Such days are also hectic moments for the police, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) and officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), who capitilise on the heavy volume of traffic to track down traffic rules offenders, apprehend rickety vehicles and ensure safety of movement on the roads.
But last Thursday, October 22, was however different for the FRSC operatives because they were conspicuously absent in all nooks and crannies of Biu while residents say it was the aftermath of a bloody confrontation between the combined security forces and commercial motorcycle riders (okada) over the enforcement of the use of safety helmets which resulted in the burning of the FRSC office and residential quarters of its officials.
Our correspondent who visited Biu reports that even the radio room of the divisional police headquarters in the town was not spared by the rampaging youths and that the situation had aggravated to the extent that some youths had gone round many locations to trace rented quarters of FRSC officials and brought out their personal effects and burnt them.
It was a herculean task for our reporter to identify FRSC officials because of fear of an attack. As such, they now move about in plain clothes in a bid to conceal their identification.
Asked why they have gone into oblivion, one of them simply said they went into hidding for their safety. “How can we operate when some miscreants are on the prowl…we don’t even operate because our offices are no more,” the officer said.
Two people were confirmed dead after sustaining gunshot wounds from men of the state security outfight called “Operation Flush” who were detailed to disperse the riotous youths during the protest on Monday but despite their presence, the crisis lasted many hours.
During the rampage, several motorcycles in the custody of the FRSC were released by the youths before the building was set ablaze. “The youths literally staged a coup of sorts because there was lawlessness in the town for many hours,” an official of the FRSC said.
Another source told Weekly Trust that the crisis started when okada operators “vehemently protested” the enforcement of the crash helmet on the grounds that the timing was wrong because more than a 100 people died in the town recently because of an outbreak of cholera.
They accused the Borno State government of late response when the cholera outbreak was reported. They threatened that since the state government was insensitive to their plight, they would never comply with any directives from the state.
But Dr. Abdullahi Saddiq of the Borno State Ministry of Health who is the Director of Disease control and International Health, said there was timely intervention and rescue operations which he claimed saved the lives of many people not only in Biu but across other local government areas.
Mohammed A. Mohammed, the chairman of the Amalgamated Union of Commercial Motorcycle Riders (ACCOMORAN) in Biu, exonerated his members of any blame, insisting that the onslaught on government establishments was carried out by angry people in the town who want to vent their frustrations over government’s ineptitude.
He said after receiving a four-day notice from the FRSC on the crash helmet, his union lodged a complaint to the District Head of Biu, the local government chairman, the Sarkin Yakin Biu, Alhaji Usman Lema, who promised to talk to the officer in charge of the Operation Flush, one Major Tosh, but to no avail.
“We made our position known to Major Tosh on Sunday during a peaceful rally but he resisted and insisted that arrests must commence on Monday. On that note, I told my members not to go out for work but that did not deter the “Operation Flush” from embarking on their mission which led to the crisis,” he alleged.
Another source said there was a conspiracy among the officials of the FRSC who connived with one Mr. Oscar, a businessman in Biu who brought in a large consignment of the helmets in order to force the okada operators to buy.
A reliable source in the ranks of the FRSC Weekly Trust that even the Borno Sector Commander of the FRSC had during his visit to Biu questioned the rationale behind stocking the crash helmets in the office of the FRSC.
Ironically, the enforcement team was withdrawn from Biu roads the following morning and it was confirmed that the officer in charge of the operation was asked to report to Maiduguri. Similarly, Weekly Trust gathered that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Biu has equally been transferred.
Though it is not yet clear whether the shootings were carried out by the police or the army, the Borno State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Isa Azare, told our correspondent that the case has been transferred to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), for further investigation.