Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sanitising commercial cycling in Nigeria

There are different modes of transportation. Commuting can be by road, air, rail and water. Airplane or Aeroplane is used for air transportation and this is mostly used by the elite and the affluent because of the cost implication. Air transportation is swift and allegedly the safest even though occasional crashes do take its toll on scores of life depending on the number of passengers on board and the crash site. Nigeria has had its fair share of plane crashes. Water transportation is done via ships, boats and canoes. It comes with its own risk as well, as there have been a number of ship wrecks and incidences of boats capsizing.

Rail transportation is equally prominent in Nigeria and is done through trains. It is the major means of mass transportation as the trains are capable of carrying hundreds of passengers at a time.   There have also been incidences of derailment claiming lives of commuters. Rail transportation is perhaps the cheapest though not the fastest. Road transportation is done through vehicles such as cars, lorries, buses, vans as well as via bicycle, motorcycle, and tri-cycle. In the olden days, and even in some rural communities now, animals such as donkey, Carmel and horse are used as means of transportation.

All the aforementioned means of transportation are either used for personal comfort or to generate income. The phenomenon of commercial cycling was virtually nonexistent in Nigeria until the late 1990s when economic hardships forced many owners of private motorcycles to deploy them for income generation. Commercial cycling has blossomed into a big transport business. What started as a part-time job mostly by civil servants and artisans who are looking for additional means of earning income has graduated into a full time business which is now providing employment for millions of Nigerians. The value chain is long. There are the importers from countries such as Japan and China, the middlemen popularly known as dealers who sell to the end users and the cyclists themselves. There are also those who sell the spare parts as well as the mechanics who carry out repairs when the contraption has faults.

It is noteworthy that this line of business cropped up as a result of vacuum created by inadequacy of commercial vehicles coupled with bad road networks. Though there is paucity of commercial vehicles, however, there are communities where the roads are so impassable to the extent that no vehicle is willing to ply such roads. The affected communities depend largely on the service of commercial cyclists who are able to navigate through such deplorable road network. It has also been observed that commercial cycling thrives in major cities that experience traffic gridlock. Because of the small size of the motorcycles, they are able to easily meander through the heavy traffic. This has helped many workers to get to their places of work on time.

While it is true that these commercial cyclists provide essential services, their recklessness while on duty has become mind-boggling. It has been established by researchers that many of the cyclists were poorly trained. They barely receive few hours’ tutorials before they commence their commercial activities. Many of them are unlicensed. Even the minority few who obtain driving licence find it difficult to obey traffic rules. They disobey traffic lights with impunity, refuse blatantly to use head elements and drive at neck-breaking speed. They are mostly uncouth, unkempt and operate under the influence of alcohol and hard drugs. Little wonder there is high incidence of accidents among the cyclists popularly called Okada riders.  Through their lackadaisical attitudes on the road, they have killed and maimed thousands of commuters and even by-standers. A visit to Nigerian orthopedic hospitals both orthodox and traditional will confirm this. What I found shocking recently is that most of the commercial motorbikes operating in Nigeria are not licenced. They simply do not have number plates. This is dangerous!

It has also been variously alleged that these motorcycles are being used to commit crimes such as robbery, rape, kidnapping and also suicide-bombing. Since it is small in size and of high speed, it serves as a means of quick escape. Now, the fact that most of these motorcycles are unregistered with licensing authorities makes detection of those who use them to perpetrate crimes difficult. Even when these machines are stolen, how will the genuine owners track and identify them? 

The menace of the commercial motorbikes operators has necessitated their ban or restrictions on some roads across the country. About 2005, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, now governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai banned these riders from operating in city centres such as Maitama, Wuse, Asokoro, Utako, Jabi and Gwarimpa. However, they are allowed to work in satellite towns like Kubwa, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Abaji, Kwali and others. Few other states have taken a cue from this initiative. They include Lagos, Niger and Cross River.

Truth be told, commercial motorcycling has come to stay due to the essential services they provide for Nigerian masses. However, there is urgent need to streamline their activities. Beyond banning them from some roads, Federal Road Safety Commission, Vehicle Inspection Officers and Nigerian Police, among other road traffic regulatory authorities need to enforce discipline among the motorcycle operators. They must be compelled to obtain licence after being duly trained by instructors from registered Driving Schools. They must be randomly picked and tested for alcohol and drug use while driving; their machines must be registered and when they breach any traffic rules, must be severely punished. Doing that will help to sanitise this transport system and save lives of innocent Nigerians from these dare-devil drivers.