Commercial motorcycle riding is a means of livelihood which has come to stay in Nigeria. This is a means of transportation in both the mega cities and rural communities. It is popularly called "okada" in the local parlance.
Besides fending for the families of the operators, commercial motor-cyclists bridge the gap of transport fare monopoly which commercial buses and cab owners enjoy and as a result, inflict hardship on the users.
The introduction of commercial motorcycle as a means of transportation in the '90s, though welcomed by many, was seen as a pointer to the fact that the great country Nigeria was on a fast lane to retrogression.
At first, many states of the federation did not welcome the idea and as such it was not approved, but as time went on and the country's economy continued to deteriorate the surge could no longer be resisted.
Those who lost their jobs either through sack or government policy of downsizing purchased motorcycles and became transporters. While the business thrived, so many hazards surround its success as a means of transportation.
Because most operators were never trained, avoidable accidents on both the major and minor Nigerian roads began to happen incessantly with attendant loss of precious lives.
Hospitals began to have unsolicited customers that put the accident and emergency department under pressure. This led to the ban placed on commercial motor-cyclists from operating in the cities and the resultant effect was driving them to the villages and satellite towns as in the case of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
This idea was applauded by residents of these cities who claim it was better to suffer shortage of buses and cabs and remain alive than to have the cities flooded with motorcycles and deaths.
But what was seen as a good policy to save lives turned around to become an expressway to death for the operators of commercial motorbike who lose both their lives and motorbike to hoodlums.
In the FCT, Abuja where they are restricted to the satellite towns and villages the daily story is "how an okada man" was murdered the other day and his motorbike stolen.
For those who do not lose their lives in the process, it is the grace of God.
Some of the operators who spoke with NAIJ.com confirmed the menace and lamented that they are abandoned to their fate.
Saulawa is a motorbike operator in one of the villages in Abuja. He confirmed to NAIJ.com that they have lost many colleagues to motorbike snatchers, "Walahi, the thieves have killed many of our colleagues. They will kill the person and carry his machine and go and sell. The police are not helping us. They don't arrest them and bring back our machine."
Another motor-cyclist Johnson who operates in Jikwoyi village in the FCT corroborated what Saulawa said. He claimed that the snatching of motorbike is a daily occurrence in the area.
According to him, "Operating a commercial motorbike is a big risk. Our lives and property are in danger. First, these thieves will pretend to be passengers. They will arrange with those who will buy the motorbike from them and then lure you to carry them to a place they will pretend to live. On the way they will overpower you and snatch your machine. Some will kill you to close the matter."
Johnson further disclosed that there are danger zones which they do not know before but as the menace continued, they marked those areas and avoid going there no matter the amount of money the customer bargains to pay.
He further said that the worst thing is that there is no particular time one can say is the delicate time because the thieves operate anytime of the day at those dangerous zones like the road to Dagbana, Phase 4 around the road to Fulani residence popularly called Angwa Fulani.
On whether the commercial motorbike operators are making money from the business, Johnson replied, "There is money in the business but the risk outweighs the money we make. You know that in most cases we are afraid of operating and the places that will fetch us more money we avoid them for fear. You see us cluster one place and scrambling for the few passengers like in this Phase 2 junction in Jikwoyi."
Jikwoyi is one of the densely populated villages in the Abuja Municipal Area Council. It has many phases without good roads. The phases are far from the major road linking Nyanya and Karishi. There are no commercial buses operating on these roads so, the passengers are at the mercies of the commercial motorbike operators who are at the mercies of the hoodlums.
Another area of concentration of the commercial motorbike operators is Mararaba in Nasarawa state. Before getting to Mararaba bus stop which is the popular under bridge, there are places like Abacha road junction, Sharp Corner and some other pockets of bus stops where the commercial motor-cyclists assemble on daily basis to struggle for their daily bread.
But the sad story is that not all the "Okada" riders who go out for business return alive. Some who escape with their lives have ugly stories of how they lost their motorcycles.
At the Sharp Corner linking Kabayi, Aso, Ruga and even Gwagalape, the story is the same. A commercial motorbike rider, Musa said the menace is getting out of hand because snatching of motorcycles is almost a daily occurrence.
He claimed that what has assuaged the very terrible situation is the resolve of their members to fight back by means of jungle justice.
Musa said a time came when they were suspecting every customer going and coming from places like Kabayi, Ruga, Secondary School Road and Calvary Road all in Aso with particular reference to Aso B leading to Guruku because even in day time their members have lost their lives or machines or both in these areas.
Another operator who only gave his name as Cletus said the matter is unbearable because the police that supposed to protect them turn against them when they report such cases to them.
He said the police in Mararaba and Abacha road do not only turn cases of reported motorbike snatching against them but also see it as means to extort money from them.
"We are not only faced with the incessant killing of our members and snatching of their motorbike alone. The police in Mararaba and Abacha road have continued to make life more miserable. Their patrol teams are always arresting and carrying away our machines. Sometimes they demand between one thousand and one thousand five hundred naira to release the machine and sometimes the machines miss from there."
This ugly and condemned situation is not limited to villages on Nyanya axis. Recently, commercial motorcycle riders in Jabi district cried out against the snatching of motorcycles belonging to their members by some police officers who carry out the illicit act in the guise of arresting them for one offence or the other but at the end the machine would be lost forever.
An auto mechanic, William whose friend was once a victim told NAIJ.com that those who snatch machines seem to be expert riders.
He said way back in 2001 at Abaji, his friend purchased a brand new machine which he gave someone to use for commercial purposes but it was at the mercies of God that the young man was not killed and till date that was the last they heard of the machine.
A very serious issue which may have continued to encourage the hoodlums to perpetrate their act is that most commercial motorcycles are not registered. They have neither registration papers nor plate numbers. This makes it difficult to trace them when they are stolen.
However, the governments of FCT and Nasarawa state should rise to meet their responsibility of protecting the lives and property of their citizens. This act must be stopped. These hoodlums must be fished out and brought to judgment. They are killing human beings not animals. Even if it is animal, do they have the license to kill? Are they above the law?