Riots in Jos as okada ban is enforced

I’m in Jos for a few days to rest my (once again) worn down mura-filled head and to do a little research in the Unijos library. Unfortunately, Jos, whose license plates are still inscribed with the now ironic “Home of Peace and Tourism,” yesterday experienced more tension, as commercial motorcyclists protested when a special task force attempted to enforce a ban on their activities. Back in April the Plateau State government passed a ban on okadas, motorcycle taxis, but apparently the ban was not enforced until yesterday.

According to Daily Trust,

Jos — At least four persons were killed while two others were seriously injured in Jos yesterday when commercial motorcycle riders known as okada clashed with men of the task force to enforce the ban on commercial motorcycle operations. The task force had tried to enforce the ban earlier imposed by the Plateau State Government.

State governor Jonah Jang had in April signed into law the bill banning commercial motorcycle operations in Jos-Bukuru metropolis, but the law was not enforced until yesterday.

The special task force drafted to ensure compliance with the ban comprises the police, its mobile unit, men of the federal road safety corps, and the Nigeria Civil Defense Corps.

Men of the task force moved to the Terminus area around 11o’clock in the morning and started apprehending the cyclists. When news got round the city that the security agencies were clamping down on them, the cyclists mobilized and put up resistance.

The okada operators threw stones at men of the task force, who in turn responded by shooting into the air, which added to the commotion as people all around took to their heels while shops and offices around Terminus and Massalacin Juma’a Street were closed down.

Tension mounted as the police used tear gas to disperse the rioting Okada riders, who retreated but later regrouped at different junctions and set up bonfires. Four corpses all with bullet wounds were brought to the Jos Central Mosque around 4 pm yesterday.

Leadership identifies the civilians killed:

The deceased are Hamisu Awwal of Yandoka Street Jos, Sulaiman Usaini of Masallacin Jumma’a Street, Salisu Tela from Toro Local Government, Bauchi State, and Abdullahi Danladi of Audi Line, Jos, a tailor, who was reportedly killed at his home.

Those injured were Muhammad Kabir Abdullahi Gwandu of Kosai Uku. A bullet pierced his chest and came out through his back.One Abdullahi Muhammad sustained a fracture on his upper lap.

The Punch further reports that two policemen were also killed and the palace of the Gbong Gwong, the traditional ruler of Jos, was burnt.

By the time the violence was over, two policemen had been killed, many others wounded and a part of the palace of the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Buba Gyang, was burnt by hoodlums who hijacked a protest by the motorcyclists.

The policemen were said to have been killed along Bauchi Road while trying to enforce the law during the incident that occurred hours after one person died in a clash between herdsmen and farmers in Lapai Local Government Area of Niger State on Sunday.

The Nigerian Tribune gives more information about the burning of the palace:

Nigerian Tribune learnt that the rampaging youth, protesting the ban of commercial motorcycle in Jos and Bukuru, gained access to the palace through the back fence and threw tyres soaked with petroleum and petroleum bomb on the roof, which exploded on landing.

A source close to the palace told the Nigerian Tribune that the youth, numbering about 50, surrounded the palace and the adjacent old secretariat of Jos North Local Government Area, but were repelled by the police from ‘C’ Division, whose station  was close to the palace.

It was learnt that the prompt intervention of the fire service nearby, coupled with mobilisation from other fire service stations within the state capital subsided the inferno and restricted it from engulfing the entire edifice and the old secretariat of the council.

NAN in Next reports:

The Media Officer of the military Special Task Force (STF) on Jos crisis, Kingsley Umoh, also told journalists that the military was not involved.

“But I am sure that the police are capable of enforcing the ban,” he said.

Mr. Umoh, however, said the Army “will watch the situation and we will respond appropriately if there is breakdown of law and order.

“I am sure you know that Okada is a very popular means of transportation, so you should expect some tension when you are trying to enforce that ban. But I know we will get over it,” he said.

Leadership reports that.

The national chairman of Almalgamated Commercial Motorcycle Riders of Nigeria (ACOMORAN), Alhaji Babangida Shehu Maihula, revealed in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP that the Plateau State government had turned deaf ears to the association’s effort to engage in dialogue .

“We advised the government to create jobs for our members which it refused to do up to this moment. These youths have no other business,” Babangida explained.

The ACOMORAN chairman further disclosed that the effect of the ban will push thousands of its members into unemployment, and that the association wanted something that will cushion the effect of the sudden unemployment or at least engage them in something temporary.

Babangida also said that the government came out yesterday without consultation with its own committee to arrest motorcyclists an action that escalated into violence because of resistance from the motorcyclists, and the general public. He explained that the hardship commuters will face will not augur well for all and sundry as it will be unbearable.

He also said that the case was before a court of law for hearing and that it was unfortunate that the government of Plateau State did not respect a case that it is in court.

This Day challenges Babangida’s perspective:

The President of the Okada Riders Association Mallam Babangida Shehu who spoke with THISDAY said government did not call them for consultation and dialogue before taking action.

But it was gathered that his claim may not be true. The state government and the state House of Assembly it was learnt, had severally warned against breaking the ban.

Temporary peace has been restored. However, residents disappeared from the streets for fear of another crisis. Military men are patrolling the streets.

For more information, see the following articles. The difference in tone between Northern and Southern-based papers is striking:

Daily Sun: 2 Cops killed as task force, motorcyclists clash in Jos

Daily Trust: “Four Killed in New Jos Trouble”

Leadership: Post-okada ban- Four die in Jos Protest

Nation: Tension in Jos over ban on commercial motorcycles

NEXT: Stampede in Jos over Okada ban

Nigerian Tribune: Jos crisis: Gbong Gwong’s palace burnt

Punch: Jos: Two Policemen killed, monarch’s palace torched

This Day: Fresh Riots erupt in Jos

As a regular patronizer of okadas (or acabas, as they are usually called in the North), which I find invaluable forms of transport since I don’t have a car, I am generally vocally against such bans.While I understand the concern over the danger of this form of transport and certain laws requiring helmets, I feel flat out bans unduly burden those who cannot afford cars or who live far from other forms of public transport. Many people who depend on okadas to reach school or their place of work will now be reduced to trekking for hours to places where they can find taxis. That said, there are certainly legitimate concerns about commercial motorcycles: ranging from the danger to okada drivers and their customers, to pollution, and the impact on traffic flow and car drivers. Bans have successfully been enforced in Port Harcourt and Abuja. And on the comments thread of the This Day article I read a comment in support of the ban from a resident of Port Harcourt, Ben Goro:

Ben Goru 06.08.2010 15:33
I thank all those who have made their comments. If there is any good thing that will happen to this Country is to ban Motor-bike (Okada) in all ramifications. When able Governor Chibuike Amaechi did it in PortHarcourt and its environs, I was then in PH and we all cried foul. But today everybody is praising him. Including the former Okada riders who are now taxi owners and others doing some other dignifying jobs. Until Okada is banned, many victims of Okada riding will not know how much potential they have in going beyond \’Poor masses\’ mentality and doing something spectacular and more honourable. There were no alternatives in PH before the ban was effected on 1st January 2009, although promises were made. You may not know what good intentions Gov Jonah Jang has for all Jos dwellers until the ban is fully effected. The initial pains may be excruciating and difficult, but the long run gains are surely worth it. I am writing from experience. Please join the Plateau Government to stop Okada. Note that Rivers was in a more delicate situation than Jos when the ban was effected. Long live Plateau, long live all residents in Jos.

From my observations of Abuja, the ban somewhat successfully protects all the car owners/drivers from having to be bothered by seeing the “less privileged” zoom past them on motorbikes.  (And, for those who can afford it, the N200-300 Abuja flat rate for a taxi drop is much more comfortable than getting on an acaba. Apparently, there are other less expensive taxi routes in Abuja, although I have not been able to figure them out.) In Abuja, you no longer have to fear the dangerous driving of okadas, just the mad speeding SUVs and drunk drivers, and the wierd dance of cars at intersections where the red lights aren’t working.

In the case of the okada ban in Jos, I am doubly perplexed by the thinking of those who passed this law. In a place, which has so recently suffered from so much violence, and where tension remains very high, I fail to understand the thought behind the passing of and enforcing such a controversial law, which will take away both jobs and transport from an already under-employed population. Unlike Abuja, which has pushed it’s “talakawa” (poor) population to the outskirts of the city, there are still quite a few people who can’t afford cars or taxi drops in Jos, although if one is willing to walk for 20-30 minutes to a main road and then take 4 different connections, maybe one might be able to get where one is going in an hour or two. But beyond this concern, there is also the worry of the impact on the hundreds, if not thousands, of young men who find employment by driving okadas. Vivien, who left a comment on one of my posts about the Jos crisis yesterday, expresses it better than I could:

Could someone find a way to commuinicate to the Plateau State Government that, the last thing we need now is a high rate of unemployed, idle able bodied individuals. this is exactly what the ban on motorcycles will create. For a state in need of peace, we have to get as many people as, is, possile busy with productive activity. Some cities have imposed the ban succesfully, there are many arguements in favour of the ban, true! however Plateau State needs to weigh its options and decide on the lesser evil-Okada-free streets or idle minds/hands coupled with reduced source of livelihood on the Plateau. Thank you.

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5 responses to “Riots in Jos as okada ban is enforced

  1. Attahiru Muazu

    Dr Carmen,
    You need not to probe or be suprised of the motive of a ban that was put in place by a Govt already implicated and for a purpose known to all. Your objectivity is obviously injurious to a section. You stand the chance of accused of taking sides. May be silence hear is golden.

    • My response, which I decided not to post: @Attahiru, First of all, I’m not yet a “dr.” Secondly, I’m not quite sure what you are implying. Why is it that “objectivity” would cause one to be “accused of taking sides.”

      “Surprise” is sometimes rhetorical. I think I know what you are referring to when you speak of “motives”, but I, especially as a foreigner, can’t go about making public and political accusations that I can’t provide evidence for. I would not say that I am exactly “objective” in this piece. I am clearly personally against the ban, although I think it is fair to include oppositional viewpoints.

      • Attahiru Muazu

        Well, I think it requires objectivity to be able to marshall the reasons why there shouldn’t be a ban, be it economic, security or any reason viewed objectively. But that objectivity would surely trap you in the net of those who promulgated the Law taking the prevailing situation even if you are an alien that just landed from a UFO. You’ve already made your accusations even if you dont have evidence. In naija objectivity is taking sides. If its personal you need not forward reasons that seems objective. Ai ke Phd ce already, InshaAllah!

  2. Attahiru Muazu

    Dr. Carmen,
    Bala Mohd’s article on Weekly Trust; I am Achaba: I dare you to re-brand me! was a good satire, informative and humorous. Read it, please!

  3. Pingback: Christmas Eve Bombing, Jos, Nigeria, 24 December 2010 | A Tunanina…

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