Woes of Tricycle Operators

Tricycle operators in Abuja and environs bemoan their travails in the hands of overzealous government and union officials

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Oct. 14, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

NOT even the early morning downpour could dissuade him from hitting the road. As the rain came down and people scampered for shelter, Linus Okoye adjusted the tarpaulin on his tricycle and rode off in search of passengers. For someone who is under an obligation to remit N2, 000 at the end of the day, he has become accustomed to working under the sun and rain in order to survive in this cosmopolitan city. Okoye is one of the hundreds of young people in Abuja who make a living by riding tricycles popularly referred to as keke. Like Okoye, many of the riders are unemployed graduates who used to ride motorcycles before they were banned in most parts of the federal capital territory.

Waiting for passengers in the scorching sun
Waiting for passengers in the scorching sun

Although riding tricycles has given them an escape route from the unemployment market, it has also made many of them slaves to some shylock owners and over-zealous government officials. Recounting how he got into the business, Okoye told Realnews that he came to Abuja, in 2011 in search of a job. When getting a job became difficult, he took to riding motorcycles in order to make a living. “I came to Abuja in 2011 to look for a job but I couldn’t get any. One of my friends who was also an okada rider at that time took me to a man who gave me a motor cycle to ride for him and remit money every day. When the government banned bikes from operating in Abuja many of us became unemployed again. But thank God we have this now.”

Despite the fact that he works from dawn to dusk, it is difficult for Okoye to save because he has to remit a good chunk of his earnings to the owner of the tricycle. He revealed that many of the tricycles on the streets of Abuja, are owned by wealthy people who offer them on hire purchase agreements to riders like himself. “This job is just to keep body and soul together because you cannot save much from it. The owners give it out on a hire purchase agreement which is very expensive. If you don’t meet up with the daily remittance, they will collect the tricycle from you and give it to another person to ride.”

Another rider, Habib Danjuma, from Kaduna State, said he was introduced to the business by his brother, Usman. Like Okoye, he can’t save much money because he is expected to remit N2, 000 daily to the owner of the tricycle. Danjuma added that the hire purchase agreement puts the price of the tricycle at between N600,000 and N700, 000. It takes working on a daily basis for almost a year to complete the payment. “The owners are just using us to make money because they know we don’t have any other means of survival. They buy these tricycles for N300, 000 and give them out on hire purchase between N600,000 and N700, 000.

Even old tricycles come at expensive prices
Even old tricycles come at expensive prices

Danjuma noted that the risk in the business is that once the rider defaults on the daily remittance, the tricycle is taken from him and he forfeits whatever he had paid for it. “Except on public holidays or on some other occasions, you are expected to work every day. If you fail in your daily remittance, the owner will collect the machine from you and you will lose whatever you have paid. That is part of the agreement.”

Jonah Aliu, another rider, echoed a similar story. He opined that the ban on okada in the FCT has forced many people embrace the business even though it was not as profitable as riding okada. “This business is not as profitable as okada riding. When I was riding okada, I was able to save much money. I have been doing this for more than a year now and I have little to show for it.” Asides the burden of daily remittance, the overzealousness of policemen, road safety, vehicle inspection officers, transport unions and other government officials is the reason why many keke riders don’t earn much. According to the riders, these officers are constantly on their trail in search of one offence or the other.

“There are lots of people who disturb us and affect our business negatively. The police, union, road safety, VIO and other government people are always on our neck looking for various offences. The transport union and park operators impose tickets on us everyday.”

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