SPECIAL REPORT: How Anti-Masses Policy of Okada Destruction is Ruining Lives, Escalating Insecurity in Abuja
By Abbas Badmus and Kabir Abdulsalam,
In 2018 when Abdulrahman Yusuf fled Damboa–a popular local government in Borno State to Abuja, it was as a result of the Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, insurgency.
Within a short period, he settled down in the nation’s capital and immediately banished the better-forgotten memories of wanton carnage daredevil terrorists visited on his community and other parts of the Northeast.
To make ends meet, while keeping ‘body and soul’ together, Yusuf, 33, then, bought a motorcycle, which he instantly began using to ‘sustain’ himself.
The motorcycle, which he deployed for commercial business or better still ‘okada job’, also assisted him cater for his displaced family, who relocated with him to Abuja.
But that was just for two years, and up till June 2021. Since then, life–from all cylinder–seems to be dealing Yusuf a ‘heavy blow’.
Forlorn, the young Borno emigrant’s future already looks gloomy. He has since been thrown into the job/labour market. If care is not taken, chances are that Yusuf may even be conscripted into any ‘lucrative’ crime, to survive the hard times.
Reason: personnel of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Directorate of Road Traffic Service, DRTS, in June 2021, impounded his motorcycle.
1,500 impounded motorcycles ‘burnt’
But the DRTS did not stopped there. They entirely, set ablaze, no fewer than 1500 motorcycles, which their officials had seized between January and June 2021; that of Yusuf inclusive.
At the individual rate of N400,000 now, the 1,500 crushed motorcycles cost N600,000,000.
PRNigeria gathered that another set of 1,500 okada machines have been seized. It appears the owners of the latest commercial motorcycles impounded, will soon suffer the fate of their colleagues.
Additional 1,500 again impounded
Recently, the newly-appointed Director of DRTS, Mr. Abdulateef Bello, disclosed that the additional 1,500 seized motorcycles in the Territory would be crushed.
This will be the second batch of ‘okada machines’ to be destroyed by DRTS, within 15 months.
According to him, the motorcycles, usually used for commercial purposes, were impounded after their riders violated traffic rules and regulations, in the nation’s capital.
Last year, Bello’s predecessor, Wadata Bodinga, in December 2021, personally supervised the burning of the first set of seized motorcycles.
Bello, on his part, said, “Like we did the last time, these motorcycles have been impounded, and awaiting to be crushed”.
He however, pointed out that, “If this is done, FCT alone would have crushed about 3,000 motorcycles operating within its city center in the last 16 months, leaving a high number of youths whose livelihood depends solely on okada riding, jobless”.
Policy on Okada business in FCT
PRNigeria gathered that the Federal Capital Territory Authorities, FCTA, in 2015, released a circular, mandating okada riders in Abuja to stop operating on the expressway, in the city centre.
Knocks for FCT traffic/road laws
Though the action of the DRTS officials may appear noble, critics are questioning how the government and its relevant agencies could have been so ‘cold-hearted’ towards her citizens.
They condemned the situation where motorists who violate similar offences are only penalized with fines, while motorcycles operators endure the torment of seeing their motorcycles crushed.
They argued that while some okada riders have scant respect for the FCT traffic and road regulations, crushing motorcycles used by youths for ‘survival’ is unjustifiable.
Like cars, motorcycles, when used for okada business also contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, and also cushion the suffering of persons without any other means of mobility, other than walking on foot.
Besides, having many youths engaging in the business of okada drastically curbs crimes, worldwide.
A study by a research organization reveals that the crime index in Abuja has increased by 62% in the last 3 years.
Okada business in India
Findings also showed that in India, a country with about 37 million motorcycles (the largest in the world), the ‘two-wheel device’ are not crushed, however its users’ offense.
Afraid of leaving millions of its youths who do okada business jobless, India adopted the punishments of slamming ‘heavy’ fines and serving of jail terms, for road traffic violators in the Asian nation.
Effects of VIOs’ clampdown on okada men
Expectedly, PRNigeria‘s checks revealed that idle okada riders, whose motorcycles were impounded and crushed by DRTS officials, also known as VIOs, have embraced ‘heinous’ crimes.
They perpetrate various criminal vices, which is worsening insecurity in Abuja.
This is just as youth unemployment in the FCT is spiralling, with armed robbery, burglary, ‘one-chance’ operations, kidnapping, and even banditry becoming rife.
However, it is apt to point out that the unemployment menace is not peculiar to Abuja.
At a recent forum, President of the African Development Bank, AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina, lamented the high rate of joblessness among Nigerians, saying about 40 percent of youths in the country were unemployed.
According to Adesina, a former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigerian youths “were discouraged, angry and restless, as they look into a future that does not give them hope”.
Victims of okada crushing
Having been a victim of DRTS ‘clampdown’, Yahya Lawal, recalled how his motorcycle was impounded.
In a chat with PRNigeria, he said, ” About seven months back, I was away to visit my aged father in Kano. So, I gave my biological son my okada to ride. But few days after travelling, I received a call that my motorcycle was arrested by the Taskforce. And since then, it is in their custody.
“To be honest, the seized motorcycle is the only thing I have. It is what I use to assist my parents, feed my children, and send them to school.
“Now, it has been forcefully taken away from me. I beg you in the name of Allah, please help us talk to them.
“Tell them to release our motorcycles, because without these motorcycles, we are gone. You will not understand what we are passing through right now.
“My schools are not in school now. They were sent home, because of my failure to pay their school fees. But I am currently jobless,” Lawal told PRNigeria.
Another ‘okadaman’, who simply gave his name as Abdulrahman, appealed to government to change or review its policy on regulating okada business in parts of FCT.
“The motorcycle business is the only means of livelihood we have. It is what we use to support our families. They must provide alternative jobs for us, if we must quit okada riding. Or else, we will find it difficult to survive.
“Let government and DRTS officials stop impounding and crushing our bikes. Please help us. We left the North East due to insecurity and relocated here so as to provide for our family.
“But we are still not free to do our legitimate business. Government should please do something,” he said.
A husband to multiple wives, Alhaji Babangida, said, “The place we hail from in the North is not safe for our kind of business. Abuja is the only place most of us think we can freely do okada.
“Remember, some of us have two wives. Others have four, with several children and dependents to cater for.
Babangida, whose motorcycle was recently seized, said further, “My motorcycle is at the VIO office. The fine for its release is N100,000. But the VIO officers are not even listening to me, despite my willingness to pay for the bike’s release”.
VIO Controller reacts
Mr. Dele Yaro, the Deputy Controller, Operations at the VIO National Headquarters in Abuja, told PRNigeria that government is even showing ‘benevolence’ to the okada riders in the FCT.
“Some countries and even many States in Nigeria have since banned commercial motorcycle business, totally. But here in the FCT, we did not. But only regulated their operations,” he said.
Yaro said: “The official means of transportation in the FCT is vehicles or cars. We later approved the use of Tricycles (Keke NAPEP), in Abuja suburbs.
“There are reasons why we regulated okada business here. Many cases have been reported of bag snatching, reckless driving, and other social vices perpetrated by okada riders. Before they were banned in 2006, our hospitals were flooded with accidents caused by okada riders”.
He said part of the responsibilities of our DRTS Taskforce is mounting sensitization and public enlightenment.
The VIO Deputy Controller added, “We started crushing impounded motorcycles after the EndSars Protest in 2020, when these motorcycle riders forcefully invaded our offices, and carted away their seized bikes.
“Hence our management decided to be crushing impounded motorcycles, to avoid future occurrences.
“We crushed 1,500 motorcycles last year, when the agency was granted an order by the Federal High Court”.
According to Yaro, placing a fine on ‘Abuja okadamen’, as a penalty for violating traffic rules, is like encouraging the menace they (the riders) constitute.
His words: “The best thing to do is to impound and crush, it will serve as a deterrent to others.
‘We have done a lot of sensitization for them. Even our present Director went round the FCT to sensitized them, immediately he assumed duty as Director.
“But despite that, they are still violating traffic rules, to the extent that majority of these okada riders go around with arms in case they want to arrest them. Why are they going with arms if what they are doing is truly right?”
Motorcycle riders’ association
The Chairman of the Motorcycle Riders Association, MRA, in Lugbe, Yusuf Tahir, said their association has been consistently enlightening its members to operate within the boundary set for them, and not to trespass into highways.
He however, added, “‘We are not against government’s policy to ban okada from the city center. But crushing over a thousand impounded okadas makes our member lose their job, and also fuel insecurity.
“I suggest that government should further sensitize our members and organize capacity building workshops for them, on obeying traffic rules.
“Security personnel should also be mounted at strategic locations on Abuja highways 24/7. This will prevent some okadamen from carrying out their business on highways.
“I think destroying impounded motorcycles fuels crime. Besides, some of the bikes were purchased for us by civil servants who wish to increase their income.
“If seized bikes are crushed, it becomes a problem for the owner and the riders. Hence, lawless okada riders can be sanctioned (fined). VIO officers should engaged the civil servants to caution those they give their property, or even advise them to give their motorcycles to responsible youths”.
Way to go, by experts
Senator Iruegbo, a public commentator, while frowning at government’s decision to be crushing impounded motorcycles, said: “I think this is a “Catch-22″ situation, whereby you have to either prioritise security over the sanity and environmental health of the city, and vice versa. Nevertheless, seizing and destroying commercial motorcycles come with many repercussions”.
Iruegbo, the Editor-In-Chief of Global Sentinel, highlighted the social and security implication of the law regulating commercial motorcycle trade in the FCT.
He said: “You see, there is great economic loss as those affected did not just lose only their bikes, but the money they also used in buying them, as well as their means of livelihood.
“However, like I noted earlier, government would still need to maintain a sense of order, and sanity in the FCT, and avoid environmental pollution occasioned by Okada and Keke.
“Above all, there should be a solution that leaves everyone satisfied. That is, the riders should retain their means of livelihood, without posing security and environmental threats to the nation’s capital.
On his part, Mr. Chidi Omeje, an Abuja-based security expert, totally kicked against the policy of crushing okada motorcycles.
He said: “The situation is very bad. It shows the cruelty of the government and its agencies to destroy the legal means of livelihood of some Nigerians.
“By crushing people’s okada machines, you are breeding prospective criminals; people who have nothing to lose anymore. They are going to unleash their venom and transfer their aggression to the society”.
This report is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation
Kidnapped School ChildrenYauri FGC Students, Kebbi
339 days 16 hours 53 minutes 27 seconds,
Baptist School Students, Kaduna
321 days 18 hours 34 minutes 52 seconds
Tegina Islamiya Pupils, Niger (Freed)
Report By: PRNigeria.com