The Kano motorcycle ban
Kano state has become the latest state to regulate the use of commuter motorcycles, called achaba, for security reasons. It was the Borno state government which first banned commercial motorbikes in the state capital, Maiduguri, in 2010, a year into the three-year Boko Haram insurgency that began in the state. Borno has since been followed by Plateau, Adamawa, Taraba, Yobe, Kaduna and Lagos, the latter particularly to sanitize the city state’s notorious traffic gridlock.
In Kano, the government announced the ban on commercial motorcycling on January 22 at a meeting with leaders of the capital city’s over one-million strong operators, two days after the well respected Emir of Kano, Octogenarian Alhaji Ado Bayero’s convoy was attacked outside the walled city where his palace is. He was returning from a Quranic recitation competition held at Masallacin Murtala, according to news reports. The emir escaped unscathed but his two sons with him were injured by flying shrapnel. They have since been flown overseas to receive medical attention.
According to Deputy Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the ban took effect on January 24. However, the state House of Assembly did not pass the “Motorcycling and Related matters Regulation” bill until last Wednesday, Feb. 6, a clear two weeks after. Explaining its import, House Majority Leader, Alhaji Hamisu Ibrahim, said the new legislation was meant to “sanitize and modernize” transportation in the capital city for the “wellbeing of the people”.
To be sure, the Kano government has not outlawed motorcycle ownership. The law simply says you cannot carry any other person but if you do, you are liable to six-month imprisonment or a N10, 000 fine or both, depending on the gravity of your offence. Again, the ban on carrying passengers affects only the nine local government areas in the capital city, not outlaying local governments. Outside the city, you can carry a passenger for a fee provided the motorbike is registered.
On the face of it, the ban is a logical official response to the wave of motorcycle related violent crimes that Kano has witnessed since January 26, 2012, when gunmen riding on motorbikes carried out coordinated bomb attacks on police facilities in the city, killing about 200 people, the highest ever fatality figure for a single day. Two years earlier, the Emir himself had raised an alarm over the proliferation of commercial motorbikes in his domain, saying they were killing and maiming his people. He asked the government at the time to take action immediately to curb that menace. Evidently, nothing was done for two years until the Emir fell prey to violent men using the ubiquitous motorbike.
Given the silence that has greeted the commercial motorcycle ban, it is assumed that the Kano public, including the millions that will lose their means of livelihood as a result, has accepted it with equanimity: accept what you cannot change. This is unlike the case in Kano’s southern neighbour, Kaduna, where a similar ban is being resisted by achaba operators.
However, our discomfort with the Kano ban is that it is aimed at attacking more the symptom of a deep-rooted social problem than the issue itself. Government must recognize that the emergence of achaba is a response to a non-existent public transport system. It should be noted that most of the states now banning achaba once operated subsidized but efficient township bus services. Today, however, such services are no more. The achaba phenomenon, therefore, is a child of necessity.
If today it has become a menace, the solution is not the overnight ban a number of state governments have imposed but a well thought out strategy that obligates government first to put vehicles on the road in such a number that will satisfy the public need. An alternative will be for it to set up a credit line for private transporters to flood the streets with taxi-caps and commuter buses. One of the conditions for accessing the credit should be that they charge affordable fares. Once a public transport system is up and running, the achaba, in Nigerian parlance, “will find its level”. But not before.