Bike Riding in Kabala

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, but they also 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 that 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, but we believe if they plan 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 in Freetown, Makeni and Kabala Okada riders to have an interview with them

Ibrahim Bah is a bike rider residing in Kabala who started off in his early youthful age as a businessman. Due to some breakdown in the business world, he resorted to riding okada for survival. Like many Okada riders, Ibrahim got the Okada on a loan and was paying bit by bit until he was able to pay the complete payment for the bike. Here is an interview we had with him.

How does bike riding looks like in Kabala?

Apart from traveling out of Kabala, bike riding is the only means of transportation in Kabala town. It’s the most self-employed job in the district and many youths engage in it

What are the challenges you guys are facing

The latest of all challenges is about the licenses. The price for licenses initially was seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones (Le 750,000) which is for commercial bikes. The next thing we heard was the licenses have drastically risen to One million three hundred thousand Leones (Le 1,300,000) this is very impromptu to us and most of the riders here borrow bikes with a payment plan. The custom again is another problem, presently the custom price is nine hundred and twenty thousand Leones (Le 920,000) so if you combine the bike’s document alone is a whole lot of amount for us. The bike costs around ten million Leones; so in common sense, without even riding the bike yet it has already cost thirteen million Leones (Le 13,000,000). When would you be able to raise such money considering we have to buy fuel, do our daily bookings and paying offensive fines?

What were you expecting from the government for the licenses and customs?

I was expecting the government could try to bring down the seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones (Le 750,000). But this one million three hundred thousand Leones would be difficult for us to pay.  This is why most bike riders have been charged to court and later sentenced to six months imprisonment. Most of these riders here don’t have a bike on their own; some are given bikes by their friends so that they can sustain and support their family members. Lately, I just found out that motorcycle licenses are more expensive than cars.  I am pleading to the government to bring the price down so that many of us can go for licenses and customs.

What advices would you give to those police officers that are in the habit of grabbing the okada accelerator whiles in motion?

I firstly want everyone to know that we are aware that the police are doing their work. But as they are also here to protect life and property. Most of the time, whiles we are in motion a policeman from nowhere will just come and grabbed your bike’s head and started roughing you. The way they are treating us even thieves have respect from the police. Not that we are not able to fight them but because of the law we give them maximum respect. Salone Messenger, believe you in me as long as you are a bike rider, you will never feel like a citizen in your own country. A lot of our companions have been jailed innocently out of this bike grabbing. So for me, I just want them to know that we are only riding bikes because we don’t want to become arm robbers or thieves so let them take it easy with us and stop grabbing our bike’s heads and desist from marginalizing us. We can all not be police or soldiers, some of us have to be okada riders.

What do you think would be the solution to your challenges?

 I will advise the traffic police to take it easy with us. Our offenses are minor than that of the thieves, corrupt leaders, and others, so why must our arrest and sentence be severe. But this will not warrant us to start pickpocketing or arm robbery. To the government, I want them to set up a consultation body that will seek the interest of the okada riders. I will also suggest that the government should start consulting us before changing prices of licenses and customs. 

 

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