Friday, October 27, 2006

The Giant Strikes Again

In my university days, I earned the nickname waka waka for I enjoyed taking leisurely strolls around campus. Especially at night. So, whilst my more serious colleagues were either in class, or resting from the days exertions, or out working off the stress in the clubs, I strolled.

I particularly enjoyed walking around from 11pm onwards for at that time, vehicular traffic would be at a minimum, if not non-existent, and I would have the freedom of the roads. Why, would a young man spend his time walking around instead of reading his books, you wonder. Well, I had to keep the old Legediz Benz tuned up, and thanks to the walking, my odometer has crawled around to zero several times.

At Camp, not a few people thought I would keel over during the Endurance Trek. As a result, the vast numbers of slack-jawed persons watching me not only trek, but jog in some instances, was truly priceless. As a friend put it, they were witnessing the “eight wonder of the world.” At the end, I got several pats on the back from people who said they couldn’t handle the trek and they thought they were in shape.

When I moved into town, and discovered the wonders of okada, I put my Legediz Benz away, and began using it like any luxury vehicle for short trips only. It was truly delightful to travel long distances on a bike for as little as 60 bucks in some cases. I actually enjoyed taking bikes because I no send anibodi. But, as they say, good things never last. Like Al Pacino, just when I thought I was out, they've pulled me back in. For Nasiru "the Giant" El Rufai in his infinite wisdom, has banned okada in Abuja.

That in itself wouldn’t have been a bad thing, if there was a credible alternative. Nasiru promised us buses to rival those in London, but failed to deliver. He promised us taxis, but his own would tie you down and shave your head bald with a piece of broken glass if given the opportunity. His “London Cabs” often cruise the streets empty because no poor man can afford their outrageous fares. And the private taxis have seized the opportunity to jack up their fares.

But these are hardly the only problems. Bikemen knew every single street, crescent, close and road in Abuja. If you were looking for a street in Garki for instance, all you had to do was enter Garki and ask a bike to show you the way. Not so with cab drivers. They don’t know jack shit, and they’re as likely to take you to Suleija as drop you in Wuse. A bike would take you from Apo to Wuse for 80 – 100 naira, but with a drop, it would cost you anywhere from 250 – 350 buckaroos and if you enter "Green Cab" na you know o! And when your father hasn’t spent the last 20 odd years of his life with his arms and legs in the public till, your pocket definitely feels the squeeze. Another angle many commentators have failed to look at is the impact of this ban on Baba’s Poverty Alleviation Scheme. Many of these men were encouraged, and in some cases, railroaded into taking loans of upwards of 50 grand to purchase bikes and employ themselves. For many, this was the sole means of supporting their families. Now the Giant has taken away their jobs, their means of repaying these loans, and their means of supporting their families.

I’ll grant that some of them could be real menaces, but is a ban the only way to solve the problem? What ever happened to re-education programmes, safety training, and so on? They could have created a Motorcycle Bureau, taxed each okada 50 naira a day for operating in town, and used that money to monitor and inspect them. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes in town. This could have raised, hypothetically, 100 grand a day, and that’s thinking small. It could have been made mandatory for okada riders to wear safety helmets, reflective vests and so on. But, we have a lazy government, one that would rather bury its head in the sand than solve the problems of the people. Besides, who elected el Rufai anyway. Yep, the man never had to stand before people and ask for votes, and the National Assembly members who’re supposed to be watching him are all in his pocket.

The other day, a radio presenter said the ban was a good thing because it would make us all fit, and raise life expectancy in Abuja to 90 years. Had he been close by at that time, it would have taken an entire Mopol Battalion to get me off him.

If anything, the stress has increased, and the frustration on the faces of the people has deepened. Traffic jams have become a daily sight on Abuja roads, and people now have to trek long distances in the hot sun just to get to a bus.

Public transportation is not a service governments provide with a view to making a profit. Rather it is considered part and parcel of the social contract between the government and the people, as a social amenity.

And, since Nasiru is hell bent on copying everything from London, why doesn’t he bring the Tube over next? Oh wait, that would actually cost money and ease people’s lives. Silly me.


texazzpete said...

nice article, mate! These arseholes won't ever consider any naijan friendly choice of action, instead the elite keep mouthing santimonous phrases and pocketing cash from their equally demonic paymasters.
Would that we were in the russia of old, so we can have them all shot for 'crimes against the state' in the infamous Lubyanka...
Once again, son, that article was da bomb!

Chxta said...

son? Texazz you must be on some strong stuff. :D

Oria I guess the bike ban there serves as good preparation for all the Naija peep (Abuja based) who want to make a beeline to London.

U complained that the post 1900 ban on okada in Lagos is making her trek a lot, and I said: either you come to London or go to Abuja...

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