Anambra Still Awaits Arrival of Shuttle Buses
…Govt Blames Tough Luck, Explores other Options
When on July 1, 2018 the Anambra State Government banned the operations of commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada, in Awka and Onitsha, the operators had no option than to cling on the assurance by the government that it would provide shuttle buses from Japan on loan to them before the end of that year for the okada operators to upgrade to. This was after appeals from well-meaning individuals and groups in the state to the government not to ban the okada business until the shuttle buses arrived fell on deaf ears.
In carrying out the ban, government had said it was acting in the interest of the people of the state as the ban would help curb criminal activities, as well as reduce the rate of accidents.
In truth, many crimes then were committed by people using motorcycles to snatch people’s personal effects, often at gun point, who then disappear in a flash. Also, many accidents had occurred involving those using motorcycles commercially.
But still, many felt that banning commercial cycle transportation without affording the users the opportunity of switching to shuttle buses or tricycles, known as keke, would inflict hardship on not only the operators of okada, but on commuters. Okada then was the only means of accessing areas with bad roads, especially those areas far from major roads.
But the government had gone ahead to effect the ban without a replacement for the okadas. This had immediately thrown a lot of people into hardship as they trekked considerable distances before getting to where they could find other means of transportation. The first few days following the ban witnessed masses of people trekking either to or from work, painting a picture of near chaos.
But amid the suffering, was the soothing expectation that soon, the much touted replacement for okada would arrive. It is now two years after the ban and not one of the promised shuttle buses have been spotted anywhere in the state.
Governor Obiano had reportedly said the disbursement of the buses would be handled by the Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA), and called on transporters to take advantage of the opportunity and invest in acquiring shuttle buses and tricycles to complement government’s efforts.
To this end, Obiano had announced the setting aside of N765million for the purchase of the shuttle buses.
Consequent upon that, the okada operators were asked to make a down payment of N100, 000 in the form of registration in order to access the loan that would be provided for them to upgrade to the shuttle bus business.
However, Fides reports that after many of the former okada riders had paid the money, they did not take delivery of the promised shuttle buses, a development that has subsisted unto this day, two long years after.
What has happened to their money? Will the agency concerned reimburse them?
Story by Jude Atupulazi, Ifeoma Ezenyilimba, Chioma Ndife, Alexander Johnson Adejoh and Precious Ukeje.
After repeated attempts to hear from the Ministry of Transport failed to yield fruit, with the commissioner neither picking calls nor replying SMS, Fides finally turned to the Commissioner for Information and Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, who attributed the delay in providing the shuttle buses up to this moment to tough luck.
According to him, the state government had gone to banks to seek a loan to purchase the shuttles but the banks declined, saying they did not give loans for second hand vehicles.
The government then turned to a local vehicle manufacturer, INNOSON Motors, but found their price quotation too prohibitive as the number of vehicles requested was much and the company needed to factor in their own profit.
The commissioner however said all hope was not lost as government was considering other options, even as he assured those who had registered and paid money that should government fail to strike any workable deal, their monies would be returned.
‘Our government is not one that will take the money of hard working people. We want the best for them. We are exploring other options and I’m sure it will end well,’ Adinuba assured.
Fides crew went to town to sample the opinions of those most affected by the ban; the former okada riders, who have now, on their own arrangements, migrated to keke and shuttle bus operators.
Reacting to the development, a former okada rider, Mr Chinonso Ezeora, who spoke to Fides in Awka, said the government did not provide the shuttle buses for them, as promised. Then, according to him, in a bid to survive, some of them made private arrangements and entered into the tricycle business otherwise known as keke.
Mr Ezeora, now into the keke business since 2019, said he got his on hire purchase at the cost of N1.3M. According to him, he signed an agreement with the owner of the keke to be paying N20, 000 on weekly basis and without interruption so as to pay back the cost of the keke.
He however said that some other keke owners equally struck similar agreements with other keke riders and had been collecting N15, 000 weekly, also on hire purchase.
On his experiences so far in his new business, Ezeora, who said he had been enjoying his keke business, said he was no longer interested in the government’s shuttle bus promise as he now preferred the keke business.
He claimed that the income from the keke was higher than that of the okada, and, according to him, he won’t take any other vehicle on loan as he had his keke on hire purchase.
Another keke operator, Mr Nnaemeka Ozor, said he did not register for the shuttle bus as directed by the government due to lack of funds. He said one of his friends then registered at the government’s designated office which was located at Kwata with N100, 000 for the shuttle bus, but he, just like others that also registered, never received the promised shuttle bus.
Ozor, who equally supported Ezeoha’s view that the keke business was far better than okada due to what he made from it, however decried the high levies which they paid to the authorities daily and monthly.
He said he got his keke on hire purchase at the cost of N1.3m, with an agreement to pay N20, 000 on weekly basis, and complete the payment within a space of one year and two months. On whether he had been able to complete the payment for the keke, Mr Ozor, who disclosed that he had been in the keke business for one year and four months, said he had been unable to complete the N1.3m due to the effects of the coronavirus and also after expenses he made from the business.
According to him, it was easier for him to raise money and pay the N20, 000 weekly before the COVID-19 lockdown, but since the onset of the pandemic, it had been difficult for him to even pay N5, 000 weekly.
He however prayed the government to look into the payments they made in the course of the keke business, which, he said, were much.
‘We pay N30 per load, N450 daily, N100 for the park daily and N500 meeting due for every month,’ he lamented.
On what had been the plight of other former okada riders after the ban, Ozor said some of them who could not survive the ban went back to their home towns to look for means of survival while some became motor mechanics.
A former okada rider, who spoke to Fides on condition of anonymity, said the government never provided the shuttle buses as promised. He alleged that the government collected money from some of them and never kept its own part of the promise.
Obike Asiegbu, who operated a motor bike then, but who now sells plastics in a wheelbarrow around the Eke Awka Market, said he made more money as a motor bike operator than now.
He added that he had just completed the payment for the bike which he operated on a hire purchase basis when the ban was enforced. To this end, he could not raise money to upgrade, while the government failed to fulfill its promise.
Okwudiri Ohaka, from Abia State, who has lived in Awka for eight years and sells vegetables, said motor bikes aided faster movement into some rural communities where there were not good roads.
‘Today, it’s more difficult going to those places to get our wares and should one get bike to those places, it costs more than it used to,’ Ohaka explained.
Nnamdi Okafor, an indigene of Nibo in Awka South Local Government Area, described his predicament as worse; adding that he had three motor bikes operating for him and he had hoped to take advantage of government’s gesture which did not materialize.
Ifeanyi Emeka, one of the affected victims, said they were sick and tired of the government’s promises, noting that it was now two years since government’s promises had not been fulfilled.
Mr. Elisha Nwankwo is also among those who were able to get keke through hire purchase. He said the ban on Okada which was his main source of income shattered his life and that of his young family.
Nwankwo said he was newly married and had high hopes of providing for his family before the State Government initiated the idea of banning Okada operators, thereby rendering him jobless.
To him, then, the promise of shuttle buses had raised their hopes, only for them to find out that government had no plans to fulfil its side of the bargain.
‘Life after the ban of Okada was hellish for me. I know what I suffered before I got keke on hire purchase and started life all over. It is not an experience I will like to recount and the worst part of it was that it happened after I got married which left me with a young family to cater for.
‘When the announcement for the ban of Okada was initiated, I was relieved a little bit because of the promise of a shuttle bus, but I can now boldly say it was a scam.
‘This is two years and we have not seen the government or those responsible for the delivery of the promised buses.
‘This government has actually failed us, we voted collectively as a body for them and they banned us after coming to power. It was very heartbreaking to us but we cannot fight the government but only to hope and watch that someday the promised buses will get to some of us.
‘Some of our members died painfully during the period we were banned, others after staying in Awka and other parts of Anambra State were forced to relocate down to their villages. And you know, this type of relocation is not planned. About three of my Abakaliki colleagues committed suicide because they were confused and had no idea of what they would do next.
He also added that a couple of affected okada riders were scammed on two occasions on the demand of payment for what he called processing form.
Adding his voice, Idris Ibrahim expressed what he termed disappointment with the Obiano Administration, noting that he had to engage in hire purchase for a year before owning his own keke.
He said, ‘I am sick and tired of fake promises here and there. They banned us from using okada amid promises that they would purchase shuttles for us Okada drivers but till date nothing has been done and only God knows if they will ever fulfill that promise.
‘We paid some stipends after which application forms were given to us twice to fill with the same empty promises.’
Ibrahim however urged the Anambra State Government, through the Ministry of Transport, to urgently look into the matter, even as he warned that this could affect the party in power in the 2021 gubernatorial election.
Meanwhile, consistent efforts to have the Commissioner for Transport, Hon Afam Mbanefo, and the chairman of tricycle operators in Awka to make comments, proved abortive as at press time.
But Fides was able to contact Mr Clement Chukwuka, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Anambra Small Business Agency in his office at Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Awka. ASBA is the agency where the former okada operators registered with the said N100, 000.
Chukwuka, however said the agency was only a development financier charged with the responsibility of disbursing funds as approved by ministries.
‘We are at the terminal end of everything. The establishment of Anambra Small Business Agency by Governor Obiano was aimed at having a development financial institution approved by the House of Assembly.
‘While ministries and other agencies operate within the provisions of their expected duties, the agency comes to play when money is involved, because there is division of labour,’ Chukwuka explained.
The Managing Director, who was neck-deep into disbursement of agricultural loans as at press time, and who initially declined attending to Fides, added that whatever response that was required regarding the shuttles, would emanate from the Ministry of Transport and not ASBA.
He said the shuttles available on the roads today were not there initially, and added that the duty of government across the world was to create enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
He however did not say if the agency financed the availability of the shuttle buses or not.