By Babatunde Ayedoju
January this year, the Commander of Ondo State Security Network Agency, Amotekun, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, warned members of the public against patronising commercial motorcycle riders, otherwise known as okada riders, with hoods and without the state government registration emblem. Adeleye had said the warning became necessary to protect members of the public from some criminal elements perpetrating crimes by wearing hoods.
The warning followed the alarming rate at which members of the public who boarded commercial motorcycles as well as passengers boarding cabs went missing during the day in Akure, the state capital.
Adeleye lamented that unsuspected members of the public had fallen victim to the dastardly acts and said his men had commenced an investigation to unravel the syndicate behind the crimes, saying “this is unacceptable to us.”
He said “As a consequence, we are working on breaking this syndicate and we need the public to stop boarding any Okada that does not wear SITA registration and without a commercial registration number plate. Commercial taxis that are not painted and numbered in commercial number should not ply the road again.
“Any taxi without a registration number is assumed to belong to that syndicate and we are tracking them down, but we want to warn members of the public not to board such Okada or taxi otherwise, they may end up being hypnotised and kidnapped. This ungodly act is more rampant during the day and this is more reason Amotekun Corps is warning members of the public to be careful about the kind of Okada they would ride on,” he stated.
According to Adeleye, once any Okada is not registered, members of the public should not board a such motorcycle. He added that all those covering their faces with masks and riding Okada are all members of the syndicate.
While saying that to further stem the tide of these latest tactics of kidnap, Okada riders with hooded faces would from that moment be disallowed from operating in the state, the Amotekun boss had said: “No Okada rider should carry any passenger unless such person has been debriefed, satisfied and registered with SITA, otherwise they will be treated as members of the syndicate if arrested. This moment, it is not a case of seizing Okada, they will be arrested and prosecuted. Taxi drivers with unregistered number plates will face immediate prosecution and not their vehicles being impounded anymore.”
This measure is not unique to Ondo State. In the neighbouring Osun State, the State Police Command in August announced a ban on hoods and face masks by commercial motorcyclists in the state.
According to the command’s spokesperson, SP Yemisi Opalola, the measure was to curb crime involving motorcycles in the state, the same reason that was cited by Amotekun in Ondo State.
“The Osun State Police Command is using this medium to warn motorcyclists who use hood/face masks to cover their heads, faces and nose, especially commercial motorcyclists popularly known as “Okada”, while riding their motorcycle to stop, forthwith,” she had said in a statement that was issued to the press back then.
According to Ms Opalola, the command had received a series of complaints about motorcyclists using hoods and face masks to commit crimes. Therefore, they enjoined the leadership of Okada Riders Association in the state to warn their members against covering of their heads and faces in any form while riding their motorcycles, with a warning that it would arrest and prosecute anyone found wanting in this regard.
While residents of both states were enjoined to avoid patronising bike men who covered their faces beyond recognition, it has been observed that a lot of those bike men, especially in Akure, still flout that order.
The Hope, therefore, spoke with some stakeholders and okada riders on the development and efforts that are being made to address the situation.
According to Adebayo Makanjuola, an official of the Ondo State Government’s Taskforce in charge of supervising the activities of commercial motorcyclists and ensuring law and order among them, though nose mask is needed to protect the bike man from dust which can put his health in jeopardy, covering the face beyond recognition is not only prohibited but also unjustifiable.
Talking about efforts of the government to punish okada riders who continue to cover their faces, contrary to the directive from the government prohibiting such a practice, Makanjuola said that government had mandated the police, especially from A Division, B Division and Okuta Elerinla, to arrest defaulters.
Former Chairman of the defunct Ondo State Commercial Motorcycle Riders Association (COMTRA) who gave his name as Kaff said that bike men needed to cover their noses because of dust but disagreed with the practice of covering the whole face, for security reasons. He, however, said that only the government could ensure compliance in this regard through the task force set up by the Ondo State Government.
Another bike man known as Baba Oyo had this to say: “There are several reasons why bike men use mask. Number one is to protect themselves from dust which is what most bike men will say, but that is not the actual reason why many of them cover their faces. Those who cover their faces beyond recognition do that for several reasons. Some of them are civil servants, some have girlfriends and other acquaintances that they are trying to hide from. In my own case, I don’t care whether any of my acquaintances sees me and knows that I am an okada rider or not. As a matter of fact, if I cover my face, even with a nose mask, I will feel uncomfortable.
“Above all, and this is the most prominent factor, a lot of bike men who cover their faces are into crime. They can easily drive their passenger to a deserted place and rob him or her, without the passenger being able to recognize them. Some may even have weapons hidden in their motorcycles,” he added.
Another okada rider who simply gave his name as Ade said that the major reason for which bike men cover their faces is to protect themselves from dust and the adverse effect of wind. He added that some okada riders are also ashamed of being seen by acquaintances who do not know that they are into the business.
As for the issue of security, he said that the passenger only needed to take note of the number plate of the bike man. His words: “For instance, I have an identity card and I am duly registered with the state government. No matter how a bike man covers his face, once he is duly registered, you will always be able to track the person.”
Another okada rider in Ijapo Estate who did not disclose his name equally pointed out that some bike men are ashamed of being seen and recognized by relatives and neighbours. He said, “Such bike men have given a false impression about themselves, making people believe that they are doing white collar jobs. It, therefore, becomes necessary for them to cover their faces, so that the cat would not be let out of the bag.”
He also disclosed that some okada riders who have bleached their skins cover their faces to avoid the heat of the sun which may end up darkening their faces, just as some want to protect their noses from dust.