On a trip so many years ago to Ghana by road, the Commercial Bikers in Cotonou and Lome amazed us. They filed orderly along lanes meant just for them and all had visible numbers readable from far on the front and back of their aprons. They were so organised, that you wonder, if they had high cases of casualties like we do. Coming home to Nigeria, the emergence of Okada, Acaba or Commercial Bikes was as a result of the down turning of the economy; increase in the population sizes of our towns and cities with the corresponding vehicular traffic issues and Unemployment.
With so many states banning out rightly the use of motorcycles, with no sustainable alternative(s), is enough for Bauchi State Government to be applauded for the decision to register motorcycle riders in the state. Suffice to say that every Government have their reasons for decisions taken, but the fact remains that, these class of people are only there because of the service need they provide for.
In Nigeria, Acaba/Okada (motorbike) is associated, (not exhaustive though), with armed robbers, militants, terrorists, kidnappers, bag snatchers, assassins, ritualists, Orthopaedic Hospital and Mortuary service providers marketers/promoters.
Why is it so? Amongst reasons are:-
1. Most riders are not trained, they learn on the trade.
2. Poverty, it is a very fast way of getting little change to keep body, soul and family together.
3. Joblessness, some riders are graduates with Diplomas, Degrees. There was a case of a Masters Degree graduate in Abuja, before the El-Rufai ban on riders.
4. Lack of sufficient affordable transport, they act as bridges/gap fillers
5. Lack of accessible roads, they are able to reach un-motorable nukes, corners and crannies.
6. High Traffic Jams / Go slows, they have ability to manoeuvre in-between vehicles reducing the time wastages due to traffic challenges.
7. It is fun and airy, having the breeze blow on your face and skin.
The list can go on and on. Unfortunately, it has become the most risky form of transportation.
In Bauchi, where people blatantly refused to wear crash helmets and seat belts, any measure to increase the safety of the commuters and citizenry is a noble deed. Yes the riders are full of complaints, but it is necessary and of more benefit to them if properly executed. Everyday you will meet a handful of riders, who do not even know the roads, they depend on you to show them, they keep telling you, if care to ask, that they are from neighbouring states. So anybody from anywhere, (Militant, terrorist, robbers), can carry a motorbike and commercially work/carry out a negative activity, disappear and leave the true service providers to carry the brunt of the crime committed. So registration is truly needful.
What will we need to do to make the registration, more meaningful and of benefit to the riders and their passengers?
a. Riders Test and Certification – Mental, Physical, Medical, Eye tests and Knowledge of the terrain (Locality)
b. Road Worthiness of Vehicle, not only license plate
c. Basic First Aid Training
d. Security Back ground check
e. Separation of the town into different areas with responsible coordinating heads, reporting to their town/city or state coordinators.
f. Usage of Reflective readable numbers on bikes (Petrol Tanks), showcasing Bike Commercial registration number.
g. Usage of Reflective Readable Riders Registration Number on Aprons (front and Back). The riders are not necessarily the owners of the Bikes. Their registration entitles them to have license as a commercial rider.
h. The Uniform / Apron should be non-transferable, as in the case of license/ID card.
i. Ownership change of Commercial vehicles, should be documented with the necessary authorities, before it is enforced, this will reduce the snatching of bikes.
j. Black listed riders, should have their Apron/Uniform seized for the duration of the black listing.
k. Remove multi taxation – form a one channel ticketing/taxation, Local Government & State Inland Revenue people should have a weekly/monthly scheme.
l. Create a weekly/monthly fora for training, retraining, networking and feedback.
m. Have a 3 digit toll free line for Passenger Complaint, emergency or eventuality report.
n. Institute/Support a compulsory basic Health Insurance through National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to cover the rider and his passenger.
o. Create a benefit/reward system where riders through their association/cooperative can finance bike purchase or other projects to increase their channels of revenue generation.
Knowing that Nigeria is not starved of ideas, it is the execution and maintenance that suffers, I rest my case, with a prayer, that the Government will get credible agencies/people to do the needful. If well implemented, the riders will be presenting themselves for registration and payments of dues, as they know what they are getting from it and later work on making it sustainable and theirs.
May God bless the people of Nigeria.