Nigerians from different walks of life in the South-East have expressed mixed feelings regarding Federal Government’s plan to ban commercial motorcycles, otherwise called “Okada”, in the country.
While some hailed the proposal, believing that it might help to curb the crime rate, others disapproved of it on the grounds of its negative economic implications.
In Abia, proponents of the ban argued that commercial motorcycles had become ready tools for robbery, banditry, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country.
A businessman, Mr Kingsley Madu, said that he had long expected the ban, given the spate of criminal activities that were executed with motorcycles in different parts of the country.
Madu said: “Most criminals and kidnappers hide under the guise of commercial motorcyclists to kill and dispossess their victims of their valuables.”
A seamstress, Mrs Faith Ugwu, said that a lot of criminals use motorcycles to perpetuate criminality due to bad roads, especially in rural communities.
“I think kidnapping and robbery are on the increase because the perpetrators use motorcycles for their operations.
However, those who are opposed to the idea, urged the government to jettison the plan because of its dire consequences on the nation’s prostrate economy.
An undergraduate, Mr Felix Nwankwo, feared that the plan could boomerang, if implemented.
“There is already a high rate of unemployment in the country, so banning okada would worsen the situation.
“This will also worsen crime and criminality that the policy intends to checkmate.
“Although there are bad eggs among the operators, it is not enough reason for a blanket ban across the country,” Nwankwo said.
He argued that there were many responsible men, who entered the business as their only means of livelihood.
A commercial bus driver, Mr Anthony Onyeizu, dismissed the plan, saying that it would be counterproductive.
Onyeizu said that the ban would create more problems in the transport sector, if enforced.
“Are commercial motorcyclists our problem as a country at this time, when people are being killed everyday like animals?
“Commercial motorcycles remain the major, and in some cases, the only means of transportation in most of our rural communities.
“So banning it would make life more difficult, especially in communities with deplorable road conditions,” Onyeizu said.
Also in Imo, an entrepreneur, Chief Evaristus Nkwocha, said that the policy would be detrimental to the nation’s economy.
Nkwocha, who deals in hire purchase for motorcycles in Owerri, said that “many unemployed persons, including graduates, depend on commercial motorcycles for their livelihood” because of the high unemployment rate.
“The ban will affect not only the operators but spare parts dealers and motorcycles repairers.
“Commercial motorcycles have always been there and we cannot just wake up and accuse the users of masterminding insecurity,” he said.
He argued that crime was also prevalent in cities where commercial motorcycles were not operational.
“Most of those who get our facility are unemployed graduates, who have no criminal records,” Nkwocha said.
Dr Fabian Odunka of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, said that rather than the ban, government should encourage the study of automobile engineering to stimulate students’ interest in the manufacturing of automobiles.
This, he said, would help to strengthen the economy and enhance the nation’s foreign exchange earnings through export.
Odunka further said that automobile entrepreneurs, such as Innoson Vehicle Manufacturers and Kotec motorcycle parts manufacturers, should be supported rather than discouraged in their efforts to grow the nation’s economy.
Mr Chukwudi Ndudi, an ex-Secretary, Motorcyclists Association, Emekuku, in Owerri North Council Area of Imo, spoke on the contributions of commercial motorcycle to crime reduction.
According to Ndudi, banning the business would worsen the country’s security situation.
He said the ban would render many persons jobless, hence create room for more people to take to crime and criminality to survive.
“At this time in the history of Nigeria, we should be talking about job creation to take the youths out from the streets and discourage them from crime.
“A ban on commercial motorcycles will leave many jobless with crime, including cyber crime, as the only way out,” Ndudi said.
In Abakaliki, a Civil Servant, Mr Donatus Okereke, said the Federal Government should first provide an alternative means of livelihood for youths who depend on okada to sustain themselves and their dependants.
Okereke said that banning okada without an alternative for the riders would increase the level of hardship, poverty and criminality in the country.
“I hope such a policy will not lead to another End-SARS protest in the country,” he said.
Also, Mr Ogbonna Uslor, said that the ban would have negative effect on motorcycle dealers, mechanics and others in the value chain.
“It is dangerous to say you will completely stop a means of livelihood of a people without an alternative,” Uslor said.
Two food vendors, Mrs Oluchukwu Ukeoma and Nkechi Ejike, said that their business would suffer if okada is banned.
“We will lose substantial patronage because the okada riders are our major customers,” they said.
Also in Awka, a journalist, Mr Chuks Ilozue, described the services of commercial motorcyclists as crucial, especially in far-flunged locations.
Ilozue said that banning them could cause untold sufferings for travellers to such locations.
“There are some communities that are difficult to access because of bad roads and the only means of transportation are commercial motorcycles.
“If government ends up banning okada, people travelling to such areas would face serious challenge,” he said.
He advised government to allow state governments to place such ban in areas where the use of okada to commit crimes is considered rife.
Another respondent, Mrs Uzochukwu Izuchukwu, said that in most agrarian communities, farmers relied more on commercial motorcycles to transport their produce to markets.
Izuchukwu warned that the ban would further increase the prices of farm produce, thus increasing the hardship in the country.
But a public servant, Mr Uchenna Ezedigwe, described the proposal as a step in the right direction.
Ezedigwe said that the upsurge in crime in some parts of the country could largely be attributed to okada riders.
“For instance, the activities of bandits and other criminal elements terrorising the nation today are usually perpetrated with motorcycles,” he said.
He opined that crime would reduce with a ban on commercial motorcycles.
A health worker, Mr Elvis Nwobuani, described the planned ban as appropriate.
Nwobuani said that apart from crime, the recklessness of okada operators had resulted in accidents, leaving many permanently maimed.
“If you conduct a survey on the number of motorcycle-related accidents in states where they operate and the states that have banned it, you will see the difference,” Nwobuani said.
According to him, banning okada would save many from the resultant disability and untimely death from okada accidents.
In Enugu, the Association of Tricycle Riders Transport Union (ATRTU) said that okada business had restrained millions of jobless youths from taking to crime.
The Chairman of ATRTU in the state, Mr Benjamin Ikah, said that many okada operators saw it as their only legitimate means of livelihood due to the high rate of unemployment.
He said that government should not think that the millions of school leavers and graduates that went into it were happy.
“They are not happy. Rather, they went into it to avoid idleness, hunger and crime.
Ikah said: “Once they go out each day, they are sure of that day’s meal both for themselves and their families.
“So, why would government want to increase their frustration?
“Is it not enough for someone to make a living by doing a job as hazardous as okada riding in the rain and under the sun and exposure to accidents?
He charged the National Security Council to use intelligence to arrest terrorists and other criminal elements that operate with motorcycles.
“It could also isolate areas where crimes and terrorism are prevalent and ban motorcycles there, if need be,” Ikah said.
Also, traders under the aegis of the South East Amalgamated Markets Traders Association (SEAMATA) urged the Federal Government to jettison the plan because of its “serious negative socio-economic consequences”.
In a statement issued by SEAMATA President-General and Secretary-General, Chief Gozie Akudolu and Mr Alex Okwudili, in Enugu the group advised that the ban be applied in places where they had become necessary.
It stated: “The council should have considered hundreds of motorcycle manufacturing industries across the federation with thousands of youths in their employment and others in ancillary and indirect employment.
“The proposal means not only the closure of these industries, with its adverse implications on the economy, but sending those in their employment into the saturated Nigerian labour market.
“There are other industries that produce motorcycle components, especially the rubber and plastic parts, which shall also fold up and in turn add to the nation’s security problem.
“The distribution chain, ranging from the dealers in motorcycle spare parts, artisans, such as mechanics and vulcanizers, and their apprentices, will have their businesses shut down.
“They will likely become potential criminals and bandits being uploaded into society.”
A senior citizen, Pa Alfred Udeh, advised the government to encourage the resuscitation of industries to absorb the teeming youths that depended on okada, before banning it.
He described okada as a product of economic downturn, saying that it never existed in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industries were booming in the country.
Udeh, a retired police officer, however, urged the government to increase its number of security personnel to at least 1.5 million.
“Government should also equip the security agencies with hi-tech crime detecting devices and criminal databank to enable them to function optimally,” he said.