Bishop Andrew Nkea and commercial motorcycle riders (ben-skinners) after Mass
The Lord has filled our Hearts with joy and has given us another year of grace. As we come to the end of 2014 and graciously enter the New Year, 2015, it has pleased the Holy Spirit and us to turn our gaze and attention towards a very important, yet sometimes neglected sector of our daily lives, the motorcycle riders, also known as “Ben-skins” or “Okada” riders. As we begin this New Year, I salute all the Ben-skinners, all the Okada riders in our nation and especially in Mamfe Diocese. I extend greetings of appreciation, encouragement and assurance. We cannot thank the Okada riders enough for the risks they take to transport people to difficult places even where no motorable roads are possible.
II. Some misconceptions about motorcycle riders
1. There are some ideas that naturally come to the mind of people when a bend-skin rider is mentioned. Some see Okada riding as a low grade occupation meant for school dropouts and rascals. Yet others see motorcycle riders as frustrated young and old men who are living below the standard of society. Someone has said: “Do you want to see any armed robber in our community, then go to where there are ben-skinners. These misconceptions even go a long way to create an unfriendly tension between the motorcyclists and their immediate society. In some acute cases, some of the ben-skinners themselves have decided to validate this negative view of society about them by indulging in those practices that degrade the dignity of the Okada rider’s work.
III. The dignity of work – the dignity of okada riders
2. In his social teaching masterpiece, Laborem Exercens, the Holy Father, John Paul II emphasises that work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth. The Pope, reflecting on the book of Genesis, underpins that in the original covenant which God established with humanity at creation, He called man and woman to share in “subduing the earth” “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it”. (Cf. Gen. 1:28) Even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it as an activity for man to carry out in the world. Indeed, they show its very deepest essence. Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe. (Laborem Exercens no. 4) Furthermore, the Pope notes that work is also a spiritual activity that has consequences for a person’s interior life. The ethical dimensions of work are linked to the fact that one who carries it out is a person. (Laborem Exercens no. 65). Be it manual or intellectual work, it is the whole person, body and spirit that participates in it. And so the spirituality of work is aimed at helping us come closer to God in our work, to participate in God’s salvific plan for man and to deepen our friendship with Christ.
3. The truth that by means of work, man participates in the activity of God was given prominence by Christ who many of His listeners were surprised saying: “Where did he get all this? What is this wisdom given him…? Is not this the carpenter?” (Mk. 6:2-3) It is not only in creation that God works. Jesus told the Jews, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). This points to God’s continuing supervision and control of creation in his works of providence as well as to his redemptive act. Jesus’ apostles were called while at work. They were fisher men, tax collectors, farmers, etc. and it was from their commitment to their present work that they were elevated to “Fishers of men”, a higher level of work! (Cf. Mt 4:18-20). And of course we know that Paul saw all of his life as lived to Christ, and so acted in line with his own advice, remaining a tentmaker to earn his livelihood and not be a burden to others (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-13).
IV. The dignity of working as an okada rider
4. Drawing from our discussion above that every form of work assumes a redemptive character since it participates in the Creator’s work, promoted by Christ, it follows therefore that an occupation such as being a motorcycle rider has a particular dignity which must be safeguarded. Every occupation has its ethical code which is the occupation’s backbone. Respect of the code brings honour, fulfillment and admiration of the worker, while disrespect of it turns the worker into ridicule and an object of scorn, thereby giving the work itself a “bad name”. As motorcycle riders, I call on you to carry along the dignity that this occupation has. This dignity can be attained by respecting the following codes: making sure that as an Okada rider, you have all your required documents (Carte Grise, rider’s license, Insurance, Council tax, etc); always wear your helmet when riding; put on the lawful riding uniform; register with the Okada Union; always look clean and neatly dressed. By respecting these, the okada rider will always be held in high esteem and receive admiration from the society.
Hishop Andrew Nkea handing helmet to a commercial motorcycle rider
V. Bike riders are collaborators in the Pastoral Ministry of Mamfe Diocese
5. It is an undeniable fact that without the Okada riders the pastoral work of the priests and Religious of Mamfe Diocese will be more difficult and almost impossible. Over 70 percent of the diocesan territory is not easily accessible by car and the only option is the use of ben-skin. Okada riders transport Christians from home to church and for spiritual activities of various kinds, Okada riders transport catechetical and building materials to almost impossible areas for the construction of churches, presbyteries, schools and health centres in Mamfe Diocese. As Bishop of Mamfe, this truth hit me in the face when a couple of weeks ago I was making my pastoral visit to Kajifu and Ntale Parishes. It was thanks to the ben-skin that I could accomplish this divine and canonical task of visiting the People of God in these parts of the diocese. Priests and religious in Mbetta, Akwaya, the Fontem and Mundani areas, the planes of Nguti, Central Ejagham and Upper Bayang, mostly use bikes to go to outstations to minister God’s Word and Sacraments to the people. Through this experience, it openly dawned on me that motorcycle riders are our collaborators in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul I can confidently say to the ben-skinners: “For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building” .(1 Cor. 3:9)
VI. The okada rider’s work is person-centred
6. Work is a good thing for man, a good thing for his humanity because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.” (LE no. 9). In effect, the work of an “Okada man” is meant to transform and uplift the human person. The Okada rider is fulfilled in his work if he considers everything he does as adding value to the human person. Just as there are Christian doctors, Christian lawyers, so too there are Christian Okada riders who always know that whatsoever you do to the least of my brother/sisters, you do it to me (Mt 25:40-46). With the notion that you are riding to save and uplift the human person, God will surely bless the work of your hands (Deut. 14:28-29). The ben-skinner enhances his work as person-centred in the following ways:
i) Respect for the human person
Just as you demand respect, so every motorcycle rider must respect every person who approaches him to demand his services. As St. Peter says, “Show respect to everyone, love your fellow believers…” (1 Pet. 2:17). Since we cannot give what we do not have, we cannot receive respect if as an Okada rider you do not show that respect. The Okada rider has to love his life and remember at all times that he has a duty to protect the life given him by God and not to be careless with it. Only when he gives value and respect to his life can he adequately respect the lives of those whom he is carrying. There are people who have become lame or deformed for life because a rider was careless. There are many others who have even lost their lives, because some rider did not respect life. I call on all riders to always keep in their minds that they are carrying precious life made in the image and likeness of God, and so ride carefully.
ii) Honesty in relation to the Human Person
It is common to hear that an Okada rider can collect FCFA 500 for a drop that is supposed to cost FCFA100 because the person he happened to have carried is a stranger in town. Or again, it has happened that a passenger agrees on a particular amount with the motorcycle rider but on reaching the destination, the motorcycle rider doubles or triples the fare, thereby going against the initial agreement. As we enter this New Year, we call on all motorcycle riders to carry out this noble occupation in all honesty, for it pays to be honest. Remember the advice John the Baptist gave to the tax collectors: “Don’t collect any more than you are required to”. And to the soldiers: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:12-14).
iii) Love of Service of the Human Person
The greatest virtue in life is love. Anything done out of genuine love for the human person will bring us fulfilment, joy and progress. “For greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Just as our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ has shown us, every motorcycle rider should carry out his service with love to the extent of going extra miles to satisfy the passenger.
VII. What then are we to do?
8. As we enter a new year, a new era has dawned for motorcycle riders in Mamfe Diocese and by extension to many others outside this diocese, since goodness diffuses itself and attracts! We shall embark on some cautionary measures to reshape and reinstate dignity, order, progress and job satisfaction in the Okada work in Mamfe Diocese.
i) Respect of Highway Code
As conscientious citizens, every Okada rider must make it a point of duty to study, internalise and obey the Highway Code. Every ben-skinner must imprint in his mind, the respect of pedestrians and other road users. The words of Sacred Scriptures make us understand that respect for authority is equals to respect for God (Cf. Eph. 6:5-7; Rom 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:13). The road signs and rules have been put in place by the state for our own security and that of others, so we must respect them to the latter.
ii) Protect yourselves on the Highway
There is a common saying that “prevention is better than cure”. This explains why it is obligatory for all motorcycle riders to always protect themselves and the passenger while riding by wearing the helmet and good riding shoes (not slippers). I am making a donation to the riders of Mamfe this year of one hundred helmets so that some lives could be saved in 2015. Depending on the means available and the support of people of goodwill, we will continue supporting the riders each year until we make sure that all riders in the Diocese are wearing helmets. Do not take them and keep them at home, wear them.
iii) No vandalism and mob action
As intimated above, our aim this year is to see how we can remove some stigmatic ideas about Okada riders as agents of vandalism and propagators of mob action. The Okada rider should always seek to bring peace where there is war, justice where there is injustice and never be a party to taking laws into their hands. In any case of misconduct, let the law take its course.
iv) Avoid the abuse of your work as bike riders
In every useful activity, elements of abuse always set in if the workers/actors are not vigilant. Because of one Okada rider, all the others could be termed thieves and armed robbers. Hence, each Okada rider must be each other’s keeper. (Cf. Gen 4:9; Gal.6:2) All legitimate occupations are worthy. They provide opportunities for extending help to others. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28). There is also the testimony provided by industrious lives. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess.4:11-12). Therefore, motorcycle riders should never be accomplices in evil, by helping armed robbers and thieves, by executing evil arrangements and errands. Rather than carry a thief to escape for so much money, carry him to the forces of Law and Order and be honourable, thereby bringing respect and admiration to this noble occupation.
V) Do not use abusive or insulting language on the road
Flowing from the dignity of the motorcycle riding occupation, it follows that certain language does not bring respect and honour to the speaker. That is why our Lord warned that whoever says to his brother “You fool” shall answer before hell fire (Mt 5:22). And St. Paul always told the Christians: “…let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Eph. 5:1-4) And again, “…but now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” (Col. 3:8). Please, control your tongue!
VIII. The spirituality of the motorcycle riders
9. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33). It is not possible that as motorcycle riders you spend the whole Sunday to transport people to church and you never enter that church! One of the new grounds we are breaking this New Year 2015 is to make it possible for all commercial motorcycle riders to always attend an early Mass (6:30 am, at least in Mamfe Town) before beginning their work. Already we know some Okada riders who attend daily morning Masses before going to work and they are doing well in the business. “If the Lord does not build the house in vain do its builders labour.” (Ps. 127:1). I enjoin on you today to put God first in all you do, pray to God first as you begin your day and when you close for the day give Him thanks.
10. I heartily thank all the commercial motorcycle riders who have been conscious of this God-given work they are carrying out for the good of the human person. I thank the Okada Union for coordinating the affairs of all motorcycle riders in the Mamfe area, and exhort all commercial motorcycle riders in other parts of the diocese who do not have their own unions to form them. I thank all those who make it a point of duty to pray for riders every day. I thank the Okada Union for welcoming this spirit-led venture. As my commitment to the spiritual and material welfare of commercial motorcycle riders in Mamfe Diocese, I hereby appoint a chaplain for the motorcycle riders in Mamfe Diocese in the person of Rev. Fr. Peter Paul Ibeagha assisted by Rev. Fr. Samuel Tabeson. These priests will see to it that the spiritual needs of the motorcycle riders in Mamfe Diocese are well taken care of. And every year we shall gather to pray and fellowship with all the motorcycle riders as we have started this year.
I commend you all to the maternal love and care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Highway, together with the prayers of the Irish Saint Columbanus Patron Saint of Motorcyclists, may your riding bring glory to God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever!
Given at Mamfe, this Wednesday, December 31, 2014, Optional Memoria of Pope St. Sylvester 1.
+Andrew F. Nkea,
Bishop of Mamfe