Crimes associated with okada transportation and crimes against the okada riders have recently been on the increase. STEPHEN GBADAMOSI writes on efforts of stakeholders to address this drift.
IN recent times, cases of armed robbers operating on motorcycles, known in local parlance as okada, had been on the increase in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and other adjoining towns. Added to this is also a sharp increase in incidents of motorcycle theft. Expectedly, this has been giving the state government sleepless nights. Those close to the state government also said the development is partly responsible for the recent bio-data registration that the government introduced for commercial motorcycle riders in the state. Only recently, an okada rider created a scene by atttempting to comit suicide when he was accused of improper registration by government agents.
Security agencies across the federation also appear not to be resting on their oars over this matter.
What have been the experiences of unsuspecting commuters who have fallen victim of men of the underworld on two wheels? What is the experience of innocent motorcycle owners whose bikes are stolen only to be used to commit other nefarious activities?
On Sunday, 15 September, Segun Apento, a specialist motorcycle thief, had successfully stolen an okada, but luck would later run against him when he and his two accomplices were intercepted on the Bajaj motorcycle with registration number LSR 473 QB. As the trio was being interrogated, two of them bolted, leaving Apento in the grip of policemen. He could not satisfactorily defend the motorcycle found in their custody. While the police at the Agodi station, Ibadan, were carrying out investigation into the matter at the Agodi, one Ojo Toheeb brought in a report that three armed men, same day, attacked him along UI – Ojoo expressway and made away with his Bajaj motorcycle. He satisfactorily identified the impounded okada as his own and identified Apento as one of the three men that attacked him.
If Toheeb was lucky, Wale Noah of Oluyole Estate and his neigbours who also fell victim to motorcycle thieves were not so lucky with their own experience two days earlier.
Noah had reported to the police at Oluyole area that two Bajaj motorcycles were stolen by some unknown people at the Ansar-Ud-Deen mosque in the area. Thereafter only one of the motorcycles was recovered by the police, when they accosted two suspects, Ibrahim Patrick and Jesse James, on a motorcycle marked GGE 750 QC.
On the same day, in Saki area of the state, Oladeji Temitope parked his Bajaj motorcycle at Ero-Omo area as he usually did, not knowing that thieves were lurking in a corner. He left it for a moment and it developed wings.
When the police got the report, they sent message round their formations. The decision paid off when a policeman intercepted the motorcycle marked AAA 619 QB and began to question the suspect who rode it and his passengers. They sensed that the game was up and fled.
Sunday Tribune investigation indicated that most thieves who stole motorcycles did so not particularly to use them for transportation or to sell them. Security sources said most of the time, such stolen motorcycles were used to carry out robbery and other nefarious activities so as to make it difficult for them to be traced.
Some of the victims of these criminals like Agnes Samuel and Kunle Fagbemile shared their experiences with Sunday Tribune. According to Samuel of No 5, Baba Cocker House, Iyaganku, Ibadan, she had set out normally for the day’s activities and had carried her purse loosely on her way to make some purchase. Suddenly, a motorcycle zoomed past her. And pronto, her purse, containing N40,000, was snatched. But as luck would have it, the motorcyclist, who was riding dangerously, had an accident and the rider and one of his accomplices managed to escape before police detectives got to the scene, while the third, simply identified as Ibrahim, was apprehended with the motorcycle marked PMD 126 QR.
Fagbemide said he was not watching his back when, on 11 September, he went to a new generation bank to withdraw N1 million. He had divided the money into two unequal halves of N700,00 and N300,000, according to what he wanted to use it for. Unknown to him, armed robbers operating on okada had placed him on surveillance and followed his Honda Accord EOD car the moment he left the bank. They fired gunshots at his car to force him to stop and made away with his N700,000. But a police patrol team, responding to a distress call, overpowered the robbers and arrested one Phillip Igwe of 16 Phillimon Street, Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Arinze Udeh who lived in Gate area of Ibadan were arrested. The victim, on his hospital bed at the University College Hospital (UCH), was said to have identified the suspects.
Fagbemide might have been lucky to escape with his life and recover his money, but many other victims were not as lucky.
As daunting as the challenge of crime on okada seems, opinions are divided on the steps the government should take to stop to the nightmare. While some residents have been calling for outright ban of motorcycles as a means of transportation in the state, others have argued that such a step would create further problems by further swelling the army of unemployed in the labour market.
“If you ban okada riders, what about people who have motorcycles and don’t use them for commercial purposes? Can’t such people use their bikes to commit crime?” asked a resident.
Leaders of some of the associations of commercial motorcyclists have also pleaded with the government that placing a ban would not be the solution to the problem, promising to cooperate with the government on the biometric registration exercise, while pleading that the fees payable be relaxed.
But there are many examples of states where motorcycles have been banned as a means of public transportation. Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, gave out cash incentives to okada riders who were willing to surrender their motorcycles to make the state capital, Uyo, free of the okada menace.
In the same vein, the government of Cross River State took the bold step to ban motorcycles operating on commercial basis from major streets of Calabar, the state capital. The same is applicable to Lagos State, which has been warding off all forms of resistance to its decision to stop okada from operating on major highways in the state.
Indeed, Abuja, the Federal Capital Terrotory (FCT), also has restricted motorcyclists from plying major roads.
Sunday Tribune’s investigations revealed that some of the campuses of tertiary institutions in the country are also taking measures to control the use of okada as mean of transportation.
Sringent registration procedures were said to have been put in place for operators of commercial motorcycles in the University of Ibadan.
Also, president of the Students Union Government (SUG) of The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Mr Iyiola Mubarak Oladimeji, told Sunday Tribune that though in the last two years, crimes associated with motorcycles had reduced on the campus, the school still went ahed to ban commercial motorcycles from operating beyond 7.00 p.m. on the campus. He opined that this had helped in no small measure in reducing crimes related to okada in the school.
How to curb okada-related crimes —ACOMORAN chairman
Comrade Saheed Folaranmi, chairman, Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle Owners Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN), Oyo State and Secretary of Western zone of the association, speaks on issues relating to motorcycle transportation in the state. Excerpts:
THE state government asked okada operators to begin registration with it (government). How does your association feel about this?
At the initial stage, we, as an association, requested for biometric data from government and we suggested that the registration should not be more than N1,000.
Don’t you think that those unclaimed motorcycles could have been stolen or had been used to commit crimes and that is why the riders abandoned them?
The problem is that some of them took those motorcycles on loan. Some of them were on hire purchase. And you ask them to bring such big amount. They don’t get that money. If government had listened to union leaders, things would have been easier. We would have issued out forms to our members and those that would be apprehended would be those who are non-members that have not complied.
What specific thing do you want the government to do concerning the control of okada riders?
We want them to reduce the money and carry us along appropriately. It is not that they don’t call us, but they should let us have input appropriately. We think the government cannot do it alone.
As a union, what are you doing to ensure that bad elements do not infiltrate okada riders?
We are making moves, but it is just that people politicise all things. The best thing to do is to harmonise all okada riders. Harmonisation will make room for proper monitoring and control. If an okada rider is arrested for any offence and he claims not to be a member of our association, how do we come in? How do we intervene in a matter concerning someone who is not our member?
To curb crime by motorcycle riders, what we need is harmonisation. It is those who are okada riders that should be responsible for okada riders’ welfare. It was during the reign of an NURTW leader that all these problems began, when they took over all our parks. So if governor can harmonise us, it would control crime because we can then identify each okada rider who is riding on commercial basis. Even with the issue of giving out uniform to okada riders, if we had only one association, it would be easier to enforce. We don’t even mind sourcing for funds from banks to carry out this. For example, that N3,000 for registration, if we had only one association, we could pay for our members and not mind collecting it in piece-meal, like 50 naira per day, from members. These are the things we think government can do for us to control things and reduce crime.
What is the current relationship between ACCOMORAN and NURTW over this matter?
The thing is that the okada riders that are with the NURTW are our people. What usually happens is that ambition to be leaders make some people to defect. If you look at most okada riders that are with the NURTW, they were in our association. We are talking together, but they cannot do anything without the consent of the union they belong to.
Okada must not be 500 metres close to any bank —DSP Okuwobi-Ilobanafor
Mrs Olabisi Okuwobi-Ilobanafor, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), is the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Oyo State Police Command. She speaks on the cases of criminals using motorcycles to commit crimes and efforts to contain the menace. Excerpts:
WHAT has been the effort of the police command in curbing the menace of okada riders and criminality?
The command is alive to its duty of curbing crimes in the state, not only crimes that have to do with okada riders. But now, let us talk about the issue of crimes committed with the use of motorcycles. The police command has held many meetings with the leadership of ACCOMORAN, ANACOWA and the NURTW section of motorcycle riders’ association. We told them our concerns and security concerns of members of the state. We told them of the actions the command would take against any erring member. Press releases have been issued, warning motorcycle riders to steer clear of banking premises, because we discovered that what they do of late is to hang around bank premises to monitor people who just withdrew money or who were going into the bank. They trace them to a lonely spot and attack them.
In view of that, we issued a directive that no motorcycle should be seen within 500 metres of any banking premises. And our men have been moving around, arresting defaulters and taking them to court.
Apart from that, we go to the okada riders to sensitise them, but we found out that some of them are recalcitrant. What the command does is that immediately they perpetrate any crime by okada, we swing into action and get them arrested. There was a case of somebody who went to withdraw N1 million and they waylaid him and robbed him. Luckily, policemen were not too far from that place and they arrested the culprits.
And we discovered that perpetration of criminality is not limited to okada riders attacking unsuspecting members of the public, but that some okada riders are even victims of robbery. And I believe their intention is that if they rob them of their motorcycles, they do that so that they could use them to perpetrate other crimes.
But the command is alive to its responsibilities. We have about four or five cases in which we have arrested culprits. And we recovered the motorcycles.
How have you been dealing with the issue of foreigners coming from other places to operate as commercial motorcyclists in the state?
Oyo is one of the 36 states in Nigeria. In view of that, all Nigerians are free to reside and transact business here.
For those who are non-nationals, if they belong to the West African region and they got in through the normal routes and their papers are intact, I think they are free to work here, because the ECOWAS charter gives them that opportunity. So, you can’t judge them by their look. A person can be Yoruba, but born and raised in Hausaland and just relocated here due to the security situation there. So, if people can do their businesses lawfully, no problem. The only instance where the police come in is when people trample upon the rights of other people, because immediately you start trampling on another person’s rights, your own rights too stop.
We are talking to them. We discovered that their own rights are being used to trample on those of others. And immediately they do that, their rights cease, and the police would come in.
Is there any way the government has been helping the police to curb these okada-related crimes?
I think if this government’s OYSTER registration is carried out to a logical conclusion, it will do a lot. I think it is geared towards curbing criminality, especially those committed through the use of motorcycles.
It has been said that enforcement of the registration has engendered brutality of some people. What have the police been doing about this?
Well, nobody has come to us to make any such report. And we work on reports. You know that people are sometimes stubborn. Maybe it is because they don’t want to register; they now whip up sentiments; they blackmail the OYSTER staff so that the public would sympathise with them and probably call for the stoppage of the exercise. But we have not been informed of any such occurrence.