By Ireneaus Chia Chongwain
After a Prime Ministerial order announcing sweeping changes in the public transport sector in urban centres, with specific focus on commercial motorcycle riders, a collective consciousness seems to have gripped government and municipal authorities as they gear up to implement the envisaged reforms.
No one benefits from disorder, not even commercial motorcycle riders themselves, but as the count down to the date to implement the PM's order in Douala narrows, there are fears of a possible showdown between the forces of law and order and commercial motorcycle riders as some opposition officials are already calling on these riders not to respect the order. And so what is evidently a security issue is gradually assuming a political dimension.
No one knows the number of commercial motorcycles in Douala, but estimates put the number at over 50 thousand. Though riders are drawn from almost every age group, they have one common trait- a frightening disregard for rules and the law. On the basis of their numerical strength therefore, these motorcycle riders are bracing up to defy public authorities in Douala.
The government delegate to the Yaounde Urban Council quickly deciphered the disorder commercial motorcycle riders could cause in Yaounde and prevented them from plying the town's major streets. He pushed them to the peripheries and restricted their activities to certain areas not accessible to taxis. He worked along the logic that prevention is better than cure.
In Douala the situation is different. The motorcycle rider is at the centre of almost every activity. What will happen to these riders if they are prevented from carrying out their daily activities, one is forced to ask. The Prime Ministerial order, contrary to popular opinion, will not put an end to this sector, but is intended to establish order in an area that is presently a free-for-all. Motorcycle riders are required to undertake training, wear identification jackets, have their motorcycles registered and restrict their activities to specific areas. These reforms may be late coming, but it is better late than never.
In Douala, as elsewhere in the country, commercial motorcycle riders are offering valuable services to users. They do not only transport thousands of people to their work and business places everyday, but do so with ease as they have the ability to force their way through traffic jams as they only know how. But this is not to say ladies' hand bags are not equally snatched by thieves on motorcycles, or pedestrians knocked down and sometimes killed by ever-hurrying commercial motorists. And therein lies the commercial motorcycle sector dilemma and paradox- to regulate or not regulate?
When reforms are intended to ensure the greatest public good, they should be implemented at all cost. Many said order could not be established at Ndokoti, but today one drives through the locality with ease after makeshift structures were torn down and street invading hawkers and vendors pushed back into empty markets. Development certainly has a price tag, but there can be no development in disorder.
Even before the announced reforms have started being implemented, smart politicians are already attempting to make political gains out of what is certainly going to be a tough time ahead for motorcycle riders and users. Rather than call for popular resistance, forward thinking politicians should instead put forward suggestions to make the present alarming situation better.
What is most important for now is to ensure these reforms are indiscriminately applied when the time comes. The fact that more and more public officials in different towns across the country are planning to reform the commercial motorcycle sector indicates that it remains an area of major public security concern.
In reforming the sector a holistic, not a vindictive or egocentric approach is needed. In seeking to fulfil its public security obligation, the government should not also forget to address the needs of commercial riders, many who got involved in the trade not because they loved it, but simply for want of anything better to do. When disorder reigns, only few people benefit, but when order is established everybody benefits.