The commercial motorcycle operators known as ‘Okada’ took to the streets and roads of Onitsha protesting the force a police patrol team for allegedly knocking down one operator, and for harassment and extortion by police in the state capital.
The group in their numbers blocked the old market road with their motorcycles in protest against officers from Inland Town Police Station who is said to have knocked down an Okada rider at ABS junction, Awka road Onitsha.
They operators caused serious gridlock along the road for some time before they continued their movement.
They later went to various police stations in the commercial city to register their grievance, appealing to the government and police authorities to call the police patrol teams to order for allegedly harassing and extorting money from them.
A spokesperson of the group Mr. Linus Chukwuma lamented that the knocking down of an elderly man by the patrol team with the intention of seizing his motorcycle triggered them to mount their protest, stressing that it was not the first time such thing would happen.
He accused police of frequently targeting Okada riders who earn a living on the job, stressing that their motorcycles are indiscriminately seized and remanded at police stations if they refuse to “settle” on the road, that and when it gets to the station more money for the collection of their machines would be paid.
“We are protesting the harassment and extortion of Okada riders by police in Onitsha. We are appealing to the government and police authority to help to stop it because it’s becoming too much for us bear. We will come in the morning to go find what to feed our family members, police will collect the money one way or the other. Police will stop you on the road, [but] instead of asking about your documents or driver’s license what he will do is to ask you to get down from your bike and the next thing is for them to carry your bike to the station for no just cause. They will tell you to come to the station to carry it and when you get there, they will tell you to pay N3200 before you carry it,” the spokesman said.
“This afternoon the police patrol team from Inland Town Police Station knocked down an Okada rider, an elderly man at Awka road Onitsha; he is now between life and death. We don’t know whether he will survive it or not; he was rushed to the hospital. The policemen and the civilians they used to arrest motorcycles ran away immediately the incident happened. Police should leave us alone on the road, we are not thieves.”
“There is hunger in the land that is why we are riding Okada to feed our families; is it better to go and steal? If we leave our motorcycles and start robbery, it is the same policemen that will be arresting us for stealing; why should they be disturbing us while carrying out our legitimate duties. Most us are driving hire-purchase [motorcycles] to pay the owner between N400, 000 and N 500, 000. We have children paying their school fees, we are paying for house rent…” Chukwuma lamented.
In swift reaction, the Divisional Police Officer ( DPO) in charge of Inland Police Station, Mr. A.N Kayinde, a Superintendent of Police (SP), said that the briefing from the patrol team officers revealed that the police van was following the Okada man along the road and immediately he saw police at his back he turned with force and fell inside the gutter, and that the same policemen rescued him and took him to the hospital for treatment.
He wondered why the Okada man was running when he saw a police patrol vehicle, but promised to get the root of the matter, saying that after treatment he would hear his own angle, saying also that he would not condone any act that would tarnish image of the police.