By Ozo Ray.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has set aside ₦765,000,000 for commercial motorcyclists in the state to enable them to purchase shuttle buses following the government's decision to ban their operations in Awka, the state capital, and Onitsha, the commercial hub of the state. from July 1 this year.
The funds, Fides gathered, will be accessed through the Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA).
Existing commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada operators, will take delivery of the buses once they deposit ₦100,000 with ASBA, while undertaking to make payments every two weeks, according to the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, who also disclosed that the interest-free loan could be repaid within a year and a half.
The shuttle buses will cost between ₦700,000 and ₦800,000 each.
The first set of 200 units of the 1000 buses in the scheme will arrive in the state anytime from now from Japan, Fides learnt.
Mr Adinuba, in a statement, said that the Obiano Administration decided to phase out okada operations in Awka and Onitsha so as to economically empower the operators and quicken the process of turning the state into a modern place like Dubai.
'A situation where some members of the public have been made to believe that they cannot rise beyond the level of Okada riders is unfair and offends good conscience,' the commissioner said.
He disclosed that Governor Obiano wanted commercial motorcyclists to get to the next level by becoming bus owners.
'Bus ownership will generate far more revenue for the present okada riders because, whereas a motorcyclist is not allowed to have more than one passenger at a time, a shuttle bus can carry as many as seven passengers,' Adinuba explained.
He said that another reason for the decision to phase out okada operations in the state's two leading cities was the plan to make Anambra State the “Dubai of Africa'' within the next few decades, a status which, he said, no place could attain by making okada dominate the entire landscape.
He also stated that the high rate of serious road accidents involving okada riders and their passengers formed another reason for the restriction.
He declared: 'Up to 70% of accident cases in orthopaedic and other hospitals in Anambra State and beyond, involve commercial motorcycle crashes, and it is not right for any government which cares for the welfare and future of its citizens not to do anything about this phenomenon, considering that the safety of every individual is the primary constitutional responsibility of the state.'
He said that many robberies and other violent crimes throughout Nigeria had been traced to people using commercial motorcycles, insisting that Anambra did not want anything which could compromise her hard earned reputation as Nigeria's safest state.
The Information Commissioner disclosed that Anambra did not follow other Southeast states to restrict okada operations when they did because Obiano was developing a scheme to provide the people of the state with superior services and make the okada operators more productive agents of the state's economy.
'The delay is worth it because Governor Obiano did not want the okada operators to be out of employment. What is more, we are today proud of our record as perhaps the only government in Nigeria's history to provide Okada riders with buses,' Adinuba stated.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State empowerment programme for commercial motorcyclists has been generating reactions.
The chairman of the Okada Riders Association in the state, Jude Udegbe, described it as another evidence of Obiano's humane nature, while the chairman of the state branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Jerry Nnubia, called it a welcome development which had the potential to dramatically improve the lives of okada operators and reduce the crime rate in the state.
The chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Comrade Ifeanyi Okechukwu, said it showed that the governor's second tenure would witness a radical improvement in all sectors.