May 14, 2012

Jos: Keke NAPEP Finally Comes

On Thursday May 11, the Plateau State Government introduced tricycles as a means of township transportation in Jos and Bukuru towns to replace commercial bikes known as Okadas.
This is despite a strong opposition from Okada riders and the passengers they carry. The argument that has been made against the ban on Okada business in Plateau State has been that it has held back the urge of the youths to join criminality in addition to making the lives of ordinary people easy. It was the argument that motivated the government to start looking for alternative means of empowering the youths which will, at the same time, serve the transport needs of the people that led to the idea of tricycles. The tricycles are given as loans to be paid back monthly installments at banks. The riders then take full ownership of the tricycles. As part of this scheme, the government had about two months earlier, released 500 taxi cabs.
Another argument that has been made against the replacement of Okada bikes was whether any substitute the government will bring would be as universal and affordable to the commuters as Okada has been. No one knows the exact population of Okada bikes within Jos and Bukuru towns but it is believed that they run into scores of thousands. With the release of the 500 tricycles however, a lot of people are becoming convinced that they will be able to satisfy the demands of passengers as you hardly walk along the road without seeing them passing. Since one tricycle carries a maximum of three passengers, perhaps an additional 500 more would finally suffice. Purchasing these additional tricycles should not be a problem to the government since the cost of purchase will eventually be paid by whoever is purchasing it.
In terms of affordability, there don’t seem to be any problem going by how much I was charged when I rode on one. As I matter of fact, I was able to save N10 from what I would have paid on Okada.
While I rode on the tricycle, I was able to gauge the reaction of people along the road. The tricycles seem so novel to people as they watched with conspicuous show of acceptance on their faces. Some even waved.
Commercials motorcycles, known as Okada, which the government intends to replace, started commuting in Lagos in the 1980s when its convenience in beating the notorious Lagos traffic congestion became obvious. Gradually, young unemployed persons came to see the ease of using it as a source of income. It then spread to other parts of the country, becoming a culture.
With time the business of Okada riding gradually built for itself a bad reputation. Most of its riders are seen as outlaws and junkies who are reckless on the road, causing accidents that maim a lot of people. When Nasiru El Rufai became the Minister of Abuja in 2003 and decided he was going to reorganize the city to reflect its original master plan, Okada with its appalling reputation was considered a misfit for an international city like the dreamed Abuja. Thus the business of Okada was banned in Nigeria for the first time in Abuja. Gradually other states started banning the business, citing criminal reasons as a motive behind their actions. The indication that Plateau State Government may ban Okada business became obvious in 2008, when the State Governor Jonah David Jang made a suggestion indicating he would have loved to ban the business during a press conference. Eventually cases of Boko Haram members using bikes to get away after killing their victims compounded the already mucky reputation of Okada riders. In Jos, bomb attacks by Boko Haram fieldmen on Christian congregations on Sundays started paving the way for the final ban of Okada in Jos. The government built the momentum towards actualizing this by banning their operations on festive holidays like New Years, Easter, etc. Eventually it announced Okada will be replaced by tricycles called Keke NAPEP (National Poverty Eradication Programme bikes). On Friday May 11, the state government distributed 500 tricycles to former Okada riders. The government had made similar pronouncements in the past without the success of enforcement but the coming of the tricycles might give the government the moral justification to finally stamp Okadas on the streets of Jos.

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