BARRY AGBANIGBI, Asaba
As the mini-bus in which he was travelling from Lagos arrived Asaba, the Delta State capital, Peter Efe was visibly worried. Something bothered his mind- how he was going to reach his final destination which was Anwai Campus of Delta State University (DELSU).
The bus had departed Lagos by 10am that day and he hoped to reach Asaba 6pm same easygoing, him enough time for to catch a commercial motorcycle to convey him from Summit junction to Anwai, a distance of about two kilometres.
Somehow, the bus did not arrive Asaba until some minutes before 8pm! He was worried how he would get to Anwai as taxi cab hardly plied the route in the evenings. Before the ban on okada operations, motorcycles operated till very late in the night and he would have had no cause to worry.
But he became worried when he alighted from the bus at Summit junction. How he would to proceed to Anwai was what bogged his mind. He knew he could not trek
at that time of the night. As he pondered on his next line of action, he saw a commercial motorcyclist riding past and casually shouted, “Anwai”.
He was surprised when the motorcyclist stopped. “Are you working?”, he asked the motorcyclist . “Yes,” the young man replied. They settled the price and off they drove to Anwai. The time was already 9pm.
On the way, Peter saw a number of other okada operators on duty. He wondered what had happened to the ban announced by the state government several years ago. “Has the ban been lifted?”, he asked the motorcyclist, “No”, the latter replied, adding: “It is like they are not serious about enforcing it and that’s the reason we have been working to make ends meet.”
The okada operator’s reply captured the situation in nearly every part of the state since the ban on okada operations was announced by the immediate past state government. The government’s action was a response to the rising incidence of criminal activities by hoodlums using motorcycles.
The situation was the same in many other states of the federation such as Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Lagos and Edo, to mention a few. The governments of these states have since banned okada operations. In Lagos the operations of commercial motorcyclists were restricted to some routes, while in Rivers, it was a total ban on commercial motorcyclists in every part of the state.
In Delta State, the unwholesome activities of criminals on motorcycles became a matter of serious concern for the authorities particularly the police. Hoodlums operating on motorbikes robbed unsuspecting citizens at bus stops, banks, private residences and even churches.
On the streets of Asaba, Warri, Agbor, Sapele and other urban centres of the state, not a few ladies had their handbags snatched by criminals on fast-moving motorcycles.
Number of persons lost valuables such as mobile phones to these hoodlums who simply zoomed off after dispossessing their victims of their personal effects. In some instances, people were trailed to their homes by criminals on motorcycles.
There were even cases when female passengers on commercial motorcycle were driven to places where they were raped and robbed. Almost every town in the state had its own share of such incidents. Such was the situation that it almost became difficult to tell who the genuine okada operator was.
It was in reaction to the public outcry and the security challenges created by hoodlums on motorcycles that the state government banned the operations of okada riders. The police authorities and other security agencies were directed to enforce the ban strictly. Initially public reaction to the ban was mixed.
While the commercial motorcyclists dismissed it as curtailing their opportunity and right to legitimate business especially at these hard times, the general public welcomed it as a check on criminals using motorcycles. The security agencies felt fairly relieved that the ban would eliminate one of the challenges posed by criminals in the state.
For sometime, especially the first few years, the ban seemed to be effective. It was not only total; it also restored much sanity in the streets particularly at night. The okada operators literally disappeared from the streets during the ban hours.
Security situation improved and the job of sustaining it became easier for the police to applaud it as nights became relatively safer from the marauding criminals whose activities were now largely confined to daylight.
It would appear, however, that there has been some laxity in the enforcement of the ban. The okada operators are returning to business at nights. In Asaba, for example many of them now operate from 7pm even in some of the major streets.
Some of the places where they ply their trade are Nnebisi road around Grand Hotel, and near other major hotels in town waiting to pick late night crawlers, Ezenei Avenue, Ibusa Road and Okpanam road on which the state police headquarters is located.
A source at the state police headquarters in Asaba faulted the claims that some police personnel were deeply involved in okada operations. “It is completely untrue that our men are involved in such illegal activity.
How can you expect our men to be involved in such a thing when the police authorities were the very one that requested government to impose the ban? “, the source said.
Reacting, the Polce Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Andrew Ani Amana, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), advised members of the public to report any police man found operating commercial motorcycle to the nearest police station.
For a better society.