By Soni Daniel
They are everywhere and you cannot stop them. They are like bees and swam along every available route in the city-ranging from the sprawling highways to hamlets, where a majority of them hail from.
Welcome to Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, where tricycle riders have become ‘kings’, defied every known traffic rule and now fiercely and audaciously compete for space and opportunities with motorists in the city centres and the suburbs of the capital city of Nigeria.
Keke NAPEP, as residents refer to them, crisscross the city as their footstool. They fear no one either in uniform or in mufti. As far as they are concerned, the search for customers either on the highway or on the streets with a view to lining their pockets and smiling to the bank remains the single most important interest to them irrespective of who is alive or dead in the process.
In their bid to search for customers, they have breached all known traffic regulations and have constituted themselves as recalcitrant and malevolent elements who are above the law of the land. On the highway, they drive against traffic and do not care to wait for any other road user even though they may have the right of way.
They operate largely with impunity at all times and are always in a hurry to pick and drop the next passenger all in a bid to chip in more cash than any other class of Nigerians ‘hustling’ to eke out a living. They are like elements being propelled by unseen forces in their mad rush to make money at the expense of public health and human lives.
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For instance, the Keke NAPEP tricycles are the only set of road users who drive against traffic and get away with it. On the highway, the commercial riders meander menacingly in all directions ignoring traffic rules.
On a bridge that provides for only those descending or moving outwards, the commercial riders breach the road by using it as a one-way drive-in. In other instances, they struggle with cars, trucks and tankers on the highways for space so as to pick and drop passengers irrespective of the grave dangers associated with such mad rush.
As their quest for total control of available roads in the city continues unabated, commercial tricyclists have unwittingly taken over many road approaches, bus stops and bypasses in the town and hinterlands creating chaos, avoidable accidents and other atrocities in the process.
The menace of tricyclists in Abuja has become a part and parcel of the city’s life and does not seem to be in a hurry to disappear despite the many deadlines served on them by the FCTA to quit the city and move over to the rural areas where cars and buses do not operate.
It is on record that the administration of Malam Nasir el-Rufai had on October 1, 2006, ordered all commercial cyclists out of the FCT in a bid to keep it safe and free from the menacing riders. Similarly, the administration of Senator Bala Muhammad on Sunday, January 23, 2011, also reinforced the order by restricting the riders to localities unreached by commercial vehicles.
And, in a bid to further control the atrocities of the riders, the current FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello on Tuesday 12th November 2019 restrained the riders from any part of the city’s urban areas and raised a special task force headed by Atta Ikharo, to enforce the ban.
But like kings, who are the ones to decide for lower subjects, the commercial tricyclists have continued to operate with greater intensity and audacity, brushing aside every move by the authorities to checkmate them and their atrocious activities over the years. As each administration comes with a new regime of actions to control the operations of the commercial tricyclists, the riders also fashion out new tactics to thwart the workability of such orders.
They are still defiantly conducting their business menacingly on all the roads in Abuja. At the entrance to major roads in Kubwa, Karu, Nyanya, Bwari, Lokooma, Jabi, Gwarinpa, Utako, Durumi, Apo, Airport Road and all the satellite towns, the presence of commercial tricycles is ubiquitous and dangerous. They spill with reckless abandon into major roads in the reserved areas of the city such as Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Garki and even the federal secretariat as if they are their homesteads.
A young woman, Moji, a health professional residing in Gwarinpa, would not forget in a hurry what a commercial tricyclist did to her Honda car on a Sunday afternoon last week while she was ascending the Overhead Bridge linking Mabglobal Estate along Kubwa-AYA Highway. Moji was climbing the bridge, which is reserved for only those going into the estate when she suddenly came face to face with a speeding commercial tricycle descending the one-way lane.
She almost collapsed when confronted with an unbelievable sight of the tricycle on her right of way but before then the machine had crashed into her Honda car almost cutting the car into pieces.
But even with her being the victim, colleagues of the offending tricyclists had already gathered in large numbers with dangerous objects and attempted to beat the victim up and burn her car before those who saw that she was hit on her right of way intervened and rescued the lady from the virulent cyclists.
Nonetheless, she was ordered by the mob to pay for the treatment of the cyclist and his passenger who sustained serious injuries and the fixing of the tricycle as conditions for allowing her to go ‘in peace’.
Others who have had any issues with the cyclists have not been lucky. Some have had their vehicles burnt by mob riders or those sympathetic to them while others have been brutalised for daring to hit a commercial cyclist whether they were the offenders or victims.
In all cases, the cyclists seem to be more interested in executing jungle justice on motorists without waiting for law enforcement officers apparently because of the knowledge that they are operating illegally on the roads.
“We are fighting to earn our living,” said Tunde Abidun, a commercial tricyclist, who operates in Dawaki, near Gwarinpa and Kubwa. “We must support our members because we know that injury to one of us is an injury to all of us,” the cyclist said.
Daring and commercial cyclists have flooded the city apparently due to the absence of enough commercial taxis and buses to ferry passengers to their destinations across the town. Again, the emergence of dubious taxi drivers who use their vehicles to commit crimes such as robberies, kidnapping for rituals and ransom, has also forced many to avoid taxes and patronise cyclists they can control.
But above all, the collapse of many of the buses in the fleet of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Authority, which used to provide comfort many, but now adorn the premises of the company as mere decorative items, appears to be the immediate cause of the takeover of the streets of Abuja by commercial tricycles and motorcycles, causing a headache for all.
The Abuja Master Plan has several provisions for the development and maintenance of the nation’s Federal Capital Territory FCT. However, it did not make provisions for the operations of Okada and Rickshaw (Keke) in the capital city.
Specifically, Section 42(1) of the FCT Road Traffic Act is unambiguous in stating that permits should not be granted for them to operate.
Under the law, tricycles are barred from operating in the metropolis including Garki, Wuse, Asokoro, Maitama, Jabi, Gwarinpa, Utako, Durumi, Lokogoma and Apo.
The law has not been amended but the riders are unrelenting in breaching it.
But the Attah Ikharo-led task force, which is leading the fight against traffic challenges in the FCT and its environs, has vowed to put an end to the lawlessness by commercial tricyclists, motorists and other road users in the FCT. But it is left to be seen how far his committee will succeed in curtailing the excesses of the ‘new kings’ of Abuja.