Raymond Ozoji, Awka
Not too long ago, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state summoned an emergency meeting with tricycle operators at Dr. Alex Ekwueme Square Awka where he, amongst other salient pressing issues, warned Keke riders to desist from using their tricycles to commit crimes.
The governor’s warning stemmed from the rising cases of insecurity across the state where fingers pointed in the direction of Keke riders for allegedly using their machines for cult activities and a host of other violent crimes including daytime robberies.
Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, the proprietor of Rojenny Games Village Oba Idemili-South local government area of Anambra state, said Governor Willie Obiano should no longer hesitate to ban the operations of Keke riders in the state due to the menace and public nuisance they constituted.
Ezeonwuka who described tricycle operators as idiots and stupid fellows, stressed that Keke riders were evil and that it was time government took a bold step to eradicate the menace they had brought upon the public. He said Lagos, Ebonyi and Imo states had successfully banned tricycles because of their intolerable madness.
Ezeonwuka further alleged that Keke riders were criminals and that they robbed unsuspecting citizens with their tricycles. He therefore maintained that they can be banned while people go on foot, stressing that they have made life and living in Onitsha and its environs almost unbearable for residents of the area because of their mode of operation.
He said there was need for pyschological evaluation of Keke riders to ascertain the status of their mental health judging from the way and manner they operated on the roads. According to him, tricycles are not designed to run faster than vehicles but the operators now operate so wrecklessly that they overtake vehicles on the roads, thereby causing avoidable accidents.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sylvester Obiora, the State Chairman of Keke Union in Anambra state, said banning tricycles from Anambra roads would not reduce crime instead it would aggravate the situation. Obiora stated that he does not believe that Keke riders were responsible for cult clashes in the state and if really government was determined to tackle cultism and insecurity, it would not come to the open to announce it, just like it did during the meeting with tricycle operators at Ekwueme Square Awka.
He said government should look inwards to find out whether Keke riders had a hand in cult activities, saying that there are schools in the state and that students may hide under the cover of tricycles belonging to National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to perpetrate cult activities as tricycles with NANS inscriptions are not under the control and supervision of the state leadership of Keke riders’ association.
Obiora said, “Keke people also alleged that their Keke are being snatched from them on daily basis. We have incidents of almost ten Keke being snatched from Keke riders here in Awka.
“People are afraid of buying new Keke now. They prefer buying fairly used ones because if they see it is a new one, they will snatch it away from you. So we have deviced a means of identifying every Keke operating within the state through the ministry of transport by the new registration they are doing now called Anambra Traffic Management Code where every Keke will have the number boldly written on it so as to identify the person.
“We also encourage passengers who are entering Keke to carefully look at the number so that if anything happens, the Keke can easily be fished out.”
Furthermore, the Chairman of Keke riders’ association noted that the issue of multiple taxes imposed on tricycle operators had been addressed to a considerable extent because he pointed out that government has agreed that they should pay N350.00 daily IGR. According to him, government may not throw them out of their means of livelihoods because there are situations where PRADO SUVs, Hummer Buses and some others have been used for robberies but be that as it may, Keke riders have no reasons to get involved in crimes because government reserves the power to stop them from operation.
On the alleged N5000.00 End-Of-Year Party Levy imposed on tricycle riders, Obiora said nobody can impose such outrageous amount on them. He said it has not happened anywhere in the state except in Awka-South local government area where the complain emanated from. He said the daily welfare money which they contributed was enough for the end-of-year party programme.
Also Comrade Osita Obi, the convener Recover Nigeria Project and coordinator Movement for the Conduct of Local Government Elections in Anambra state, said it is hell to drive Keke in Awka because of the obnoxious business practices of government imposed leaders on tricycle operators.
Obi noted that government allegedly imposed obnoxious revenues on Keke riders ranging from registration of Keke with the sum of 50,000.00 before it plies the roads built with taxpayers’ money. He also alleged that Keke riders pay N450.00 daily and that every Keke rider bought N7,600.00 sanitation bucket. He also disclosed that they have started announcing N5000.00 end-of-year party levy for Keke riders in Awka.
Obi maintained that government can not claim that it doesn’t know those collecting the said revenues on its behalf. He said if there were crimes associated with Keke riders, government should point fingers on those it allegedly imposed on tricycle operators as their leaders.
The social crusader explained that should government throw Keke riders back to the unemployment market, it will create more chaotic atmosphere in the state. He said crime will escalate, should government attempt to ban them from operation.
He however insisted that no Keke rider should pay more than N150.00 daily tickets. He said in spite of the outrageous daily tickets imposed on tricycle riders, they still ply pothole-infested roads, stressing that government has no moral standpoint to threaten to ban their operations.
Obi stated that rather than paying N50,000.00 registration fee, government should make the registration of tricycles a flat rate of N2,500.00 which will also cover other charges. He described as a welcome development the identification of Keke riders through electronic means but urged government to adopt a humanistic approach when dealing with tricycle riders in the state.
Patrick Obalum Udeoba, the Chairman Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Transport, said in spite of the reculcitrant attitudes and erratic behaviours of Keke riders, they still formed an integral part of the transport sector especially as they were closer to the masses.
Udeoba explained that though he was not in support of using tricycles for kidnapping and other criminal activities, banning it completely would be most counterproductive. He opined that there was an urgent need for a massive re-orientation and attitudinal change on the part of Keke riders through public enlightenment programmes of the state ministry of transport to curtail their excesses to the bearest minimum.
Some Keke riders who operate within Aroma Awka axis challenged government, accusing it of imposing their cronies on them and impoverishing them with multiple obnoxious taxes and levies which they paid through their noses.
A tricycle operator at Aroma junction Awka who gave his name as Edeh Richard and hails from Enugu state, said he has five children together with his wife. He lamented that Keke riders were treated as second class citizens and that worst still, government compelled them to pay all manner of levies; one of which is a daily mandatory N450.00 tickets.
The Keke operator further disclosed that they have gone to the transport commmissioner to complain and the commmissioner assured them that all their concerns would be addressed but all to no avail. Mr. Edeh Richard said he has spent N6,500.00 on emblem alone. He said they pay N100.00 every morning before loading and that for every trip they pay N30.00.
He said at the end of every month Keke riders were compelled to pay N500.00 monthly dues and if one refused to pay, he paid N5000.00 as penalty. According to him, they paid N700.00 each as monthly dues to government in the month of October, 2020.
Mr. Edeh Richard said, “Every year we pay for Christmas party whether you like it or not. This year they said we will pay N5000.00 each and if you refuse, you pay N10,000.00 double. So it is really disturbing us. I find it really hard to feed my family after all these expenses everyday.”
The tricycle operator said government made them understand that it only approved payment for emblem at the rate of N4,500.00 but upon purchase, he spent about N6,500.00 to get the emblem. He said another problematic issue is that their ID cards expire every year and government agents force them to obtain new ID cards every year. He said last year, he obtained his operational ID card with N1500.00 and this year it increased to N2500.00 which will expire in December, 2020.
Given the aforesaid scenario, the bone of contention therefore is what would be the most pragmatic decision government should take to regulate and sanitize the tricycle transport sub-sector in Anambra state? Some sections of the society held that the proscription of tricycles would drastically reduce crimes and accidents on the roads but other school of thought posited that sending a segment of the society back to the unemployment market would be most draconian and inhumane decision to take. The big question therefore is, how does the Anambra State Government strike a balance in the midst of the nuisance value from tricycle operators to avoid another social unrest of EndSARS magnitude?