CHRISTIAN Aghor, a hotel receptionist working in the Federal Capital Territory, stands at Apo junction in the evening, looking exhausted from a stressful day. He has been waiting for a taxi to take him home, but there is none yet. Several other commuters are also at the bus-stop waiting. The long wait at the bus stop starts in Abuja sometime in November.
“Stress, suffering and maltreatment are what we are going through in this Abuja,” he says.
He describes the day-by-day struggle for transportation to and from his workplace as a new problem.
Other commuters can be seen on long cues in major parks in FCT either waiting tirelessly for public buses or hope that a private car will stop.
But the ‘poor’ have refused to leave the capital city. Now, the authorities seem more determined to show them out of the city. That is the way the Abuja residents who do not own cars describe the new directive.
Speaking to commuters at Apo roundabout, a 43-year-old man who identifies himself as Nathaniel says, “It is a shame that they [government] always comes up with ideas that do not favour the people.”
Residents of the Federal Capital Territory have been encountering this difficulty since a task force team was set up to restrict tricycle riders to estates and rural parts of Abuja. Tricycles also known as KEKE NAPEP is a popular means of transportation because it is cheap and not bound by traffic gridlock.
The decision was first implemented during the administration of the former FCT Minister now Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai who said then in 2007 that ‘Abuja is not for the poor’.
A staff of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Nathaniel describes ‘sad’ event of a woman who accidentally fell while struggling to get a taxi to her home around 8:30 pm one Friday. Some other commuters have fallen to greater harm.
Tricycle Owners and Drivers
Passengers are not the only victims of the new directive by the Abuja authorities; commercial tax riders also are affected. Friday Andrew, 38, a keke rider in Galadimawa shares his frustration with The ICIR.
“Now, I hardly take money home, my wife is complaining, am fed up and I don’t know what next to do.”
Andrew is a 38 years old man with one wife and three children who lives in Dakwo rural area of Abuja with his family.
About 8 years ago, with no job or education, Andrew says he left Kogi state in search of greener pasture in Abuja. He was introduced to his Uncle’s friend who bought him a tricycle to work with.
Now married with three children, Andrew says he feeds his family and caters for the education of his children with proceeds from riding tricycle taxi.
“Although it has not been easy, I have been managing, until they sent us out of the road,” Andrew says.
Before the enforcement of the traffic law, Andrew says he earned about N6, 000 naira daily and on Fridays, he earned as much as N8, 500 naira every day but since the clampdown on Keke riders on major roads, he hardly makes more than N1,000 per day.
“The most I earn each day is N2,500 out of which I buy fuel and also save up for delivery by the weekend,” he laments.
He says he is considering whether to stop driving tricycle as he no longer earns enough to feed himself and family.
Andrew’s case is similar to many other 10, 000 tricycle drivers who have been restricted to estates and minor roads in Abuja.
On Tuesday evening at Berger roundabout, Abuja taskforce resumes work exactly 7:31 pm, driving recklessly as they seized motorcycles and tricycles as the female traffic warden hailed them in celebration.
The National Public Relations Officer of Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria, Adewale Busari told the ICIR in an interview that over 10,000 tricycles plying Abuja roads have been left ‘with no employment’ and said the outcome could be disastrous.
“You see those boys, we were managing them to drive tricycles if not they would be doing something else because they didn’t go to school”.
“Now that they have restricted them, how do they want them and the owners of the keke to survive when there is no employment,” he asked rhetorically.
Even in India, Britain, China, and Japan tricycles can be found on major roads of these countries.
“Government didn’t give us employment, we give ourselves employment but they keep giving us issues about these tricycles and it is not fair”, Busari complains.
He adds that most tricycle owners took loans of about a million naira to buy tricycles which costs almost 600,000 but now their drivers are leaving and the owners are running into loses.
The FCTA Head of Mass Transit, Adewale Alebiosu said the authorities are only implementing a programme laid down in 2013 which states that tricycle riders are not permitted to ply major roads in Abuja.
When The ICIR asked Alebiosu why tricycles are not permitted on major roads, he said the ‘master plan of Abuja does not permit them’
He added that the standard for Abuja transportation system is high capacity buses and not ‘Keke NAPEP and Okadas’.
The ICIR reporter asked him if the loss of means of livelihood of the keke riders and the difficulties faced by residents were considered in the said ‘Abuja Master plan’, he said it is the law and order of the city.
He added that taxis have taken over the areas where keke used to dominate and that they have deployed high capacity buses in major areas of the city.
According to him, 55 high capacity buses have been deployed on Abuja roads plying Galadimawa to Area One, Area One to Garki Market, Guddu to Garki Market and Jabi to Berger as examples.
The ICIR reporter asked him if he is aware that the buses are not adequate to help move people around the city, he argued instead that people come out almost all at the same time in Abuja and advised that Abuja commuters should plan their journey.
He, however, admitted that during peak hours some passengers might have to be delayed till the arrival of the high capacity buses.
“If you tell me that the high capacity buses are not working optimally yet, I won’t agree but if you say in some areas they are not enough then I will agree.”
He said the FCTA is working towards making available more buses so that commuters can reach their destinations faster.