I am one of the relatively small percentage of Sierra Leoneans who happen to own a private car, so I do not have to rely on public transport, namely, taxis, poda-podas, and more recently, “OKADAS” but I do have a lot of friends, relatives, staff, neighbours and clients, who rely on such public transport on a daily basis, and over the past week or so, many of them have complained to me that the Police have virtually stopped OKADAS from operating within the City of Freetown, thereby causing transport problems and inconvenience for those who prefer to travel by Okada, and also causing serious loss of income to the Okada Owners and Riders who operate them.
So what is the problem with the OKADAS? I must confess that I have no first hand knowledge of this matter, and everything I say here was told to me by someone else. That notwithstanding, I have been able to form an opinion on this matter, which I now wish to pass on. The Police complain that the Okadas are mostly unregistered and unlicensed, and cause traffic problems by being unruly and lawless on the road, with absolutely no regard for traffic road signs and even hand signals from Traffic Policemen. On the other hand, the Okada Boys complain that the Police and Traffic Wardens are always harassing them for money, and when they don’t comply they are arrested, and their Bikes seized.
On one occasion I have actually witnessed an Okada Rider and his passenger almost crashing into the Wall by the Vine Memorial School when a Traffic Police Officer attempted to stop the said Okada by putting on the ground a plank with upturned nails on it. [a very dangerous practice in my view.]
Is there any solution to this apparent problem? I think so.
Firstly it has to be admitted that the Okada boys are performing a very useful Service to the population of public transport Users in general and that there are many people today [especially young women,] who have stopped using taxis or poda-podas and use only OKADAS. They are part of the population and must be catered for.
Secondly, the transport authorities must share part of the blame for not regulating the use of Okadas properly right from the start. In my opinion, EVERY OKADA must be properly registered with the Road Transport Authority and licensed. Every OKADA Rider must have a licence just as drivers of cars have to do, as well as Crash-helmets.
Thirdly, the Road Transport Authority and the Police must jointly sensitize the Okada Riders and the general public that Okada riders are subject to the general traffic road signs and regulations so that they must not go down or up a One-way Street, or dash across a Zebra-crossing when pedestrians are crossing or try to go when a traffic Police Officer has stopped vehicular traffic.
Fourthly, the Police have a right to stop any Okada to check if it is properly registered and licensed. If it is, then he must be allowed to go on his way. If it is not then the Rider must be fined and given a deadline to pay his fine and obtain the necessary licenses. The alleged harassment of Okada Riders by the Police and Traffic Wardens, if true, must stop forthwith.
In Conclusion, I wish to repeat that the OKADAS provide a very useful Service to the population in general, quite apart from the fact that many young men who would otherwise be idle and unemployed are now gainfully employed and out of mischief.
I think it would be a big mistake to stop OKADAS from operating altogether.
Papa Government, Papa Road Transport Authority and Papa Police, I hope you are listening.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.