By Jude Atupulazi, Uchay Amunike, Ikeugonna Eleke
Barely a day into the enforcement of the ban on the operations of commercial motorcyclists, otherwise known as Okada, by the Anambra State Government, residents in the affected cities of Awka and Onitsha had already started feeling pains.
The ubiquitous nature of Okadas enables them to go into all nooks and crannies of their areas of operation which the others like tricycles (Keke), buses and shuttle buses cannot do. This means that people had come to depend on the okadas to make quick getaways, either in traffic gridlocks or in their areas, when the need arose. But following the ban on Okada Operations by the state government which took effect from last Sunday, July 1, the importance of the Okada as a means of transportation came to the fore.
Last Sunday, many people, especially those who went to church, had to trek long distances either to get to where they would take buses to their destinations, or trekked straight to their homes or elsewhere. It was all caused by one factor: the absence of Okadas on the roads, owing to the ban.
The ban which began that Sunday morning saw enforcement officers from the state owned OCHA Brigade and Anambra Traffic Management Agency, also known as ATMA, taking positions in strategic areas in the cities of Awka and Onitsha to enforce the ban.
Fides gathered that in Awka Capital City, several areas of the town, especially popular junctions and roundabouts which used to be riotous as a result of the unruly activities of commercial motorcyclists, looked empty and deserted.
At Regina Caeli Junction, Awka, where the activities of motorcyclists had caused many accidents, Fides observed that the place was devoid of the usual rowdiness it was previously known for.
But beside the serenity in the towns, residents who spoke to Fides lamented the hardship they would face as a result of the ban.
Mr Linus Okoro, a businessman at Eke Awka Market, said whatever suffering that was experienced that Sunday which was the first day of the ban would worsen in the following days, especially when work resumed.
He said, 'Our people are experiencing a lot of suffering, but it may just be higher from Monday. It is not on every route that tricycles and minibuses ply, so people may have to trek a very long way.'
Another resident of Awka, Mrs Agnes Eze said, 'Because of the rate of snatching of bags that has become prevalent, we are happy over the ban. But government must look for other means to ameliorate the plight of the people who have lost their jobs as a result of the ban.'
Mrs Blessing Obasi, a petty trader at UNIZIK Junction, lamented the ban on Okada, saying it would hinder her business, especially as her customers at Eke Awka usually sent her wares through way bill by means of motorcycle operators.
'With the ban, I will have to be going to market myself and that will hinder my progress too. You know, sometimes you will not have enough money to go to the market, so you just call and they will send things down here and that usually saved me the time and transportation and closing my shop so as to go to the market,' she said.
For Mr Chidi Ezinandu, a lawyer, commercial motorcyclists were not only helpful in transporting people to places, they also served as direction for strangers, and people who had no cash and were stranded.
'Is just like when someone is visiting you and you simply tell the person to take a bike and tell the Okada man to drop him off at a designated place, and even though the person does not know the place, he just mentions the address and he is taken there.
'Another aspect is when you do not have money and you need to go to a particular place where you are sure you can get money. All you do is board an Okada, even without explaining that you do not have money, and when you get to your destination, you call your people to come and pay. All that now is in the past,' he concluded.
Angel Abasilim, a resident of Okpuno, Awka South, wondered why government would ban Okada without making adequate preparations for replacement as it promised. This failure, she said, had started causing untold hardship on the people.
In the commercial city of Onitsha, the ban of Okada seems to have given the city a new look. The city, known for its congestion before the ban, now looks serene.
In the mornings and evenings, however, a large crowd forms at most bus stops by those waiting for either the shuttle buses or the commuter buses that ply the different routes leading to all the different markets and major bus stops in the city.
Fides was able to talk to some erstwhile Okada riders and workers on their way to work that morning to share their experiences.
Jacob Ugwu (Okada operator), said it had not been easy for him since the ban on his means of survival. 'I am confused because that is the only source of living I have. My wife is a teacher in a private school and her salary is very small, so the family depends on my Okada business to survive.
'Since that day, I have been idle. The government promised that they would give us shuttle buses. Where are they? Obiano has not brought the shuttle bus and yet, he banned the Okada I have been managing to feed my family. It is pure wickedness. I am begging them to allow us to continue to do our Okada business. When they are ready to buy the shuttle buses, they can ban us. We are suffering,' he said.
Uju Okpalaku, a banker, said he lived in a place called Owerri Aja in Awada-Obosi.
'My area is in the interior part of Awada and I usually take a bike to the major road close to Best Aluminium Company before joining the bus to Main Market which is where my office is. Ever since the Okada ban announcement came, I have been wondering how I will be able to make it to work every morning.
'On Monday when it became effective, I had to trek all the way to Best Aluminium because I didn't have an alternative. By the time I got there, I didn't even see any bus to Main Market. There was a large crowd in the bus stop and as a matter of fact, I got to work late. As u can see today, it is raining and I am still waiting for the Main Market bus. I don't understand how the government can be so insensitive to the plight of other people. Their initiative is a good one because I have even been attacked by these young boys using Okada. But why not bring in the shuttle buses first before banning the Okada? What if I lose my job as a result of constantly being late to work? I'm not happy at all,' he lamented.
Rex Okolo, a trader, however expressed happiness over the ban, as, according to him, everywhere had become calm, devoid of the usual noise from them.
'Hausa people everywhere. Accidents everywhere. Crime everywhere. Let them stop driving Okada. I am suffering because of the long trekking every morning before I reach the bus stop but I don't mind. It is even good to use the opportunity to exercise. People should be patient. Suffering will not last forever. It is for a short time. So, I support the government one hundred percent,' he said.
It is not however all gloom and doom following the Okada ban. Many accidents in the state had been attributed to the carelessness of Okada operators who usually constituted a nuisance on the roads.
They were also liable to breaking the law with impunity, just to pick passengers on any part of the road. Traffic and other signs were not for them and, worse still, many robberies had been committed by those who used Okada.
Recently, a Fides reporter was attacked by two men wearing military camouflage who robbed her of her possessions and took off on their bike.
In other cases, many people had been robbed by having their bags snatched by thieves on bikes. It was possible for them to escape because they usually mingled their way out of tight traffic situations.
Chidi Ezinandu said that as there were disadvantages of the ban, so were the advantages, citing the sane environment and the risk involved while using Okadas. He recalled what he described as the unruly behaviour of some of the operators.
The Anambra State Government also believed the ban would not only save more lives, but would enable the operators to upgrade to either tricycles or shuttle buses, pointing out that in either case, they would be sure to make more money by carrying more passengers. This was the view of the state Commissioner for Information and Enlightenment, Mr Cee-Don Adinuba.
He assured that the promised shuttle buses would arrive very soon, even as he urged those affected by the ban to visit the office of the Anambra Small Business Agency, ASBA, to process their loan for the shuttle buses which he said, were meant strictly for members of the Okada Union.
But as the arrival of the shuttle buses is awaited, many do not see it as saving them from trekking as the areas accessible to Okadas will continue to be inaccessible to other means of transportation. That means that the residents of the affected areas will have to brace up for more treks.