Time there was in the country’s major cities and towns, when commercial motor cyclists held sway on the roads. Mention Sokoto, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Uyo, etc, and they were there in their full force and ubiquity. Of course, that was so because they had mobility and masses-induced utility. Their utility lay in the fact that most of those of us (pardon the expression) plebeians, who had no vehicles, benefited from the services of the cyclists, autochthonously nicknamed, alalok (Annang language for, “Will you climb?”), and now nationally known as okada. But, as any coin with two sides, they also had their nuisance.
Talking about mobility, those folks could negotiate bends, turns, and corners, as well as access our at times wetin-you-de-go-there roads and streets, with less efforts than vehicles could do. So, they saved time (at least we so believed, until things would go wrong, as it often did). With most of our people sharing the same apartment with poverty, the relative affordability of motor bikes as against vehicles, also contributed to the overarching presence of the machines around us.
Nonetheless, there were some things that did not commend (as they still do not, where they still operate) the motor bikes. By way of writing, their nuisance value was there aplenty. The over speeding they often engaged in, which earned them the sobriquet, okada; the uncouthness of most of them, and the brazen disregard for traffic signs and rules, were all what they carried around wherever their territory was found. And worse, some of them were involved in the infamous one chance operations, even as some others were either robbers or accomplices of robbers.
On a scale of costs and benefits evaluation of the cyclists’ activities vis-a-vis the public good, the costs appeared to have outweighed the benefits, and in consequence thereof, various state governments in their wisdom moved against them. Thus, they were banned from either the major routes of leading cities or, in full measure, from selected towns and cities in many states of the country.
And so it was that we had Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; Lagos, etc, freed from the colonizing influence of commercial motor cyclists. In their place, tri-cyclists (a.k.a. Keke NAPEP) were introduced by the state governments to complement, where available, taxi cabs, for intra-city transportation. With the ban came the end of the reign of motorcyclists as masters of our roads in those areas.
As if to give credence to the axiom that nature abhors a vacuum, we now have emerging masters of the roads. Specifically, while the tri-cyclists, arguably manned mostly by former commercial motor cyclists, have had their own share of ubiquity and noisomeness, and could, therefore, be said to have taken over the roads, it could also be said that the real Mckoy here, especially in the Akwa Ibom State capital of Uyo, are bicycle riders (or bicyclists). These, like any other masters, are a law onto themselves.
On major entry points into Uyo, like Oron Road, the activities of bicyclists are a huge cause for concern. Unfortunately, while they rule the roads, traffic authorities either choose to look the other way, or see nothing untoward about what the folks do. It is not uncommon to see young boys in their mid-teens take to the roads mostly in the evenings pedaling recklessly even when vehicular traffic seems suffocating. Not only do they ride in late evenings, the bicycles they ride have no lights. Many times, they ride on the wrong sides of the road.
Among these young men who, in the day time, wearing spherical helmets, ride high bicycles in a convoy of five or more
As if not willing to be left out in the careless propensity, even elderly men often ride against the flow of traffic on the city roads and streets, and at times making accident-induced twists and turns. For them, traffic rules do not exist, and even if such rules exist, they are not bound by them. Thus, vehicle drivers occasionally find themselves having to swerve off their courses, to avoid head-on collision, or having other genres of accident, with the new masters of our roads.
Perhaps the worst offenders among the bicyclists are ice fish traders, who go into Uyo metropolis most of the mornings to buy the item in bulk and return to their various locales to sell to end consumers. Investigations show that these traders go there from the neighbouring local government areas of Nsit Ibom, Nsit Ubium, Uruan, etc, and are on the road most of the week days, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays. How they do they go into Uyo with their bikes? They do so in groups of between two and four, riding side by side as the days dawn; at times as early as 5. And amazingly, they do so consistently and apolitically without lights, which the bikes do not have any way!
As this writer witnesses these bikers do this unthinkable week in and week out, one thing keeps gnawing at his mind: how can potentially rational human beings risk their lives and others’ with such the devil-may-care attitude? What does it cost, relative to human life, to fix lights on bicycles? Do they have to wait until some of them are killed by vehicles, whose drivers would ordinarily not notice them so early in the day, before they start thinking like rational beings? Why are relevant authorities not intervening to bring some sanity into the bikers’ brains? Those are adults, many of whom one is sure, have families of theirs. Honestly, how such people could be riding bicycles as a routine in the dark without light for long distances on major roads beats the imagination.
There are laws regulating the use of roads for even bicycles; or, are there none? Laws are made to maintain and sustain order society. That is because there is a general tendency among humans to be self-centred, with the implication that if it takes violence, muscle-flexing and disruptive behaviour, for many to get what they want, they will take that route. Thus, as the ageless book says, they are made for the sinner; otherwise the sin of one or few persons may cause many others discomfiture, losses and possibly death.
Therefore, where there is no law, society faces the possibility of dying on the altar of excessive self-assertion, which is often a recipe for anarchy and nihilism. And where there are laws which are not enforced, might becomes right, and the strong invariably emasculate the weak. The implication of this is that the failure of authorities to enforce laws encourages lawbreakers to mock society they hold in sublime derision. Thus, any society that condones such disdain for just laws promotes deeper commission of crimes; for as Junius has said, “Compassion to an offender who has grossly violated the laws, is, in effect, a cruelty to the peaceable subject who has observed them.”
Bicycle riders on the main roads and streets of cities and towns need to know, without being told, that they constitute grave nuisance whenever, as many of them are wont to do, ride on the wrong sides of the road recklessly. They should realize that traffic rules that govern vehicles also, in large measure, affect them. Those of them who ride the streets in the dark without lights should also realize that even if they do not value their lives, their families value them. That realization should at least lessen their thoughtlessness and carelessness. They should not blame witches when they get involved in avoidable accidents.
However, where they refuse to abide by simple traffic rules, then the law should take its course. It is better for these lawless and reckless folks to be reined in, or we will have ourselves to blame sooner than later. They should be stopped now before things get awry. Their excesses give the impression that they want to be uncrowned masters of our roads. Being a biker confers no license to become a libertarian.
Antai writes from Uyo.