Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Brewing Storm

A Brewing Storm
Today I keep aside our ongoing discourse on the pastoralist Fulani many clashes across the country in order to mention, for the record, what to me is a brewing storm waiting to rage in Kaduna state, if nothing is done, especially as we approach the precarious looking year, 2015.
Yesterday, on Liberty Radio news in Kaduna, the Federal Road Safety Command in Abia State was said to be decrying the menace that Achaba (Okada) riders have come to constitute, not just to the general public but also, to its very own men and officers including others charged with the task of maintaining traffic in that state. The bike riders, on their part, alleged that they are being incessantly extorted by road traffic workers and they cannot contain the molestation any longer.
Abia State is not alone, somewhat. In Kaduna State, feelers have been rife with complaints by Achaba riders of how they are being exploited by law enforcement agents. One had dismissed the complaints as one of those “roger” incidents that Nigerians have been compelled to accept, but, apparently, it isn’t so as they are growing louder by the day. Only yesterday, also, on the Kaduna State Media Corporation’s Capital Sounds Fm popular morning show, Oga-Driver, the anchor, Phillips Arome Omachi, brought the matter to the open, based on complaints received from Achaba riders around the Barnawa suburb of the Kaduna city. Oga-Driver, being a programme on road safety, entertains citizens’ complaints on everything ranging from road use to road infrastructure. Citizens have come to trust it as a veritable mouth-piece and the Kaduna State government, as with successive ones, has made efforts to take voices from the programme seriously.
A backgrounder to the report on Oga-Driver is necessary here. Kaduna has turned out host to the many Achaba riders from many other major cities across the north, nay the country at large. Many bike riders expelled from the FCT, Niger and Nassarawa States have found their way to the closest “accommodating” city, which is Kaduna. Also, there are some from Kano and Plateau States including those who, probably not finding the ongoing insurrection attractive, have decided that Borno and Yobe States are no longer safe. They have now made Kaduna home. Some are from as far flung areas as Lagos and other that have banned Achaba riders in their cities. The result is that the city has become overcrowded with commercial motorcycle riders to the extent that every day on Kaduna roads is an assurance of traffic molestation by these riders, to the extent that, as a car rider, if you retire to your home without a bruise to your vehicle, it is an achievement.
Another major challenge is that of this horde that has fluxed and keeps on fluxing Kaduna, many do not have accommodation. Some just collect themselves in a spot that is slightly convenient and pass the night lying on their bike. Some crash in or around property such as mosques and filling stations. Others get to strike some deal with owners of certain business areas to be allowed to crash around as their presence would provide some measure of nightly security. It is in these circumstances that mindless security operative come in. According to Oga-Driver, Achaba riders from the Barnawa axis have complained that when sleeping at night, men of the police force come to round them up and would not release them until they pay the sum of N2000.00.  Venting their frustrations, they are calling out for help.
One challenge with this situation is that, in the bravado of knowing their nuisance value to politicians during elections and electioneering, these Achaba riders could take laws into their hands anytime in protest against such errant policemen and a mean crisis could break out; mean in the sense that it can happen at night when they are being rounded up and Kaduna, being what it can be, could conflagrate along sectarian lines beyond control.
Moreover, any city with such a number of persons without address and coordinatedly crashing from one point to another, in the name of eking out a living, is sitting on a tinderbox. This is because such persons usually have no stakes to protect and can unleash mayhem and be on the move. Kaduna state government allowed itself to be stampeded in the name of poverty, last year, from outlawing Achaba despite the fact that it knows that about 80% of these persons can melt away without a trace and that it has made alternative tricycles through its SURE-P. Other states have refused to be blackmailed by this poverty. Kaduna state must be advised.

(Published on BLUEPRINT Newspaper - Thur Jan 30, 2014)

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