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 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 A. T Nabieu is the National Public Relations Officer for Bike Riders Union. Mohamed represents the voice of Okada riders, their role is to ensure that they represent, channel the complaints, and help facilitate the release of Okada riders who commit minor crimes.
How many Bike Riders are in Freetown?
“There are 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.”
What do you think are the challenges Okada Riders are facing?
“I don’t want to tag this discussion only in Freetown because I am not only representing Freetown. Moving forward, the challenges that our members are facing are many. The main one is the arrest of our membership by the Sierra Leone Police. We are firmly not happy about this. In most cases, after arresting our members for minor offenses like when they aren’t wearing a helmet or when they use the central business district. (CBD), with no hesitation. They will charge them to court and the court will later sentence them maybe for three or six months; hence they will be locked in the correctional center with hard-core criminals. I mean criminals that are serving three years, ten years, or even life imprisonment. So they will tend to get influenced by those arm robbers, murders, rapists, etc. and build a syndicate or even trained them which that particular Okada Rider will now be an agent for that hard-core criminal when he gains back his freedom. Those are the Okada riders that are a burden to the union because they cause a lot of problems and will not regret going back to jail. This is the reason why you hear most people branding our institution as a bunch of thieves and criminals.”
What do you think could have led young people to engage in Okada Riding?
“Firstly, I don’t want people to see bike riding as a job for dropouts This institution is open to everyone: degree holders, maters holder, PPh.D.holders, and so on. It’s only in Sierra Leone people are saying they’ll not be Okada Riders after getting their degrees or masters. In other countries, people respect and love bike riding they even dress in suits to ride bikes with their masters or degrees. There are people like the current president of Bike Riders Union, myself, and others that are contributing immensely to the development of this country. we were Bike Riders. We started off with bike riding some of us paid our fees through bike riding, some got their businesses through bike riding. today, most of us are successful and have a lot of investments. So we cannot cry down bike riding. Tt has contributed a lot to people’s lives. This platform is open to everyone who is undergoing hardship in life bike riding can help add value to your life.”
What do you think can be done to minimize the arrest of Okada Riders by the police?
“I am very much happy with this question to start with, this particular unit does not belong to us alone. It belongs to every Sierra Leonean even you Salone Messengers you have roles to play in bike riding, the government, and authorities also have roles to play as far as this institution is concern. For us to minimize the arrest of bike riders, we must make sure we come together to set up sensitization programs, seminars, and workshops.”