The long decade civil war, Ebola, a never-ending corruption, high rate of unemployment, and social injustices we, Sierra Leonean has seen it all. 80% of our country’s youthful population is either unemployed or underpaid. The 2018 election saw a divided nation – political parties used and promised young people with the hope that they will provide them jobs if they get elected in the highest office. These promises were not only left unfulfilled, they resorted to using the police to arrest and detain young people: from the Okada riders to those young people who find themselves in opposition or trying to hold government accountable to the general populace. This has led to a high rate of youth unemployment; which many have resorted to violence and drug abuse.

 Over the years, many young people decided to create self-employment in the informal sector especially in the area of commercial motorcycle transportation, popularly known as Okada.

According to the Sierra Leone Commercial Bike Riders Union National Public Relations Officer, Mohamed A. T Nabieu, he noted that over one hundred thousand Bike Riders in Freetown municipality and nationwide is over eight hundred thousand. Which put us on the chat as the most employees after government.

The previous government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma hastily implemented a ban that prevented Okada riders from running in the Commercial Business District (CBD). This has greatly affected those unemployed youth whose daily bread comes from their Okada riding – making things very difficult for them.

Before its implementation, many Sierra Leoneans noted hat before such a policy, the Ministry of Internal Affairs should have initiated a long term ministerial and departmental engagement involving the Ministry of Transport and Aviation; Youth Affairs; Labor, Employment and Social Security; Trade and Industry; and Political and Public Affairs; as well as the Sierra Leone Police; Office of National Security; and pressure groups like the Sierra Leone Labor Congress, as well as the Bike Riders Union. Such a consultation process should have allowed for the discussion of alternative job creation opportunities for the affected young people, or an alternative way to reduce commercial motorcycle in the CBD.

Another possible way to have resolved concerns around frequent accidents could have been for both Government and the Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority to implement policies that could prohibit buses from plying Kissy Road and replaced with Okada and tricycle, which would have been monitored by the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) and relevant unions to ensure that they do the right thing.

Though it will cause more traffic in the CBD, we believe if they strategize well, all of these issues will be tackled.

Another alternative is for the government to provide SME loans to affected youths that want to go into other private business ventures.

Okada riders in Sierra Leone involved mainly the youths at age 18-30. Most of these young people are high school dropouts some are university students that are finding it very difficult to pay tuition fees, and also some at the age of 30-50 are married men that have a family to feed. These riders are going through a lot on a daily basis – ranging from police harassment – marshals harassment – and even passenger harassment. Salone Messenger took to the street of Freetown to ask these young men how they are coping with the day to day challenges they are facing. We started our interviews with the Okada riders at Shell, then Up Gun, went at PZ, and we are fortunate to visit the Sierra Leone Commercial Motor Cycle Union Head Office commonly called the Bike Riders Union, and had an interview with the National Public Relations Officer.

Mohamed Y Jalloh is a bike rider plying from Shell to other axes in Freetown. Before joining bike riding, he was a street vendor selling perfumes, male gowns, and locally made shoes. He plies around Kissy Old Road, but mostly from Shell New Road to Upper Upgun. Salone Messenger had an interview with him to tell us the daily constraints he’s facing as an okada rider, and also his experience.

Q. What challenges that forced you to involve in this job?

 “My business over the years got stocked until nothing else was reflecting on my business. I ran into heavy losses. So I took up this venture because I don’t want to just sit doing nothing.” 

Q. What are some of the challenges you are going through as a commercial bike rider?

“The first thing that is disturbing us presently is that, like the previous year, the business was flowing smoothly. But now, it is not flowing smoothly because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Most people don’t go out now, they will rather stay in their homes to keep themselves safe.

Secondly, the police are also another problem as they intermittently arrest us for minor crimes. These are the two main problems for now that are hitting us hard”.

Q. What advice would you give to those police officers that harass you and those that have the habit of grabbing bikes accelerator whiles in motion?

My advice to those police officers is for them to take utmost caution in arresting bike riders especially those at full speed. If they halt them and don’t stop, they should wait until there is traffic before they arrest them. You cannot grab somebody’s accelerator whiles at full speed it may cause a fa fatal accident. I also want them to know that we only find our survival.

Q.  What mechanism would you suggest that can help salvage the constraints and challenges that you’re facing?

I will firstly advise my fellow bike riders that they should take caution and know that we are only into for survival and take care of our family members. We should not cause a problem for ourselves. I pray that Allah weed out all those bad guys amongst us. Also, I want the Bike Riders Union to see us as their brothers and encourage all riders to comport. Finally, I want the government to put more precautionary measures so that we can defeat the coronavirus and for things to go back to normal. People are suffering especially for us that are finding our daily livings.

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