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Now that Jang has banned okada, what happens to the long-suffering masses?

“When you see young people hanging around or doing what they do as a means of livelihood, particularly these boys called ‘Yan’ going’…and some of…

“When you see young people hanging around or doing what they do as a means of livelihood, particularly these boys called ‘Yan’ going’…and some of them carrying water…but particularly the going chaps…when you ask them, they will say, ‘I want to go to Tudun Wada’ and they will start asking you where is Tudun Wada. That clearly shows that they are not living in Jos. And if you investigate, they are the same people who have been involved in this crisis,” Jang told COAS.

Removing commercial motorcyclists from Jos without providing an alternative quick, easy and cheap means of transportation for commuters, would definitely not be welcome by many. In the past, government attempted to scrap okada, but ended up unsuccessful. Government ended up in reducing their hours of operation to between 6:00am and 7:00pm.

The ban, so far, has generated series of reactions from the Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle Riders and Owners Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN) Plateau State chapter, as well as interest and religious groups.

First to react was ACOMORAN’s National President, Babangida Shehu Maihula. He appealed to the state government to have a rethink, saying that riders should have been given enough time for a gradual phase out of the business as it is done in states that have scrapped the operation.

He stressed that most of the motorcycles were given out on a loan to riders. He told the BBC Hausa Service that over 50,000 youths are involved in the business, so scrapping it will only worsen the problem of unemployment.

But the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Pankshin chapter, in a statement issued by their chairman, Jerry Dimlong, supported the initial suspension of the okada saying that operators had been doing more harm than good in their operations.

Similarly, a non-governmental organization known as Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) called for the establishment of a mobile court to punish offenders who violate the order.

Chris Kwaja, the chairperson of CAPP, in a statement maintained, “Government should establish a mobile court to prosecute all violators of the ban on motorcycle.”

The Ulama/Elder’s Council in Plateau State, on their part ,deemed the action of the state government as direct attack on its teeming populace who they claimed constitute more than 50 percent of the okada riders in the state.

Speaking on behalf of the council at a press briefing in Jos recently, the secretary of the council, Barrister Muhammad Lawal Ishaq, said, “We note with concern fresh moves by the Plateau State government to worsen the situation by introducing primitive policies aimed at increasing the hardship being experienced by Muslims in Jos.”

He added, “Okada and water vending have been banned by the state government, knowing that 50 percent of okada operators are Muslims. The move was an attempt to cripple the economic activities of Muslims in the state.”

While the controversy rages, commuters continue to gnash their teeth as they bear the brunt most. Palang Audu, who runs a restaurant at the terminus market, opined that the ban would not only cripple many business activities but will also make life unbearable to residents of Jos. She said, “Many people now have to trek long distances to reach their destinations. There are many areas where taxis cannot access because of the bad condition of roads in those areas.”

James David, on his part welcomed the ban. He stated, “These commercial motorcyclists, whenever crisis starts, they are the ones that escalate it by peddling rumours because they are the ones that move from one place to another.”

But Isma’ila Musa, an okada rider debunked that claim, saying, “What escalates crises in Jos is the GSM. People now have a quicker, easier and cheaper means of communication, therefore, as soon as something happens, messages fly from one destination to another.”

He added, “A lot of civil servants use this business to augment their income. Even security men are involved in the business. As I am talking to you, most of the people violating the order are policemen who constitute a significant percentage of the okada riders.”

Unfavourable reactions have not made government to shift position. Instead, Governor Jang has moved to put the final nail on the coffin by quickly submitting a bill to the State House of Assembly praying for the prohibition of okada as well as the regulation of motorcycle activities within Jos and Bukuru metropolis.

Speaking on the bill in a BBC Hausa service programme, Plateau State Information and Communication Commissioner, Gregory Yenlong stated that the bill, if passed, will ensure the regulation of all motorcycle activities, which will bring about sanity in the state.

The bill, after going through the first reading on February 9th, 2010 went through the second reading. Members of the House spent almost two hours deliberating it. It divided the House into two factions, one for and one against the bill.

Those who supported the bill argued that the operation of commercial motorcycle within Jos and Bukuru had constituted more harm than good, stressing that the bill was long overdue considering the level of insecurity experienced. They cited similar action in many states of the federation saying the case in Plateau State is not out of place. They expressed the need for the creation of a strong mechanism to ensure the enforcement of the law if the bill is passed.

Members who spoke against the bill dismissed the claims saying the bill will cause more social problems as the teeming youths who use the business for their means of livelihood would end up being unemployed thereby becoming a threat to the society. They stressed that the passage of the bill would put spare parts dealers and engine oil sellers out of business. The thrust of their argument was that the House should focus on finding an alternative that will easily phase out okada.

Members however, converged at a point where they agreed on the need for the state government to as a matter of urgency, provide a palliative measure to alleviate the suffering caused by the ban. Some suggested the introduction of tricycles. This, some said is insufficient since the three-wheel vehicle cannot do the rigorous work okada does. The House, after the deliberations forwarded the bill to the Works and Transport Committee for more consideration.

But before the committee even converged to work on the bill, okada riders through their counsel filed a suit in the Federal High Court against the state government, Plateau State Assembly as well as the state’s Attorney General, challenging the bill they described as an infringement on their rights to pursue a meaningful living.

According to the motion on notice, the applicants are praying for an order enforcing the applicants’ Fundamental Human Rights as enshrined in section 34 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The move did not, however, deter the state assembly, as late last month it passed the bill which was subsequently signed into law by the state government, coinciding with the very day the okada riders observed a one-day a sit-at-home protest to register their grievances over the ban.  

The state government has now banned the operation of motorcycles within the Jos and Bukuru metropolis. What now remains unanswered is how the law is going to be enforced within the said areas without disrupting the fragile peace.

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