Bandits and other sundry criminals in North-West are having a field day perpetrating their nefarious activities without a trace by using unregistered motorcycles to traverse most parts of northern Nigeria’s hinterlands where road accessibility remains a challenge.
People in many communities in the outskirt of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and other states said it would be difficult to contain kidnapping and other crimes without checkmating the illegal use of motorcycles.
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Many states in Nigeria have banned the use of motorcycles while others have restricted them to semi-urban area and the hinterlands, mainly because they constitute a nuisance to the cities.
However, because of their growing popularity among criminals, such as Boko Haram in the North-East and bandits in the North-West, most Northern states have banned the use of motorcycles in order to stem the tide but to no avail.
Thousands of motorcycles are still in the hands of criminals who use them as the easiest means of meandering their way from security operatives while carrying out banditry, kidnapping and mass raids of targeted communities.
Credible sources said almost hundred per cent of the motorcycles being used by the bandits have not been registered by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) or Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs); a development seen as a low point for law enforcement agencies.
“In the 50s, 60s and 70s, you must register your bicycles with authorities,” said Baba Ali, an old policeman.
“It was not possible for you to ride your motorcycle or drive your car without first registering them with relevant authorities and that was why it was easy to track criminals those days.
“However, these days, people would buy a motorcycle and use it for many years without a number plate…You see people passing checkpoints and nothing will happen to them.
“It is only when the security operatives want to get something from you that they would stop you and ask a question and once you give them some money, you move on; they don’t care whether you are an armed robber or whatever,” he said.
Suleiman Ismail, a security expert in Zamfara, said bandits use motorcycles to perpetrate almost all atrocities in the state.
“The boxer motorcycle is as good as an AK47 rifle for the bandits,” he said.
“They ride in twos, and move in hundreds…Sometimes you see the bandits on about 200 motorcycles, meaning 400 of them at a go. It means you will need like six or seven luxury buses to convey them.
“The criminals like a motorcycle because of its ease of manoeuvrability. They can storm a town at once and they can move out at once and our security forces cannot follow them because of the difficult terrain,” he said.
Another expert, Alex Clem, said banditry, kidnapping and other sundry crimes would not be curtailed until authorities put in place serious measures on the use of motorcycles.
“We still have people who use motorcycles for positive endeavours but criminals are now on the high side. Ask people in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna; Faskari in Katsina and Dansadau in Zamfara.
“They would tell you that motorcycle riding bandits are giving them a headache. You will see two people on one and they can put their kidnapped victim at the centre and zoom to the bush without a trace,” he said.
Unregistered motorcycles major threat in Katsina
Bandits are known to use a procession of motorcycles in their hundreds to invade communities and commit atrocities. Only recently, about 150 bandits operating on motorcycles invaded Kadisau village and carried out attacks that claimed the lives of 74 people, with many reportedly injured.
Though motorcycles remain a major means of transportation in the state and source of livelihood for thousands of people, findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that most of the commercial motorcycles plying the streets of Katsina metropolis are not registered and as such, do not have plate numbers.
It was observed that the motorcycle riders’ association in the state is either weak or non-existent as many riders interviewed said they were not aware of such an association. Similarly, efforts to get the leadership of the association did not yield any positive result as our correspondent was referred to some persons and places but he could not eventually get any of the supposed leaders.
A tricycle operator, who simply identified himself as Jamilu, said some of the motorcycles were given on ‘hire-purchase,’ in which a rider is given some time to reimburse a certain amount of money to take ownership of the motorcycle. “If the owner of the motorcycle is not magnanimous enough to get it registered, it becomes difficult for the hire-purchaser to go for the registration as it costs about N8,500,” he said.
When contacted, the director of the Department of Collection of the Katsina State Board of Internal Revenue, Alhaji Rabiu Adamu Abdullahi, said the board, which has the sole responsibility to register vehicles had everything in place for the registration, but the problem is weak enforcement.
“There are always two issues involved: the laws on one hand, and enforcement, on the other hand. While we have the laws and provisions for penalties against defaulters, the enforcement of the laws is actually the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies, such as the police and the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs).
“We are actually working together. We have a tripartite meeting where we agreed on certain strategies. And I can assure you that very soon we will continue with the implementation of those strategies, which we already started before Ramadan,” he said.
On his part, the police spokesman in Katsina, SP Gambo Isah, said there was a task force under the office of the DC CID, which is in charge of the enforcement. “Not only plate numbers, the taskforce committee also deals with issues of unlicensed tinted glass and cases of private cars having official number plates to beat security.
“When they get any of such cases, they seize the vehicle until the offenders do the right thing by getting duly registered before it will be released to them,” he said.
Procession on motorbikes by bandits common in Zamfara
Like other states facing security challenges in northern Nigeria, Zamfara State has equally witnessed processions of motorcycle bandits who invaded communities, killed and maimed.
In 2019, the Nigerian Army banned the use of motorcycles in seven northern states, including Zamfara. The other states include Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger states. The army had said it observed the use of motorcycles by armed bandits, kidnappers, criminal elements and their collaborators as enablers to perpetrate crime; hence the ban.
Despite this ban, however, Zamfara State has witnessed an infiltration of motorcyclists from neighbouring states, even though authorities said any non-resident motorcycle rider was usually investigated for proper documentation.
However, the state police command, through its spokesman, SP Muhammad Shehu, said they often carry out routine market patrols to know ongoing transactions that have to do with motorcycles, adding, “We have our intelligence officers at these markets, and any identified shady transaction will be stopped and arrest effected immediately.”
Though leaders of commercial motorbike riders’ union could not be reached for comment despite repeated visits to their office, the public relations officer of the FRSC, Abdullahi Adamu said the corps impounds any motorbike found without proper registration. He added that registration for a commercial motorbike cost not more than N9,000 or N9,500.
“Some people don’t mind buying a used number plate and fix it on their vehicles, not minding that the original owner of the number plate may have committed a crime in the past,” he said.
Same problem in Kaduna
In Kaduna, Ibrahim Yakubu, a resident of Mando community said his motorcycle was not registered but is presently in use despite an existing ban on motorcycles in parts of the state.
According to Yakubu, though two of his previous motorcycles had been registered, it did not stop criminals from stealing them and they were never traced.
“There is no point expending resources on registration. I used to have a plate number on my previous motorcycles, but they were stolen and we have not recovered them. So, this time around, I didn’t bother to get a new number plate because the essence of getting it registered is to trace it; but if we cannot trace it, then what is the point?” he asked.
This is even as the state police command said it was concerned about the use of unregistered motorcycles, especially on highways like Kaduna-Zaria, Kaduna- Abuja, Kaduna-Kachia, and around Kagargo areas.
Officials admitted that criminals are frequently using motorcycles to transport arms and ammunition.
The command’s public relations officer, ASP Mohammed Jalige, said the Commissioner of Police, Umar Muri, had directed the confiscation of any unregistered motorcycle, particularly those referred to as ‘Boxer,’ which are mostly used by bandits.
“Just a few days ago, we arrested a suspect travelling on the Boxer motorcycle around Iyatawa village in Giwa Local Government Area with an AK49 rifle hidden inside the seat of the vehicle.
“Even if they are registered, it is the directive of the commissioner of police to our personnel to check and question those travelling on such motorcycles. Those arrested must provide proof of ownership, as well as have the motorcycle registered,” he said.
Our correspondent reports that the 2014 Kaduna State Commercial Motorcycles Prohibition Law restricts the use of motorcycles in 10 local government areas, including the entire Kaduna North and South local government areas, Kafanchan metropolis in Jema’a Local Government Area, parts of Zaria township, parts of Chikun Local Government Area, as well as Lere, Birnin Gwari, Sabongari, Giwa and Igabi local government areas. The law states that anyone who contravenes the ban shall be fined either the sum of N20,000 sent to six months imprisonment or both. The law also empowers all magistrates’ courts in the affected local government areas to prosecute violators of the law, including confiscation of their motorcycles.
However, despite the law, unregistered motorcycles still operate in several areas of Kaduna city and other parts of the state. The state’s chapter of the Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle and Tricycle Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria said though the law banning the use of motorcycles in selected local government areas still existed, it was responsible for the lack of registration of motorcycles in the affected areas.
The secretary of the association in Kaduna, Idris Mohammed said, “Government feels that if they continue to sell numberplates to motorcycle owners or have them registered, it is like renewing their licences to operate, which is illegal for now.”
He advised that operators in local governments not affected by insecurity should have their motorcycles registered, adding that reducing the cost of registration would encourage residence to have their data captured.
On their part, the Kaduna State Traffic Law Enforcement Agency (KASTLEA) identified two types of motorbikes: private and commercial, but said private motorbikes carrying passengers are equally considered as commercial, according to the law.
The general manager of the KASTLEA, Corp Marshal Garba Yahaya Rimi, however, said the lack of registration among users in areas where motorcycles are not banned was mainly due to indiscipline. “By law, every vehicle, be it tricycle or motorcycle must be registered officially, but over 70 per cent of motorcycle users don’t register them in the state, based on our record,” he said.
He said the agency had arrested many of such unregistered motorcycles, adding that some use fake registration plate numbers. “With regulation and sensitisation, the issue can be reduced, even though most of them are fully aware, but we just have to keep talking to the people to realise the implication of not registering their motorcycles,” he added.
‘Authorities only interested in revenue generation’
The large number of unregistered motorcycles in the FCT is also a growing cause of concern as bandits have found bikes as the most convenient means of transporting arms and ammunition across the country.
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the authorities, who have the mandate to enforce the registration of motorcycles, and sometimes, tricycles, do not do their job properly.
A cross-section of cyclists who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday said their union leaders, who interface between them and the registration authorities like the Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS) and the FRSC, care only about daily ticketing revenue.
A commercial motorcyclist, Alfred Ebuka, who operates in Gwagwalada, said he paid N50.00 daily tickets to motorcycle unions.
According to him, 70 per cent of commercial motorcycles that operate in the area are not registered, which he attributed to the influx of people into the area from northern states.
“Before, commercial motorcycles were registered, but now, the majority of them are not registered because the unions are more interested in collecting N50.00 daily tickets,” he said.
The former chairman of the Gwagwalada branch of the Motorcycle Transport Union of Nigeria (MTUN), Alhaji Nuhu Mohammed blamed the government for the non-registration of commercial motorcycles in the area.
He said the government had politicised the activities of commercial motorcyclists, which, according to him, has led to having eight different unions operating in isolation.
“When I was the chairman, I knew how I made sure that I introduced data capturing for commercial motorcycle riders in Gwagwalada. But today, we have over eight different unions who only collect daily revenues,” he said.
He also said the non-registration of commercial motorcycles and politicisation of cyclists’ activities had been responsible for the high rate of crime in the area. He added that there was the need for the government to bring all the unions under one umbrella and register them for security purposes.
Another motorcyclist, Garba Aliyu, who claimed to be a graduate of the University of Abuja, said he always paid N50.00 to the union officials for his daily ticket before starting work.
“The only thing I always do is to pay N50.00 daily to the union for a daily ticket. Apart from the ticket, there is this union sticker they sell at N500.00,” he said.
He said the reason most of the commercial motorcycles that operate in the area were not registered was because of the proliferation of unions, saying there are nine motorcycle unions in the area council that solely depend on the collection of N50.00 daily tickets.
The current chairman of the Gwagwalada branch of the MTUN, Kabiru Dahiru, reiterated that the DRTS, otherwise known as (VIO), and the FRSC were responsible for the registration of motorcycles.
He explained that the union’s role was to ensure that any motorcycle that would go into commercial riding was duly registered with her.
He said the union had met severally with both the FRSC and VIO on the need to produce number plates for commercial motorcycles operating in the area, without any positive results.
He said the union’s responsibility was to issue daily tickets to commercial cyclists, even though he alleged that police mostly arrested motorcycles without number plates and extorted between N2,000 and N3,000 from them.
“The major challenge the union is facing is that the VIO or FRSC, who are supposed to produce and sell these number plates have refused to produce them despite the fact that the union had approach them. The police now take advantage of that to arrest and extort money from our members,” he alleged.
A cyclist who operates in Kubwa, Yakubu Abdullahi, an indigene of Plateau State, also said their members could buy motorcycles that cost more than N200,000 but found it difficult to obtain a number plate that costs less than N10,000.
He said no authority would challenge them about that; hence everyone feels no obligation to obtain them.
Another cyclist, Umar Muhammed, an indigene of Sokoto State said some of them would rather use number plates that bear their names or something of interest to them while ignoring the authentic number plates.
According to him, the problem is most pronounced in areas where there are no union leaders.
Daily Trust on Sunday, however, observed that almost all commercial tricycles in the area had registration numbers.
A tricycle rider, Abdulkarim Ahmadu said he registered and obtained his number plate about a year ago at the cost of N7, 500, as he was directed by their union.
He said 90 per cent of tricycle operators in the FCT obtained registration particulars because it was made mandatory by their union leaders.
Jacob Yahaya, a taskforce member of tricycle operators in Kubwa said no one would be allowed to operate without it.
“In addition, every member must register with us and obtain an identity card, which we verify every day.
“Anyone not in our record can easily be identified, arrested, and his tricycle confiscated,’’ Yahaya added.
This, according to him, has made it easy to trace any member that gets involved in crime.
It was gathered that in most of the areas where there are unions, each member contributes N150.00 daily – N100.00 goes to the council while N50.00 would be kept for the union. Officials enforce the payment.
Commercial motorcyclists in Abuja also said their members had been victims of bandits, who occasionally go to the area to operate.
The chairman of the Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle Riders Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN) in Bwari Area Council of the FCT, Umar Adamu disclosed this while responding to an inquiry about number plates floated by members of the group.
He said that bandits, who mostly come from neighbouring states, snatch their members’ motorcycles after disguising as genuine passengers and soliciting for their services.
“During many of such incidents, our members lost their lives, along with their motorcycles, or at least escape with injuries,” he said.
He claimed that regulatory authorities were not committed to enforcing the registration. And it is only when a motorcycle is seized by law enforcement agents that the owner is fined for not registering it.
Responding, the DRTS said efforts were on to register all tricycles and motorcycles operating in the country’s capital, including capturing the personal data of riders and owners.
The public relations officer of the DRTS, Mr Kalu Emetu said, “We have been registering them, but we want to introduce a new platform, which is going to commence soon.
“We are going to register all of them so that at the end of the day, it will just be at the click of a button and you will know the owner of the motorbike; not only the owner, but you will also know the rider.
“Already, this has taken off with the registration of vehicles; we can trace owners of vehicles to their homes. This is what is happening in advanced countries in the digital age and we want to replicate it here,” he said.
He stressed that the Service was determined to deploy artificial intelligence to carry out all its statutory roles in the FCT.
He did not give a timeline when the registration of all bikes in the FCT will commence but said it would not go beyond the third quarter of the year.
He also said the DRTS had already started engaging with motorcycle and tricycle unions to ensure a seamless registration process.
Asked how much the registration would cost, he said it had not been decided yet.
From Mohammed I. Yaba (Kaduna), Shehu Umar (Gusau), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Terkula Igidi, Adam Umar & Abubakar Sadiq Isah (Abuja)