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Venturing Onto Nigerian Capital's Roads Can Be Treacherous


Nigeria's teeming population and crumbling infrastructure are putting a lot of pressure on the country's roads, which are in disrepair and overcrowded. Venturing into traffic in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, can be treacherous.

Officials say road accidents are common in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. Roads are in poor condition, and so are many vehicles. And, people disregard speed limits and traffic rules.

Yakubu Attah, spokesman for the Federal Road Safety Corp, says driving in the West African nation has become a major hazard.

"We have very recalcitrant drivers - drivers who are uncomfortable, in quotes, 'of obeying traffic regulations.' We, therefore, call on other motorists to be cautious," he said. "They should employ what we call defensive driving techniques. They should look at the other driver as a mad man. If you don't do that, you're going to get [into an accident]."

Another striking feature of road traffic in Nigeria is the takeover of the often busy roads by cranky commercial motorcyclists, known as Okada riders.

The Okadas are the new kings of Nigerian roads, notorious for breaking every traffic rule and intimidating other road users. Inalegwu Onakwu is an Okada rider at the Wuse market in central Abuja.

"We Okadas, we are supposed to obey Road Safety [Corps], but we Okadas don't obey anybody, because some of us have strong heads [stubborn], and some of us have patient heads. For us Okadas, most of us have patience of mind, but some of us don't have patience," Onakwu said.

Attah, the road safety official, says the authorities are exasperated with the Okada riders and would like to see them off the roads.

"Government remains sensitive to its citizens, and do not want them to imbibe the use of commercial motorcycle operations to sustain them, because it's not sustaining them," he said. "We are losing prominent Nigerians, potential leaders maimed through road crashes, as a result of the negligent and careless attitude of commercial motorcycle operators on Nigerian roads, popularly referred to as Okadas or Going."

Thousands of jobless youths are using the motorbikes to make a living. Riding an Okada is indeed a very dangerous business, as they compete for space on Nigeria's crowded roads, deal with extortion by officials and often a hostile and condescending public.

Onakwu says the government should do something urgently to ease the plight of Okada riders like him.

"Government can help us, to create jobs for us, because most of us, we are not happy to do this job," he said.

Despite the problems, residents say, Okadas are here to stay. They offer cheaper and more convenient modes of transportation, and a quick and easy form of employment in a country straining to create jobs.