loss of lives and various degrees of injuries, was also partly responsible for the restriction.
In order to alleviate the suffering and safeguard lives and property and to keep Okada riders in business, the state government then introduced tricycle (Keke NAPEP) to gradually replace commercial motorcycle.
This policy was seen as harsh by Okada operators and a calculated attempt by government to deny them of their legitimate livelihood and was therefore met with resistance by the operators on one hand and members of the public patronising them on the other hand but government stood its ground.
The Okada riders later accepted the new regime of tricycle.
The present Niger government, under the leadership of Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, when it came to power almost four years ago, however, gave unrestricted freedom to Okada operators to move from dusk to midnight.
The freedom soon led the escalation of violence and insecurity allegedly masterminded by terrorists and other criminals flushed out of Zamfara, Katsina and other neighbouring states who found their way to Niger to start a new life.
The twist forced the state government to take decisive steps to provide security for the people.
And for the past three months, various crimes, mostly snatching of motorcycles at gunpoint especially at night in different parts of Minna, has become the order of the day and many killed, others maimed and property worth millions of Naira lost.
Consequently, the state government, about a month ago, restricted Okada operations to between 6am and 9am to arrest the situation.
A cross section of members of the public interviewed on the restriction hailed the government decision but said the 9pm deadline is too late and should therefore be brought to 7pm.
They argued that crime could still be perpetrated between 8pm and 9pm.
“Most businesses close by 6pm in Minna and so the Okada restriction should start by 7pm instead of 9pm,” one Mr. Dele Babalola, a fashion designer, suggested.
Another respondent, Mohammed Alkali, a petty trader at the Minna Main Market, said, “The restriction should start by 7pm because heinous crimes are carried out late in the night. If government is serious and sincere on the new policy, Okada operation should stop at 7pm daily”.
Niger State Chairman of Amalgamated Commercial Tricycle/Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria, (ACOMORON), Comrade Shafii Ladan Maishera, speaking on the Okada ban, said his members are in full support of the new policy of government.
“Before the restriction order by government, we, as a union, had frowned at this criminal act because it was damaging our image but we later got to know that these evil perpetrators are not our registered members and that is to say that they are intruders from other states and we have joined hands with government and security agents to flush them out”, Masheira said.
“As civilians and a union, we have our limitations as far as security is concerned and this is where the police should enforce the law to the letter on erring Okada riders in order to stem the crime wave”.
According to him, deaths arising from attacks on members of his union by criminals were alarming and must be stopped.
“From January to date, no fewer than 15 deaths of our members have been recorded while scores have also sustained different degrees of injuries and this is why we have thrown our weight behind the restriction order to stem crime”, he said.
He called on his members and members of the public to join hands with the body and security agents to identify criminals and flush them out of the state.
Niger State Police Command, which spoke through DSP Abubakar Dan Inna, said the compliance by Okada operators and other stakeholders to the restriction had been commendable.
“The level of compliance is impressive and this is not unconnected with the fact that the policy is generally accepted by commercial motorcyclists and private owners who are security conscious”, Inna said.
“The policy has drastically reduced banditry that is usually perpetrated with the use of motorcycle”.
Pains of Okada ban
In Katsina State, attacks by armed bandits operating on motorcycle are commonplace.
Recent attacks in Yar-Center/Sherere village in Kankara local government area and Gobirawa and Sabawa villages in Safana local government areas showed the bandits carried out their heinous activities on motorcycle.
A group of bandits operating on about 150 motorcycles, according to residents, attacked Gobirawa and Sabawa villages, killing ten persons, torching houses and rustling animals.
In the Yar-Center/Sherere incident, the attackers also allegedly operated on motorcycle, invading the village, killing 10 persons and injuring five others.
However, the locals received the news of the Okada ban with mixed feelings. While some feel government’s action was in order, others think it’s not the solution to the insecurity menace as it will only cause hardship.
A resident of Kankara, Ali Abdullahi, said the ban on motorcycle will inflict pains on the locals especially since it is their major means of transportation but have to bear the inconvenience for peace to return to the area.
“For the time being, the ban on motorcycle is a good development because that is the means of transportation for the criminal elements to carry out their heinous crimes”, Abdullahi said.
“Though it is the means of transportation for us locals too and without it there will be hardship, we have to bear the pains if we want the menace addressed and so we all enjoy and peace will return”.
On his part, Ismail Ado Safana, a local resident in Safana local government area, said the ban should be enforced around and within the forest, hideouts of the bandits from where they come out to carry out attacks.
“The ban has not been enforced here in Safana. You still find motorcycles on the road”, Safana said.
“Banning of motorcycles is not the solution. Though armed bandits operate using motorcycle, they don’t come into town, they are in the forest. “So if at all there will ban on motorcycle, it should be banned within and around the forest”.
Also speaking, a resident of Batsari local government area, Usman Lawal, said the ban on motorcycle will assist the fight against banditry.
“We are yet to be informed about the ban on motorcycles. But the ban on Okada by government in the north-western states is similar to what they did in Maiduguri, Borno State in the fight against insurgency. Therefore, they feel if it is applied here, they will reach their target”, Lawal said.
“To be sincere, it will really assist in the fight against the banditry. But it will also inflict pains on the masses because majority of the locals use motorcycle as a means of transportation than cars.
“This is more so that there are places where cars cannot reach. For instance, some of the locals use motorcycles to convey sick people to hospital and other places where the car cannot reach”.
The councillor for Shinfida Ward in Jibia local government area, Kabir A. Haruna, said his people supported the Okada ban if it will end banditry in the area.
“Even then the ban on Okada is not enforced in my area. This does not, however, mean we are in support of the ban and the shutting down of mobile phone network in the neighbourhood. In fact, any action by government to tackle this menace is welcomed.
“In my own opinion, there are two ways to check the ugly trend. First, security agencies should take the fight to the bandits’ hideouts since they know where they are. The deployment of more troops won’t make any impact if the fight is not taken to the hideouts of the bandits.
“Second, they should ban the sale of yoghurt, juice, malt drink in Garin Dumburu, Papara 1, 2, 3 and Gurbin Baure. That’s where they buy those things in large quantities, even if they don’t buy food items, possibly because they can’t do without them, and take into the forest.
“Then ban Okada and shut down the mobile telephone network because if there is no network to communicate for ransom, they won’t kidnap. And if there is no motorcycle, they can’t operate”.