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Motorbike Ban Hits Hard in Nigerian Capital


A ban on commercial motorcycles, known as Okada from plying major routes in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja is taking its toll on commuters. Motorcycle taxis provide the cheapest form of transport and the ban is being felt mostly by poor residents.

Anyone familiar with Nigeria's chaotic urban transport system would observe a remarkable difference in the traffic situation in the capital city of Abuja in the last three weeks, when the ban on commercial motorcycles came into effect.

Known as Okada, commercial motorcycle taxis represents an important chain in Nigeria's problematic urban transport system, providing cheap and convenient mode of transport for the poor.

Okada drivers are mostly young, untrained men desperate to make a living. They often do not wear safety helmets or protective clothing and have very little regard for traffic rules.

Accidents, particularly those involving motorbike taxis, accounts for a high proportion of the 32-thousand lives lost annually on Nigerian roads.

Jonas Agwu, spokesman for the Federal Road Safety Corp., a federal agency which promotes the culture of safe driving in Nigeria, says the ban has drastically reduced accident rates in Abuja, a city of three million residents.

"A visit to major hospitals like Asokoro General Hospital, Wuse and Maitama shows a droop great drop, only about 14 accidents have been recorded so far between the 1st and 10th of October as against 141 accidents recorded for the same period in September," said Agwu.

With the ban in place, commuters traveling on minibuses from the poorer outskirts to jobs in the city center have been forced to walk from drop-off points to their workplaces, in some cases several kilometers away.

Already grappling with incessant power cuts, erratic power supply and a government-led house demolition campaign, the Okada ban is provoking deep resentment among some residents.

Alfred Asowata, an Abuja resident, says the authorities should move quickly to ease the current transport difficulties of Abuja's poor.

"Now that the government has sent the Okada's packing, the government should make available affordable buses. I can see some buses but those in the interior are finding it very difficult to move into town," he said. "So, I think if the government can get either smaller buses or taxis that could comb those routes and bring people into the city, I think it will do a lot of good for the people, especially those who don't have cars."

Abuja is Nigeria's only purpose-built city, designed by American planners in 1970s. Most of the sprawling neighborhoods are easy to get around by car, but with the Okada's gone the only means of public transport are taxis, which are up to 10 times more expensive.

Movements of commercial motorcycles have been restricted in several cities in Nigeria, because of their use for criminal activities.

There are an estimated 30,000 Okada drivers in Abuja and some concerns have been expressed about the implication of depriving such a large number of young men their means of livelihood.

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