By Abubakarr Bah
Commercial motorbikes are a necessary evil in post-war Sierra Leone. With unemployment rife especially among young people Okadas provide jobs. Many of the Okada riders are either ex-combatants or school drop-outs who had to take up the riding trade as the easiest – may be only – way of earning a living, genuinely. The only way open to them to uplift themselves from the quagmire of impoverishment emanating from joblessness. The word “Okada” itself is a borrowed word from Nigeria made popular by Nollywood. In Nigeria commercial motorbike riding was significant but later became a menace and the riders were banned from plying the major cities of the Federal Republic. However, the practice of commercial motorbike riding spread rapidly like a wild fire in the Harmattan to other West African neighbours. First in Sierra Leone it started in remote areas of the provinces before quickly spreading to provincial headquarter towns and then to the capital city of Freetown. Today Okadas are all over the place transporting their pylons to their various destinations so fast that many commuters prefer them to taxis. They are the fastest and most popular means of transportation in congested Freetown which is notorious for long and delayed traffic. But they can be dangerous. The good thing about these commercial motorbikes is that if you are lucky, they help you to escape traffic congestion and make you reach your destination or run your errands in good time. On the other hand, these commercial motorbikes are perhaps more often than not involved in road accidents leading to injury or even deaths. The Police media boss, Assistant Superintendent Ibrahim Samura is quoted as saying that “Okadas are the most vulnerable to road accidents in Freetown.” The continuous plying of these Okada Boys in the city is not the problem. But like other citizens I’m seriously concerned about the state of lawlessness that these guys have put our beautiful city into. They are all over the place including in the central business district which starts at Kissy Road and runs down to P.Z, Siaka Stevens Street/Pademba Road. These, according to the Police are no go areas for commercial motorbike riders. Last year the Police Media boss, ASP Samura, was nothing short of a braggart on radio and television, saying: “Okada riders have been banned from plying the Central Business District (CBD)”. He said “Operation CBD against commercial motorbike riders” would continue as long as Freetown existed and that defaulters would be arrested and punished. But the opposite has happened and the bike riders are having a field day. As I write Okadas are plying the major streets of Freetown like flies hovering over their favourite food. Most of the riders do so without a crash helmet or their passengers. Where they do have one, it only looks like one. Not real. A toy. Never mind pylons. And they ride recklessly and in terrific speed without observing road signs and signals. And they do so with reckless abandon. Police are afraid to arrest them. All in the name of politics. Sometimes I wonder where this country is headed. In fact, the attitude of these Okada riders became worst during the campaigns and the lead up to the November 201 elections. The most horrible I saw was when honking Okada riders were escorting President Koroma from Up-Gun to State House in August this year. They were even given money by the Presidential escort as a sign of appreciation. Okadas are making life very difficult for pedestrians. Pedestrians have to walk along the streets of Freetown today afraid or frightened not to be hit by Okada riders especially when they go across the streets of the city. These commercial motorbike riders don’t even regard the zebra crossing. The other day an old blind woman and her guide were hit on the Zebra crossing at Siaka Stevens Street. Inspector General Francis Munu, I wish to ask, what is really happening? Do you want to tell me that the so-called Operation CBD is no more and that commercial motorbike riders should ply on with impunity? Or have you signed a contract with these Okada guys to ply all over the place recklessly? Where is the law and order that you promised to enforce? Sierra Leone is clearly an interesting country in which laws are made and dogs are allowed to bark and not bite. Having said that may I yet again urge the Inspector General of Police to restore Freetown’s glory by bringing law and order back to our city. I mean the elections are over and laws should be seen biting defaulters especially these Okada riders that do not only ply the CBD area, but also ride recklessly across the city. Freetown used to be the city of law, order and sanity. Whither art thou, Freetown.