Those who destroy Abuja: How cab drivers, okada riders make life a nightmare
by The Sun
There is a new set of terrorists in Abuja. They do not bear arms, at least for now, neither do they detonate bombs like the Islamist sect, the Boko Haram. However, their activities endanger people’s lives on a daily basis. These terrorists are the commercial taxi drivers and commercial motorcyclists (okada riders). They live above the law. They have hijacked the city and do what their lawless instincts directs them to do. And good enough, they get away with it because the administration of the Federal Capita; Territory (FCT) has been ovrwhelmed by the terror of these people and hardly act to bring them into subjection. They blare their horns, their flouting of traffic laws, mob attacks and endless accidents on the highways, occasioned by their recklessness have inadvertently placed them on the terrorists’ cadre.
Creating a new city
Abuja as Nigeria’s FCT was a child of necessity. In light of the ethnic and religious divisions of Nigeria, plans had been devised since Nigeria’s independence to have its capital in a place considered central to all the parties. According to the online Wikipedia, the location was eventually designated as central to the entire country in the mid 1970s and it signified neutrality and national unity.
Wikipedia states further that another impetus for Abuja came because of the population boom in Lagos’ that made the city overcrowded and its conditions squalid. The logic used in Abuja as Nigeria’s FCT was similar to the way Brazil planned its capital, Brasília. Construction broke ground and was dedicated in the late 1970s but, due to economic and political instability, the initial stages of the city were not complete until the late 1980s.
During Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s time as FCT minister, okada riders were banned from the city centre and confined to the suburbs. In their stead, commercial taxis were licensed to fill the void. Commercial buses were also granted permission to operate. Although el-Rufai had purchased some high capacity buses at the cost of N18 billion, they were insufficient and could not meet the high demands of Abuja commuters, especially during peak periods.
Senator Bala Mohammed, the immediate-past minister of FCT equally focused on the provision of infrastructures, especially in and around the FCC. Worried by the activities of commercial bus drivers, Mohammed initiated a bold plan and phased out commercial buses, which were popularly called Araba. Like el-Rufai, Mohammed restricted their operations to the suburbs, far away from the city centre. But Mohammed equally succeeded in encouraging the return of Okada riders to Abuja city. Although he did not give any express approval, his body language however gave the riders the impetus to flout the existing order.
In place of araba, Mohammed took a clue from el-Rufai and procured hundreds of high capacity buses. Old ones bought during el-Rufai’s era were refurbished. Mohammed initiated a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. Since then, Abuja residents have rested from the madness of araba drivers and the untold vehicular traffic they orchestrated. Sadly, commercial taxi drivers have elevated the rascality exhibited by araba drivers.
Taxi drivers have converted walkways to illegal parks. They drive against the traffic without recourse to the plight of other road users. Traffic lights on the streets of Abuja are mere ornamentals to them as they don’t care to stop at traffic lights and their lawlessness has overwhelmed the FCT administration that has accepted their fate and conceded the higher powers of the lawless cab drivers. They stop on the highways and pick up passengers, sometimes causing accidents and unnecessary traffic logjam. Sometimes, they park on a single lane and damn what other road users say. They call out their passengers and will not bulge until their vehicles are filled up with passengers. With the way the go, it is just a matter of few years before Abuja traffic becomes the same with that of Lagos that has become a nightmare and beyond solution.
Laws to themselves
For instance, it is forbidden by the dictates of taxi drivers to access the popular Berger-Wuse round-about during peak periods. Commercial taxi drivers brazenly park their rickety vehicles on the road and pick passengers. They form long lines and private car owners are sometimes compelled to bear the lawlessness and spend minutes at a particular spot before they are able to find their ways through the self-inficted gridlock. Meanwhile, policemen who serve as road traffic wardens look the other way after collecting their ‘offering’ from the commercial bus drivers.
In and around the popular
Wuse Market is another hot spot where the new terrorists in town cause chaos and havoc. They have abandoned the temporal motor park and have taken over the roads. Like their counterparts at the Berger-Wuse axis, they block the only access road and cause unnecessary traffic gridlock. It is a crime not to blare your horns whenever you access that axis. That is the only way you can attract the attention of traffic wardens who look the other way while taxi drivers ply their trade.
Area 1 roundabout just on the Nnamdi Azikiwe highway is not exempted. Same goes for the AYA junction. Nicon junction in Maitama is also on the list. All across the city, the madness goes on.
Officials of Abuja Directorate of Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) seem only interested in how much they scoop from road users. Although they are statutory powers to punish these Abuja terrorists, VIO officials sometimes add to the headache. During peak periods, they target busy routes and mount their surveillance. They arbitrarily stop vehicles and cause terrible traffic gridlock.
Rather than perform part of their primary responsibility of maintaining law and order on Abuja highways, residents accuse VIO officials of contributing to the high number of accidents in Abuja. In their bid to impound vehicles whose licenses have expired, VIO officials sometimes chase motorists into trouble. This action, many residents that spoke with Abuja Metro believe, has emboldened commercial taxi drivers who now operate like a mob and attack VIO officials whenever they make any attempts to arrest any of their members.
Private car owners Abuja Metro spoke with lamented that the interplay of power between commercial taxi drivers and officials of VIO contribute so much to worsening the crisis. They believe that they are at the receiving end of the endless power play.
They also fear that the city is gradually assuming the inglorious position of Lagos, known for chaos and unruly driving.
The FCT administration, currently headed by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Obinna Chukwu, received part of the blame from residents that allege he has not lived up to expectation in taming the unruly behaviour of commercial taxi drivers in Abuja. They argue that they don’t even know someone is there to oversee the affairs of the city.
According to them, if the ugly trend is not curtailed, in no distant time, commercial taxi drivers will deface the city and make the roads death havens. The gradual build up of traffic along major corridors are signpost to what lies ahead if activities of commercial taxi drivers are not brought under government supervision.
Meanwhile, as the city centre bleeds under the stranglehold of taxi drivers, the suburbs where the okada still operate haven’t fared better. Okada riders have formed mob groups and have been accused of acting in ways that endanger the lives of residents of the city. In the Kubwa suburb for instance, the fear of okada riders is what keeps every road user safe. Every collision or brush with any okada rider by other vehicles would easily result in lynching and death of the person involved in the hands of okada riders. The worst happens if the okada rider sustains injury in such accident. Their colleagues don’t care who was wrong or right and would only descend on the poor motorist and occupants and possible beat such to death.
There have been reported cases of how people have been beaten and almost killed in places like Kubwa, Karu and others by by the okada mob. The number of unregulated okada riders and unregistered motorcycles used for the service swells by the day. Sometimes, the number of okada riders on the road are more than the passengers. After a rider raises the fund to procure a motorbike, without any training or regulation, he joins the long list of other road terrorists harassing Abuja residents.
What happens in Kubwa is replicated across major suburbs in the FCT. The okada business boom reached a new height in 2012 when activities of Boko Haram sect assumed a worrisome dimension. With the destruction of major towns and villages in states in the north east, there was an unprecedented migration and Abuja being the seat of power readily became the dumping group. Since then, the city has been grappling to salvage the situation. Whether or not the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will be able to call commercial taxi drivers bluff and restore sanity to Abuja will surface in the weeks to come.