By Godwin Edeh
An efficient transport system is important for rapid development of any state. Transportation is the life wire of the global economy. Unfortunately, in Benue State, the transport sector seems to be faced with teething challenges that are yet to be resolved as government is still trying to diversify the economy.
With increasing statistics of unemployment in the country, coupled with the progression of rural and urban migration, transportation business has become a solution towards curbing joblessness. It provides the citizenry with skills and enhance their sustenance.
Benue State, created 45 years ago, has witnessed both ups and downs in ensuring a functional urban transport system. In other states of the federation like Lagos, Plateau, Oyo, Ondo and the FCT among others, there exist well planned urban mass transit programmes. The commercial vehicles are branded for easy identification.
Of course, because of untold hardship, commercial motorcycles have come to thrive above taxis and the occurrence of insecurity has worsened the situation.
The transport sector in some states has been affected by nefarious activities of “Okada” operators some of whom, are said to be foreigners being used as spies for insurgents.
Like a keg of gun powder, ready to explode, these operators pose a serious security threat to the already precarious situation occasioned by constant attacks by Fulani herdsmen, communal clashes, robbery and other forms of crime.
Although past administrations in the agrarian state took several steps towards achieving a sustainable and reliable transport system, however, none has been able to survive the dynamics and ever increasing demands of the sector. The state owned Benue Links thrives but it is faced with several challenges.
Benue is one of the few states in the country where commercial taxis and buses are not branded. There is no clear mass transit master plan to encourage free flow of commercial taxi operations for easy movement of people, goods and services.
It has been observed that, the non-branding of commercial vehicles and refusal of the operators to register vehicles with relevant authorities have fostered insecurity. It has also affected the economy as it has hampered revenue generation that could have enhanced development of critical infrastructure for the generality of the people.
The situation has made it very difficult for security agencies to adequately tackle the crime wave. Vehicles are neither registered, nor do they have number plates. In some cases, those with number cover them under the guise of VIP protection which has amounted to outright disregard to the laws of the land.
It is against this backdrop that the Benue state Police Command recently issued a press statement, appealing to all motorists in the state to register their vehicles, including motorcycles and tricycles.
However, it is pertinent to recall that, similar steps had been taken in the past but yielded little or no positive result because motorists resumed their usual business whenever the operation is relaxed.
It is hoped that relevant agencies and security operatives will step up action, especially now that there is more security breaches evidenced by the recent attack on Governor Samuel Ortom. This calls for both branding and registration of every vehicle in the state.
Despite the fact that commercial motorists especially Okada, are more vulnerable to vehicle snatching and theft by hoodlums, they are also complicit due to their violation of traffic rules and non compliance to registration regulations.
A commercial motorcyclist who simply gave his name as Terwase is of the view that registration of motorcycles is apt.
For Sani Usman from Wadata area of Makurdi, though there are security challenges in the country not all ‘Okada’ riders are criminals.
Usman who spoke to The Voice said his motorcycle is fully registered and that he retires to his home as early as 7:30 pm to avoid embarrassment from the stop and search agents, and cult groups.
When contacted, the state Public Relations Officer of Benue State Motorcycle Association (BEMOA), Comrade Shinyi Aondowase, stated that the union is working towards ensuring that its members fully comply with all vehicle registration regulations.
On identity of members, Aondowase insisted that the union has provided identity cards and stickers to members to enable safety of the riders, passengers and motorcycles. He further urged other Okada riders to join the union to foster security.
Meanwhile, Comrade Stephen Dele Akintola, Secretary of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Benue state has agreed that most of the transporters in the state have not registered with the union and so the union has no authority over them.
Akintola further revealed that members of the union are captured in data base.
“Every member of our union has an identity card, stickers and other means of identification which are renewable every year and they cannot engage in any form of crime or criminalities as they can be easily tracked, fished out and made to face the law,” he stated.
On the failure of the Union to introduce branded or special colour for vehicles, he attributed it to security reasons. He gave an instance where vehicles travel to crise- prone states or areas, and become easy targets by criminals and hoodlums when identified with particular colour or brand.
He said some drivers have lost their lives and vehicles in the process and therefore, the union has put the idea of branding vehicles on hold till security in the country is improved.
Akintola further told The Voice that vehicle particulars, number plates and driver’s licence are the first criteria for registering with the union and it is an age long requirement.
He however, appealed to government and security agencies to assist the union by sending under cover security operatives to various motor parks because their members are constantly under attacks from criminal elements who dispossess them of their vehicles.
Commenting on the issue, the Police Public Relations Officer, Benue State Police Command, DSP Catherine Anene, stated that, the command has commenced enforcement of registration of vehicles.
“Some violators have been apprehended, their vehicles impounded untill they fulfill all the registration requirements, else we will not release their vehicles or motorcycles,” DSP Anene stated.
At the moment, with enforcement of vehicle registration and branding, there is still no level of compliance from commercial motorists. Whether the feat would be ever achieved, only time shall tell.