A team of mobile policemen dispatched from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command averted a bloody clash between thousands of commercial motorcyclists (Okada riders) and the police in the Abuja suburb of Jikwoyi yesterday. Reports said the crisis lasted for hours. The protesting riders barricaded the road from Jikwoyi, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Junction and around the Karu Market area, preventing human and vehicular movement.
As at the time the reporters got to the scene of the riot at about 1:00p.m., there were still bonfires, while a detachment of mobile policemen fired tear gas canisters into the air to disperse the crowd. It was gathered that the riot, which nearly turned into a religious war, started when policemen started arresting Okada riders over their refusal to pay a levy allegedly introduced by a group, Centre for Development and Empowerment of Commercial Motorcyclists in the area.
The incident, which started at about 9:00a.m., according to eyewitnesses, took a new dimension after the police began to seize the motorcycles of those that refused to pay the N9,500 levy. The said amount was meant for registration, identity card, reflective jackets and stickers for all Okada operators. Angered by the attitude of the police, some of the Okada riders whose motorcycles were seized reported the matter to their colleagues, who within minutes gathered in their thousands to protest against the new levy. Although no life was lost, several people were injured, as the protesting riders set bonfires at strategic junctions leading to Jikwoyi, and prevented people from moving around.
The clash, which nearly turned into a religious riot, forced the police to call for enforcement and within minutes, truck loads of mobile policemen were deployed to bring the situation under control. It took about three hours for the police to disperse the irate mob, who refused the leave despite of the tear gas and gunshots from the policemen insisting the police release all the seized motorcycles. One of the Okada riders, Musa Sule, who said he had been a rider for over 25 years now having operated in Port Harcourt, Bayelsa before relocating to Abuja nine years ago, said the Okada riders were against the new levy because it was not coming from a genuine source.
He said though, they did not have an official registered union; they would not want the police to force a group on them. He along other okada operators vowed to resist further extortion, but said they would only pay the new levy if the FCT minister made the pronouncement. When contacted, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Doris England said the police were only there to provide security for those collecting the levy.
Also, when contacted, the Chief of Karu, Chief Emmanuel Kyauta Yepwi, was not available, but the palace Secretary, Samson Danjuma Shanyiwa, said he did not know what might have caused the riot, but that the palace had sent its watchdogs to get full details of what might have led to the riot and report to the palace.