Okada riders in Anambra cry out

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(A BusinessDay special report by Emma Ndukuba in Awka)

The proscription of commercial motorists in some part of Anambra state no doubt became imperative at some point, Emmanuel Ndukuba reports that 10 months after the ban, many eking a living from it have been lamenting Gov. Willie Obiano unfulfilled promises of cushioning the effect with new shuttle buses.

How time flies, and he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. Anyone who has suffered in any proclamation by state government or constituted authority will readily understand the perceived negative effect of such.

This is what several commercial motorcycle operators, who were banned from their means of livelihood in Anambra state have been passing through since July 1, 2018.

Some of them have left such business for homesteads to look for other ways of ameliorating the effects; while those who have stayed back in the areas of ban have seek other best means of keeping life going.

This is March 2019, and Gov. Obiano assurance that state government has set aside N765m for commercial motorcyclists in the state to enable them to purchase 1000 shuttle buses was still in the pipeline, even as he says the ban stands and that there is no going back on the directive.

Some of  the aggrieved in interviews with the Businessday are seriously lamenting that life is becoming very hard as the state government had yet to procure the shuttle buses to cushion the effect of the ban after ten months, to help them back to normal life.

Mr John Nwaokoli from Ekwulobia community in Aguata Local Government Area of the state said the ban had taken him back to square one.

“ I am worried, this single pronouncement by the state government had taken some of us back home finally for either farming or other rural business ventures to eke a living.

“I have crashed landed, as I can no longer meet my responsibilities as bread winners of the families. I didn’t even know when last year Christmas was celebrated because of many things on my mind, including adjustment to village life and politics, school fees for my children after the New Year and others,’’ he affirmed.

Mr Ugochukwu Okekenwa, who have spent his youthful age in Awka and now over 57 years old with five children from Onneh community in Orumba South Local Government Area of the state was over worried that his bike was destroyed in a commercial and no money to effect repairs.

“I am the only child of my late parents and nobody to turn to for help. I was doing well in electronics business when my shop was destroyed in the commercial city of Onitsha alongside others for urban development by the state government.

“This is how I started life anew as Okada rider, see where this have taken me to in life, but all hope is not lost. I am fully back home and still strong,’’ he said.

Mr Christopher Abbas from Akwa-Ibom state said he has since relocated back home and have started other good business ventures which is fetching him good cash.

“I am planning and saving money to buy a shuttle bus that is giving good amount of money daily if one is serious in the business,’’ he said.

Gov. Willie Obiano, has said then that the July 1, 2018 deadline for the ban on commercial motorcycle operators in Onitsha and Awka and neighbouring towns, is not negotiable.

He assured them that the state government had ordered no fewer than 1000 shuttle buses for commercial motorcycle operators in Awka and Onitsha, who would be displaced when the ban on commercial motorcycle in the two cities would come into effect.

He announced that the buses were ordered from Japan and would soon arrive in the state at a cost of about N700000 each because there were no local manufacturers of such buses.

The governor says the disbursement of the buses would be handled by the Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA), while calling on transporters to take advantage of the opportunity and invest in deploying shuttles and tricycles to complement government’s efforts.

“The state government has designed a hire purchase arrangement where the motorcycle operators will be provided tricycles and shuttles and they pay in installments over a period of time in consideration to the plight of the citizens who may be affected by the ban,” he assured.

The state commissioner for information and public enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, explained that the money to be disbursed to the Okada operators would not attract any interest, adding that the only requirement for obtaining the loan was a guarantor to be provided by the beneficiary.

According to him, areas to be affected by the ban are Onitsha and its environs, including Nkpor and Okpoko, while areas in the state capital include Awka, Amawbia, Nibo, Nise and Okpuno.

The commercial motorcyclists will take delivery of the buses once they deposit N100,000 with ASBA, undertaking to make payments every two weeks, according to the commissioner.

 According to him, the deal will be interest-free loan that can be repaid within a year and a half.

The shuttle buses will cost between N700,000 and N800,000 each.

The first set of 200 units of the 1000 buses in the scheme will arrive in the state anytime from now from Japan.

“A situation where some members of the public have been made to believe that they cannot rise beyond the level of Okada riders is unfair and offends good conscience,” the commissioner noted.

“Gov. Obiano wants commercial motorcyclists to get to the next level by becoming bus owners.

“Bus ownership will generate far more revenues for the present motorcycle riders because whereas a motorcyclist is not allowed to have more than one passenger at a time, a shuttle bus can carry as many as seven passengers.’’

Adinuba said that another reason for the decision to phase out `Okada operations’ in the state’s two leading cities is the plan to make Anambra state the “Dubai of Africa within the next few decades, a status which no place can attain by making Okada dominate the entire landscape’’.

He also stated that the high rate of serious road accidents involving Okada riders and their passengers is another reason for the restriction.

He declared: “Up to 70 per cent of accident cases in orthopedic and other hospitals in Anambra state and beyond involve commercial motorcycle crashes, and it is not right for any government which cares for the welfare and future of its citizens not to do anything about this phenomenon considering that the safety of every individual is the primary constitutional responsibility of the state’’.

What is more, he continued, “many robberies and other violent crimes throughout Nigeria have been traced to people using commercial motorcycles.

“We do not want anything which can compromise our hard earned reputation as Nigeria’s safest state’’.

The Information Commissioner disclosed that Anamba did not follow other South Eastern states to restrict Okada operations when they did because Obiano was developing a scheme to “provide the people of the state with superior services and make the Okada operators more productive agents of our economy.

“The delay is worth it because Gov. Obiano did not want the Okada operators to be out of employment.

The chairman of the Okada Riders Association in the state, Jude Udegbe, described it “as another evidence of Obiano’s humane nature’’.

The Chairman of the state branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Jerry Nnubia, called it a welcome development, “which has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of Okada operators and reduce the crime rate in our state’’.

The chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Comrade Ifeanyi Okechukwu, said it shows that “the governor’s second tenure will witness a radical improvement in all sectors’’.

The dealers of motorcycle spare parts in Nnewi, however, lamented over the setback their business would suffer as a result of the ban on the activities of commercial motorcycle operators in the state.

President of Fairly Used Motorcycle Dealers Association in Nnewi, Mr Eloka Ubajiekwu, who stated this at a press briefing, said, “There will be serious hunger, diseases and even death of many people over the ban of Okada at this time of harsh economy.

 “A lot of people are fending for themselves and their families with Okada. An Okada rider is taking care of a minimum of five to seven persons daily, feeding them and paying children school fees.

“Motorcycle traders are earning their living from the business; likewise mechanics, vulcanizers and allied workers. By banning Okada transport, they are all in a big trouble because they have lost their jobs.”

He added: “Onitsha and Awka and other places in Anambra are quite different from Owerri, Benin and Enugu where such bans had been effected because the people of those states are not major dealers in motorcycles.

“We can comfortably say that there are no well known motorcycle dealers in those places, but here in Nnewi, we are too many to mention and even though the Okada ban was not extended to Nnewi, it will affect us badly because Onitsha and Awka are our major base.”

Also speaking, the Secretary of New Auto Spare Parts Association, Uche Ezechukwu warned that over 20,000 people would become jobless if the order was not rescinded.

The Anglican Bishop of Amichi Diocese, Most Revd Ephraim Ikeakor, had spoken at a function recently urging the state government to help provide the commercial motorcyclists alternative means of livelihood.

“Anambra is pure business area. Maybe, what he should have done was to limit their scope of operations in those cities or, in some federal road axis or other similar roads. That will be understandable. #######

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