The ticking clock does not wait for any one making minutes gone to be irretrievable. This can be seen in the speed with which one year has elapsed since a municipal edict pushed bike riders within the Buea Municipality into confusion. Relying on the excuse that these youths were or could become accomplices to crimes perpetrated by separatist militias, the maverick head of the municipality sometime in September 2018, banned the movement of commercial motorcycles within his jurisdiction.
The effect of the otherwise salutary decision on the bikers and the population at large has been variegated. There is the beneficiary population that has been induced into avoidable drudgery on the one hand and the bikers themselves on the other. This, in any case does not preclude the municipality itself that was beneficiary to council taxes paid by these bikers, most of whom were strugglers. Nevertheless, no matter the angle from which it is viewed, one thing is certain. And this is the fact that many of these disenfranchised riders have swelled the ranks of gangsters and bandits that now pass off for separatist militias.
Bike riding despite its negative impact like accidents and endangering denizens’ lives and road users, equally serves as a plus to the economy of Cameroon, rendering help and going a long way to solve many problems. Small wonder, President Paul Biya in one of his end of year speeches singled out commercial bikers for praise. He told them they were contributing wonderfully to the economy of the nation and gave them his thumbs up. But these commercial bikes are no longer seen plying some designated streets of Buea.
This decision is a result of the socio-political crisis which started since 2016 with no shadows of solutions looming over it. Many supported this act by the local administration but today, tears are inevitable in the eyes of such denizens.
While scores of biking youth are roaming all over, providing the proverbial workshop for idle minds, denizens are invariably feeling the bitter pinch of the ban. With no operational, let alone functional mass transit system on Cameroonian roads in general and Buea in particular; with the dirt roads that criss-cross Cameroonian municipalities, making it practically impossible for taxicabs to access neighboughoods, commuters have been the worse hit. With the sheer lack of access roads in Buea, women are forced to convey their market shopping by head load, drenched often by heavy rains or sweat induced by scotching heat.
Neighboughoods like Sand Pit, Small Soppo, Tole, Bomaka, Muea, to name but these had hundreds of bikers eking out a living and facilitating transportation in the process. Today, it is no longer the case, with these teeming youths either fooling around or giving meaning to the militias which the commercial biking ban sought to avoid in the first place.
That aside, quite a good number of these bike riders, who hitherto solely relied on this line of commerce to cater for their daily needs and those of their dependents, are presently experiencing pretty devastating effects like the inability to pay health, other utility bills and handling sundry challenges. It has been a sharp fall in fortunes according to many of the victims. Plus, tontines (njangis) which used to go a long way to boost their investments have more or less been laid to rest.
An affected biker who would not want to be identified for obvious reasons, captured the precarious situation thus: “I can’t meet up with my house rents, electricity bills and the funding of my children’s bills and doing my manly duties in my house and because my only means of survival has been rooted off.”
Wisdom is a Buea based university student who depended on part time commercial biking for his fees and other academic requirements and needs. He told us: “I cannot meet up with my transportation, handouts and a good phone to carry out my school work since my bills are on me.” He is just one, out of many other students that are self sponsored, that ride their way to university degrees and post varsity employment.
Come to think of it, the banning of commercial bike riding has not only affected bike riders, but has also plagued the activities of petty businesses (buyam- sellams) who are forced to trek long distances with their luggage, sometimes in very bad weather. The interdiction on commercial bike riding has also rendered most elderly people helpless, as they complain, they have to walk long distances through bad roads which is taunting to their health. That notwithstanding, cart pushers are in a sense, the direct beneficiaries of “disenfranchised” bikers. They may be fewer in number, cheaper and slower. Yet, the make up for part of the economic deficit left by the banned biking industry.
Despite the unbearable effects, hardships and slipping into criminal gangs by some banned commercial bike riders, it is worth noting that many of them managed to stay honest. They have resorted to menial jobs like cart pushing, hawking, “dog cooking business” tomato farming and, wait for this… grave digging! Grave digging by the way has come into the fray on account of the young men, women and children slaughtered indiscriminately on a daily basis by government soldiers drafted to fight an insurgency that has been going on for the past three years. Otherwise, a good number affected people including young girls whose bike riding parents have been put out of work now indulge in illegal activities such as prostitution and pick-pocketing. Many others have simply slipped into separatist fighters’ ranks.
Despite the hue and cry, in spite of the apparent boomerang effects of the ban, little or nothing has been done by the banning to assuage or at the very best provide a soothing alternative to the blanket ban. Wisdom adds, “the Buea council after banning our means of livelihood has not helped the situation but instead, they send the police to go after us when we try going out to work even in the neighbourhoods”
A varsity don, Professor Yenshu Emmanuel Vubo holds that commercial bike riders can still ply the streets if they are matriculated by the council for easy identification, plus, they should also show good faith.
“Although this action by the Buea authorities has its negative sides, it has equally resulted to some positive outcomes such as a reduction of the rate of road accidents and road traffics,” he noted.
According to him, many of them engage in this bike business because they do not pay taxes, but there are other businesses that they can engage in that are tax free, like tomato farming, coffee farming and others. “If the government says this activity should not take place it means they should look for other activities,” he stated.
However, some commercial bike riders we contacted have sworn to still ply the streets despite the deadly threats of being gunned down by ubiquitous security operatives now parading the town.
But then, being the corrupt prone society that Cameroon is, a handful of “privileged” commercial bikers are still seen plying Buea municipal streets unperturbed. These few have “spoken” the familiar language of bribery, understood even by those that have orders to shoot riding defaulters on sight.*