Joint Press Conference, CDWR and Democratic Commercial Motorcyclists Association of Nigeria (DECOMAN)
Victor Osakwe, CDWR, and Toyin Raheem, DECOMAN
11 October 2006
THE GENESIS OF COMMERCIAL MOTOR-CYCLING IN NIGERIA
Commercial motorcycling began in Nigeria around 1994 as a result of the mass unemployment brought about by the planlessness of the successive governments in Nigeria.
Instead of planning and investing our collective resources on social infrastructures like transportation, education, healthcare, water etc that will provide huge employment opportunities and make life worth living for the vast majority of the people, they have always implemented neo-liberal economic policies of IMF and World Bank that have brought about untold hardship on the poor people. Lacking any clear-cut perspective on how to tackle these man-made problems, they resort to mere palliative measures that inevitably compound the bad situation on the one hand and used to loot our resources by the people in government and their acolytes on the other hand. Such programmes like “Better life for rural women” MAMSER, DIFREE etc are some of the few examples.
Just like its predecessors, Obasanjo led PDP government also came with National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) “designed to eradicate” poverty by providing self-employment to the teeming unemployed populace and for those who have been unjustifiably retrenched as a result of the “down sizing” neo-liberal policies of the regime. Under this programme, tricycle popularly known as “Keke NAPEP” jus like “Keke Marwa” under the General Abubarka regime were sold at higher purchase within the range of N250,000 and N300,000 for the poor and unemployed by government fronts and parastatals . It was under this condition that motorcycling emerged as a major means of transport.
Chaotic transportation problem also contributed mainly to the emergence of Okada. While railway system, which is supposed to be a major means of transportation, has collapsed under the successive governments, we have been restricted mainly to road transport system, which has brought, on a daily basis, a lot of accidents as a result of congestion on the road. A single train for instance could transport, without hassle, goods that 200 trailers will convey. Few private transportation businessmen could no longer afford to buy new buses due to the high cost while cost of maintening old buses has skyrocketed. While population has continued to increase and urban migration increases, means of transport has continued to decline. This explains pains the poor working people undergo every day in major cities like Lagos, Porthacourt, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and others. Bad state of our roads that are always crying for repair is also a major factor for the emergence of Okada. Therefore, killing of railway as a major means of transport is an outright madness while the use of Okada as a major means of transport in the major cities is a super madness.
DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW
Democracy could only be nurtured and thrived only through the rule of law. The expectation of the working class, Okada riders inclusive, was that civil rule would usher in a democratic government where its rights will be protected under the provision of the constitution as against decree under the military dictatorship. Seven years into civil rule, we have begun to ask question: is there a rule of law? Illegal proclamations tagged laws are being made by various state governments in gross violation of democratic norms and the provisions of Nigeria 1999 Constitution. Illegal ban on Okada operation between 7pm and 6am is one of such illegality and arbitrariness.
The executive fiat by the Lagos State Government that no commercial motorcyclist should operate on Lagos roads between 7.pm and 6am is an abuse of executive power. It portrays the government as being very insensitive to the plights of the masses and a non respecter of the rule of law. Section 17 sub 3(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that all citizens, without discriminations on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employments”.
While should a government that cannot provide employment for the people be hampering the legitimate means of those that are able to be self employed?
The Lagos State ban was announced by Mr. Dele Alake, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State while that of Edo State, Rivers State and Abuja were made by senior government officials. What is common to all the various bans was that none was based on any promulgated law as at the time of announcement. And if there is any act justifying the restriction, it would be a violent violation of section 41 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) both of which grantee freedom of movement. Section 42 of Nigeria 1999 Constitution also stipulates that nobody or group should be discriminated against. Furthermore, Section 3 of Nigeria 1999 Constitution states that any law that contrives the provision of the constitution is null and void. Therefore, enforcement of this proclamation by government violates the rights of commercial motorcyclists and provisions of the 1999 constitution. It is therefore illegal and unconstitutional.
JUSTIFICATION OF THE BAN
The main reason adduced by the government to justify this illegal ban is to curb the incessant rate of armed robbery which, according to the government, is usually perpetrated through the use of Okada. While the government claim may be convincing on surface, a deeper analysis of it shows an admission of failure by the government. It is like throwing away the baby with the bath water. Section 14:2(b) of Nigeria 1999 Constitution says: “the welfare and security of people shall be the primary aim of governments”. Welfare of the people can be attained if basic necessities of life - employment, food, water, shelter, etc are provided by the government. But sadly, all these are not available, hence, high crime rate for survival.
Again, it is sad that the government could even link armed robbery to commercial motorcyclists (Okada riders) when it is obvious that commercial motorcyclists and robbers are different people entirely. The questions to ask at this juncture are:
(i)If people parading themselves as policemen in police uniform were caught in robbery, do we call them policemen or robbers?
(ii)If robbers using commercial vehicles to rob in are caught in the act, are they to be regarded as commercial vehicle drivers or robbers?
(iii)If fraudsters parade themselves as NAFDAC officials or as EFCC officials or as ICPC officials to dupe people are caught, are they to be regarded as staff of those organisations or fraudsters?
In any of the above situations put to us as questions, has the government of Nigeria abandoned the Nigeria police force or has the government restricted the police from performing their legitimate duties? Commercial vehicles like motorcycle are being used to rob, but why has government not banned or restricted the movement of commercial vehicles as applied to Okada? Why should we be subjected to ridicule and discrimination?
OKADA RIDERS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ARMED ROBBERY
The following day that the Lagos State ban was announced by Mr. Dele Alake, the car belonging to the Director of Federal Radio Corporation was snatched at Montgomery Road, Yaba. The robbers did not operate on Okada. Two weeks ago, a filling station in Agege was robbed around 7.00pm and they did not use Okada. A Bank at Abule Egba was robbed and various streets at Papa-Ashafa were robbed at midnight and the robbers were not at a single time less than fifteen, and no Okada was used. There have also been cases of robbery attacks on banks in Edo State and other robbery acts in Rivers State, yet no Okada was used. Robbers are mainly products of anti-poor policies of the government which have brought untold hardship on the majority. In a society where just 1% of the population controls and consumes 80% of the resources while the rest 99% struggle over the 20% left over, greed, robbery and other social ills will necessarily surface. Illegal ban on Okada operation therefore is not a panacea to robbery. What is required is a planned economy where our collective wealth will be invested in provision of basic necessities of life like free and qualitative education, healthcare, mass housing scheme, good roads and rail system, living wage, unemployment benefits for unemployed, etc. All these can be attained if the commanding heights of our economy like banking, Petrol-Chemical, Air and waterways, etc are nationalized under the democratic control and management of the working people. Except this is done, it will be all motion without movement. And if her will be any movement, it will be backward!
MEANS OF SURVIVAL, LAGOS STATE AS AN EXAMPLE
About two million people who ordinarily would have been unemployed are engaged in okader ridding in Lagos state. They include many workers sacked from various companies and government parastatals courtesy of “down sizing” policy of the government at all levels, many young school leavers who have no financial means / opportunities to further their education as a result of education commercialization and privatisation and could not secure any job, many polytechnic and university graduates who could not get jobs years after graduation. Nigerians are hard workers and strugglers who are prepared to creatively do legitimate thing to survive in the face of government abdication of its social responsibilities to them. We can no longer bear this frustration any longer.
Even, majority of factory workers and civil servants in Lagos State depend on Okada ridding to augment their meager income. It is a common knowledge that Lagos State government pays less than N7,500 minimum wage while workers are choked with huge responsibilities abandoned by the government like education, electricity, healthcare, water, housing etc for their families. They operate okada after a day job (between 6pm and 12 midnight at working days and on 24hrs at weekends) How do these people survive under this illegal ban? In Abuja, some people were recently granted loan to buy Okada and yet, the Abuja authorities went ahead to ban the use of Okada in some areas. Does it mean that people cannot enjoy what they purchased with loan that will be repaid? This is a gross abuse of power.
ADVERSE IMPACT OF THE BAN ON RIDERS AND THE PUBLIC
At this press conference today, we have representatives of the market men and women and others that are here to solidarise with us. Their being here is not accidental but a proof of the fact that we are interdependent on each other. The government has therefore only succeeded in worsening the plights of hapless citizens forced to use Okada (commercial motorcyclists) to eke out a living and make ends meet and those that use Okada to move about.
Majority of roads throughout the federation are not motorable. This is apart from many areas that no commercial vehicle plies except those who could afford taxis. How many Nigerians can afford to board taxis in Lagos? Majority relies only on Okada. There are lots of factory workers that close around 10.pm from the afternoon shift. How does the government expect these people to get home? Majority of the working class in Lagos for instance live in suburbs of major towns in Lagos State which only Okada can ply. Aboru, Amule, Ayobo, Orile-Agege, Papa-Ashafa, Ijaiye, Omo-Obanta, etc are few of the roads that only motor bikes can ply as a result of bad roads and no alternative means of transportation has been provided by the government.
The Lagos State Government in its usual comedian manner imposes a fine of N50,000 on each of the rider and passenger for the crime of riding motorbike at an arbitrarily prescribed hours of the day. Such other fines are imposed on other states. With what can we equate this other than comedy? The government should know that neither the rider nor the passenger derives any pleasure in using motorbike as a means of transportation. It is the government bad policies and irresponsibility that have forced this condition on the people.
REGISTRATION OF DECOMAN
Democratic Commercial Motorcyclists Association of Nigeria (DECOMAN) has applied to the Corporate Affairs Commission for registration. However, this association cannot in any way agree with the position of the Corporate Affairs Commission, that “Democratic” in DECOMAN be removed. We have the right to choose our names. We should therefore do the legitimate things to ensure Decoman is registered. Decoman extends its comradeship and fellowship to MOALS, ANACOWA, ANACOMORA and other Okada Associations. We are partners in progress. Together, we shall make Nigeria better.
CALL FOR REVERSAL
Based on the above, we urge the Lagos, Rivers, Edo State Governments, Abuja municipality and others to reverse the illegal ban on the movement of Okada riders. Commercial motorcyclists are no robbers. On our part, we are determined to give proper identification to the entire members of Decoman. And we shall encourage all other Associations to do so.
We are hopeful that the government will give positive consideration to this request. If the government, most especially, Lagos State refuses to consider this appeal, we shall have no option to use all legitimate, political and legal means to reverse this illegal and provocative order.
We use this press conference to thank all pro-people organisations that have been at the vanguards of struggle to liberate the working people of Nigeria who have always given us support and solidarity. The National Conscience Party, founded by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Tenants Rights Project (TRP), Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR), with whom we have collaborated to hold this press conference, United Action for Democracy (UAD), Yoruba Revolutionary Movement (YOREM), Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and a host of others.