Okada Restriction: Criticism Trails Police Enforcement
STATE governments often wield the big stick, imposing restrictions on the activities of commercial motorcyclists, citing safety and security concerns. This has been the case in Lagos, Edo and Ondo States. With Anambra following suit, however, the leadership of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) has expressed dismay at the way police in the state are enforcing the new rule.
In a statement signed by the Chairman Board of Trustees of Intersociety, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, the group noted that the Anambra State Police is acting below acceptable standards, given what it said is widespread abuse of the policy.
Intersociety recalled that in May 2015, the Anambra State government announced restriction on the use of a number of public roads in Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi by operators of private and commercial motorcycles in order to stem Okada-related accidents and crimes. It added that public roads affected by the new rule include Awka Road, Oguta Road, New Market Road, Old Market Road, Onitsha-Enugu Expressway and Onitsha-Owerri Dual Carriage Way, all in Onitsha; as well as Bank Road and Nnewi-Nnobi Road in Nnewi; and Zik’s Avenue Dual Carriage Way and Awka-Enugu Express Way in Awka.
“The government announced June 5, 2015 as deadline, but there is no legislation put in place to drive the ban because the existing legislation (Anambra State Okada Control Law of 2009) was not amended to that effect. The former was enacted by the past Peter Obi administration to limit or restrict Okada operations from 7pm to 6am for the purpose of curbing rising violent Okada-related crimes.
“But the law was observed in breach by officers of the Anambra State Police Command, who now go about arresting private motorcycle owners, with intent to harass, detain and extort money under the guise of enforcing the law,” the statement said, noting that the enforcement procedure adopted are poor and vague.
Intersociety regretted that though there were over 20 ‘enforcement bodies’ engaged in the policy implementation including local government traffic control agencies, Anambra State Traffic Agency (ASTA), ‘OCHA Brigade’ (created by the governor) and ‘Willie Obiano’s Workforce’ or ‘W Is W’ (Willie is Working), they all are enforcing the ban “with instruments of jungle justice clothed with impunity”.
While lamenting the absence of a feasibility study that could exempt private motorcycles, the group noted that the void provided the police with opportunity to feed fat on hapless citizens, pointing out: “Since 1999, the Anambra State Police Command have steadily beaten other commands as the most corrupt and homicidal in Nigeria”.
“The divisions of the Anambra State Police Command involved are Okpoko Police Station and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) attached to Okpoko Police Station (Ogbaru LGA); Fegge Police Station, Inland Town Police Station, Central Police Station and Onitsha Area Command (Onitsha). Others are Awada Police Station and Ogidi Police Station (Idemmili North LGA), Awka Area Command and Awka Central Police Station (Awka), Nteje Police Station, Abba Police Station, Nnewi Central Police Station, Mmiri-Ele Police Station, Nnobi Police Station and Nnewi Area Command,” it added.
The group disclosed that areas under the restriction are usually flooded with officers of the State Police Command who operate in mufti and mount summary roadblocks. These, the group said, use patrol vans provided by the public to confiscate private and commercial motorcycles and arrest their riders.
“Defaulters willing to ‘negotiate and pay’ are asked to part with sums ranging from N2,000 to N3,000. Those that are unwilling or unable to pay are taken to police stations where sums between N4,000 and N5,000 are extorted. Failure to ‘negotiate and pay’, instantly, leads to threat of permanent impounding of the motorcycle.
“Sometimes, arrested ‘defaulters’ are detained in police cells for the purpose of double extortion in the form of ‘bail fees for the impounded object and its operator’. For instance, one Mr. Sunday Umejesi, a private motorcycle owner, who trades at Onitsha Bridgehead Market, was arrested in the first week of July 2015 by some police officers in mufti at Awkuzu Junction, near Awkuzu SARS headquarters in Oyi Local Government Area of the state and accused of violating the ‘Okada ban’. He was dragged towards the SARS headquarters’ gate and threatened with torture and detention. Out of fear, he parted with N4,000 before his motorcycle was released.”
Intersociety, therefore, called on the Anambra State government to review the “ill-fated policy and take total recourse to due process and rule of law”, even as it urged the Inspector General of Police to, as a matter of uttermost urgency and extreme public importance, declare Anambra State Police Command ‘a disaster command’ in order to curb its “age-long corrupt and homicidal conducts and excesses.”