Daily Trust Saturday
Inside lives of migrant okada riders
It is a tough life for migrant okada riders in their host communities but at the end of the day, they smile home with some cash in their pockets.
People across the globe migrate for one reason or another. Some leave their comfort zones to eke out a living in far-away places, enduring harsh conditions to make ends meets.
In Nigeria, like in so many other countries, people leave their known environments to another in a bid to better their lives in places never imagined. Some take their skills or trade to places where they are most needed, others just add to the numbers of what a place is already known for. Others are just itinerant travelers, never satisfied with a given environment.
In Nigeria, Okada riders are found in many communities ‘assisting’ in the transportation system which many find comfortable and fast, though with their nuisances.
There are thousands of commercial motorcyclists in satellite towns and rural areas in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). With their activities banned within the city centre, the rural areas have been their haven. They are seen in droves in Lugbe, Kubwa, Nyanya, Tunga Maje, Zuba, Gwagwalada, Kuje.
An official of the motorcycle association in Gwagwalada, Ubale Suleiman, said there were more than 5, 000 commercial motorcyclists in the satellite town, with more than 98 per cent of the operators coming from the northern states.
One of the leaders of the Tricycle Operators Association of Nigeria (TOAN) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kachalla Dan Borno, said there are more than 1,000 operators in the union. There are also more than seven tricycle unions in the city with scores of members plying different routes in the territory.
With a few FCT indigenes among their members, the majority of them hail from Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and Zamfara states. They also have few members from the eastern states.
One of the okada operators, Ali Musa, who holds a National Certificate in Education (NCE) from the National Teachers Institute (NTI) Kaduna, said he was without a job after graduation and so resorted to operating a commercial motorcycle. As he was trying to find his feet, the Kaduna State government banned the operations of commercial motorcycles within the city and he was jobless again.
“I had no option than to look for a better place because I cannot die of hunger. My friends told me to come to Abuja.” It took him four hours to get to Abuja with a few cloths, adding that though he was afraid, it was a ride he had to make.
“When you’re hungry, you will not always remember your fears because your aim would be to get what you want. I was aware of the dangers on the road. Riding alone on the road was very risky but I had no option. I rather die trying than do nothing and still die,” he said.
On getting to Abuja, he stayed with some of his friends who directed him on where he was enlightened on the operations of commercial motorcyclists in the territory. The next day, he started operation and joined the teeming number of commercial motorcyclists from Kaduna State operating in the FCT. Three years after he joined them, he has earned the title of a ‘Malam’ due to his educational level, and is well respected among operators in the area.
Musa said there are more than 50 motorcyclists from Kaduna who reside within the same location in Gwagwalada. He is lucky to stay in a rented apartment which he shares with three other motorcyclists. However, some of their members stay in shanties, uncompleted buildings, plazas and petrol stations depending on their earnings and tastes.
Among those that stay in shanties is Ayuba Ali. Ali was a tricycle operator in Potiskum before he relocated to Abuja five years ago. He said he relocated on the advice of one of his friends when it was difficult for him to provide for his family with his tricycle business and didn’t have enough to go into agriculture.
He left Potiskum to reside in a shanty in Gwagwalada. The place he resides does not have toilet facilities so he uses public toilets. On cases when he had to relieve himself in the midnight, he said, “The manager of one of the public toilets is my friend, so I will call him at night and he will open the place for me.”
They also do not have kitchens to cook. Ali said the nature of their job enables them to know almost all the eateries within the town. They eat from those places and take roasted beef, bean cake, masa and other meals as snacks.
Sahidu Aliyu Mohammed also stays in a shanty. He used to be a conductor in trucks that carry goods to Abuja from Yobe State. During one of such trips, he decided to stay behind due to several accounts by people from his state who were commercial motorcyclists. Three years on, he has been able to provide for his 10 dependents.
He said though he resides in a better location in Potiskum, staying in a shanty is a price he has to pay to ensure that his family has a better life. The demands of his family have also prevented him from acquiring his own motorcycle. He pays the owner of the motorcycle, he rides, N700 daily, and defaulting could mean he would be out of job for a while. The extra amount is sent to his family for their upkeep.
“I stay in a temporary apartment, a shanty. We are more than ten people in the place. We manage like that. I only have two shirts but if I had stayed in Yobe, I would
be wearing kaftans as an elderly person,” Mohammed said, adding that though he does not know his age, he’s likely over 40 years old. Mohammed last saw his family in May.
Some commercial motorcyclists in the FCT like Usman Adamu do not stay that long before visiting their loved ones. He visits his two wives and five children in Zaria monthly. Adamu, who said he came to the FCT five years ago riding his motorcycle, said he makes more money and also saves more in Abuja than in Zaria, as a commercial motorcyclist. He however said accommodation in Zaria was better. He stays in a room with two other motorcyclists where they pay N30, 000 per annum.
Adamu said it took him one month to master the popular bus stops and places in Gwagwalada. Though he does not speak English language, he understands enough to aid his business. He muttered some expressions in Pidgin English, “Where you dey go? How much?” he said in a seeming attempt to prove a point. He’s had several disagreements with passengers due to language barrier. He said some passengers do not understand Hausa while he has difficulties understanding ‘big English’.
Muhammad Idris Suleiman has been operating as a commercial motorcyclist in Abuja for eight years. He described language barrier as his major challenge. He can only pick few English words, which he said makes him lose passengers most times. Since he rode his motorcycle from Kaura Dole, Kaduna State to Abuja, he’s not given up on bettering the lives of his family. He said though he was yet to have a child, he would ensure they are enrolled in schools and secure comfortable live for his wives.
However, Muktar Abdulsalam Rungi has a better understanding of the English Language. His ten-year stay in Abuja and interaction with passengers had sharpened his understanding of the language. Rungi said he is not regretting riding his motorcycle from Zamfara State to Abuja in pursuit of greener pasture.
“I rode my bike to Abuja, it took me a day. If you leave by 6am, you will get to Abuja by 4pm. The bike is mine. I left Zamfara because I wanted to find money. My people told me that I will find money well well in Abuja,” he said, adding that he came to Abuja with only three items of clothing. He presently resides in a building yet to be occupied by the owner and visits his wife and three children once in three months.
Unlike Rungi who rode his motorcycle from Zamfara, Yunusa Adamu could not ride his from Yobe State to the territory. He sold it for N120, 000, added N30, 000 when he got to Abuja to acquire a new motorcycle.
“I left because the government banned okada and instead of being jobless, I sold the okada to buy another one here,” he said. He squats with his friends in a shanty in Gwagwalada and sends about N4, 500 to his family weekly.
Also, Abdulahi Isah sold the motorcycle he was using in Yobe when he made up his mind to come to Abuja. He travelled with the money and got another motorcycle, which he now uses. He said commercial motorcycling was not lucrative in Yobe hence he left. He agrees to be better off in Abuja than Yobe but says home is still prominent in his mind. “I plan to save enough money to establish a business in my state. If I raise about N300,
000 I will go back home,” he said through an interpreter.
“I will have rest of mind in Potiskum unlike Abuja. I enjoy that place,” he said.
While Isah yearns to return home, another motorcyclist, Umar Salisu from Katsina said he feels at home in the FCT.
He came to the FCT 15 years ago and boasts to have operated within the city centre before motorcycles were banned.
“When I came to Abuja, they had not started banning okada from any state even within the city centre. Okada business was moving then but now everything has changed, police, road safety, union dey disturb us,” he said.
He left Katsina after he suffered some setback in his business. He later bought a motorcycle and joined the few motorcyclists plying their trade in the territory then.
Ali Musa, who said the ban on motorcycle in some states led to the influx of people into the territory, prefers operating commercial motorcycling in Kaduna but has no choice than to remain in the FCT with the ban on their activities in Kaduna. Okada riders extorted in Ibadan
In Ibadan, northerners roughly consist of over 60 percent of the okada riders, according to the chairman, Hausa Okada Riders Association in Mokola, Umaru Muhammed-Ganji.
He said in his unit alone, he has many okada riders of northern extraction who endure maltreatment from the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and the road safety officials.
He said “Many of our people suffer as a result of language barrier. Many of them cannot express themselves in English and as a result, they are being cheated a lot. When they get involved in an argument with their customers, it turns to something else entirely. Many times I have gone to the police stations on issues they don’t know anything about. There was a day one of our boys was accused of stealing, which I know he was not actually guilty of, but when we got to police station, we were asked to pay N50, 000. We had to pay because we didn’t have an option.”
The chairman of Sabo, Ibadan Development Association and the chairman vigilante group of Nigeria, Alhaji Danjuma Garuba Garas, who hails from Sokoto State, told Daily Trust Saturday that 90 percent of the migrants came to see their friends or relatives in Ibadan, but discovered that they could do the business, hence stayed behind to make money.
He blamed the massive migration of the northern youths on the inability of government to provide basic needs for the youths in the region, especially basic education.
Garas identified security threats, harassment from customers and security agencies, language barrier as challenges facing okada riders from the north.
“Few of the challenges are security threats. They are robbed of their bikes at gun point. If they resist the threat, they are killed. At times, they are injured and their bikes taken away. The security agencies and general public are aware of these challenges,” he noted.
Speaking on their accommodation, he said: “The living conditions of our people are too poor. As human beings, we deserve decent environment but many of our bikers have no conducive place to sleep.”
One of the okada riders who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday, Mr. Lawali Musa from Kebbi State, said customers usually attempt to cheat them because “they believe we don’t know anything.” He said one other challenge they face is discrimination against Hausas, noting that “if you charge them N100 when you get to the destination, they will pay you N70.”
Musa said for security reasons, he lives among Hausa people in Sabo area. “I travel to Kebbi when it is time for farming. I just came back to do some job here. Government should intervene by talking to the security agencies on our behalf. Whenever something happens, they believe that it was Hausas that committed the crime.”
Another biker Mr. Muhammed Auwal from Takai Local Government of Kano State reaffirmed the intimidation from the security agencies on his fellow brothers.
He said Vehicles Inspection Officers (VIO), road safety officials and thieves are some of the problems they confront.
“We are also coping with the ACCOMORAN, which is the union of okada riders. Just recently, three bikes were stolen. We are yet to recover them. They attack us at gun point and snatch our bikes. I have a wife and three children here in Ibadan.”
His younger brother, Muslim Auwal, said some police officers who are Hausa come to their rescue whenever anyone attempts to harass them. “We don’t have much problem with the police, but with other security agencies,” he said.
A resident of Ibadan, Ishola Anuoluwapo, described the massive migration of northern youths to the southwest and other parts of the country as failure of the government to provide jobs for Nigerians in all parts of the country. “Okada riders are not only contributing to our economy but they are very hard working in other areas too,” he said. In Lagos, okada are like helicopters
In Lagos, despite the ban on motorcycles on some major roads, thousands of inner roads still depend on the services provided by the riders.
From Agege to Obalende, Ikorodu to Shomolu, Yaba, Mushin to Iyana Ipaja, down to Lekki-Epe, motorcycles popularly known as okada or achaba litter everywhere. They have become an indispensable means of transportation in Nigerian vicinities.
Amidst the horrifying traffic gridlock on the streets of Lagos, motorcycles are like ‘helicopters’ for some residents to get to their destinations in time.
Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that most of the riders hail from the northern part of Nigeria while some migrated from neighbouring Benin Republic, Cameroon and Togo among others to eke out a living in the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria.
They have become part and parcel of Lagos, they mingle and internalize freely with the residents in various communities. Many settlements occupied by these achaba riders are everywhere in the 20 local governments and 37 local council development areas.
In Ojodu for instance, Daily Trust Saturday visited one of the settlements along Aina Street where the riders live. The place was bubbly with the presence of other northerners who deal in other trades. The blaring sound of Hausa music was enough to attract passers-by. After a hectic day at work, some found time to unwind and relax.
Our correspondent observed a particular building whose security man (also a northerner) accommodates some of the riders. For others, however, it was not easy securing a decent accommodation as they were seen retiring under a tarpaulin.
Virtually all the riders interviewed said they came to Lagos in search of greener pastures. The story is obviously not different from every unemployed person who relocated to Lagos to ‘hustle’.
But for some who hail from Gwoza Local Government in Borno State, they have a different story to tell. While the search for greener pasture also formed their reason for relocating, they said the Boko Haram insurgency also drifted them out of their comfort zone.
Umar Abba was one of those who narrated that the consistent Boko Haram attacks which have claimed many lives in Gwoza pushed him to Lagos, saying he was a farmer before the insurgency forced him out of his community.
Muhammad Salihu, 25, is of Mandara origin in Northern Cameroon and relocated to Lagos as far back as 2009 to make a living.
Salihu told Daily Trust Saturday “I initially came to Lagos in 2009, went back two years after and then came back in 2017 to make money but it has really not been easy my brother.”
“It has not been easy,” is the complaint
from most of them, especially those without their own motorcycles, who have to hire to operate and make daily returns.
Our correspondent learnt that those in this category pay N1000 daily to the owner of the motorcycle. In addition, they pay N500 daily to purchase tickets from the union’s task force. For some who are not financially buoyant, colleagues usually mobilize for them every month by lending them N1000. Out of this money, they pay N500 for ticket, N300 to fuel the motorcycle while they spend the remaining N200 on breakfast.
“This is what we do to support our brothers and they pay back this money at the end of the working day,” said one of the guardians who pleaded anonymity. He said they also face daily harassment from union representatives and the police who extort them. One of them, he noted, was bailed four times from the police on trumped up charges.
For 22-year-old Baba Saleh, from Gwoza, he was lucky that his brother who has been in Lagos for years and drives a tricycle bought a motorcycle for him to operate though he delivers N1000 to him daily.
He said, “I have been in Lagos for two years now. I came in 2017 and I chose okada business. My brother helped me raise money to buy a motorcycle for N220, 000 and I pay ‘delivery’ fee of N1000 every day. I already know everywhere in Ojodu. I know Berger, First Bank, Aina Street, Olaleke Taiwo and so on.”
Ibrahim Jibir, who came to Lagos three years ago, said he was a cattle seller in Jigawa State before he migrated to Lagos to raise more capital to boost his cattle business. “I buy cows, rams and goats from villages to resell in Jigawa State but at some point, my capital went really down and I needed a boost; that was why I came to Lagos to hustle. We believe that as long as you can work, you will get money in Lagos,” he said.
Jibir said he goes home with not less them N2, 000 daily after settling the union, police and feeding. He and two other riders pulled resources together to rent a room at N40, 000 where they retire to at the close of work. “We travel to Jigawa after three or four months to see our families. Sometimes, when we go, we stay over for two to three months to enable us do some other jobs such as farming or trading before we come back to Lagos to look for more money,” he said.
Another motorcyclist, Ahmed Yakubu has been in Lagos for more than 10 years. He too also came from Jigawa State with no idea of what he was coming to do in Lagos. He started as a cobbler, mending and shining shoes for people. After some years, he was able to save some money with which he purchased a motorbike which he is presently riding.
But how does the community feel having these northerners around them? The Baale of Ojoduland, Chief Najimudeen Lamidi Aro, said, “As far as we are concerned, we have no problem accommodating them. They are our brothers. We are one Nigeria.” However, he said the community was conscious of protecting the peace and tranquility of the environs and had decided to meet the unions who register the okada riders to always get all their details including a guarantor who can be held responsible when they commit crimes.
Aro said as a leader in Ojodu land, he doesn’t collect a dime from any of the okada riders and allows them to ply their trade unhindered. “But we meet monthly with chairmen of various units of the riders to review their activities.”