Douala Motorbike Riders Threaten Protests, Authorities Backpedal

Thursday, March 08, 2012

By Divine Ntaryike Jr — Government officials in Douala have been obliged to shelve plans to delimit the activities of motorbike taxi riders to the city’s suburbs following emphatic threats of mass protests.  The decision to restrict the riders from the city center was scheduled to take effect from March 12.

Scores of confiscated motor bikes

But ever since it was rendered public a fortnight ago, the usually hardnosed riders otherwise called benskins and numbering several hundreds of thousands warned they would enact demonstrations to express their disapproval of the measure.

The threat was buttressed by the wild circulation of tracts calling on all motorbike riders in Douala to pour out into the streets from March 8 and perturb the celebration of the 28th edition of the International Women’s’ Day.  The menace has ostensibly frightened local authorities into backtracking.

After a security conclave chaired by Wouri prefect, Bernard Okalia Bilai Tuesday March 5, it emerged that the delimitation plans have been put on hold for a period spanning 90 days.  In other words, the measure will only come into force from June 12 this year.  Motorbike taxi riders’ union leaders as well as law enforcement officers immediately saluted the authorities’ volte face.

“Confrontations appeared almost inevitable.  We were heading in for trouble.  It is a good thing that the authorities have reacted in time to quell rising tempers.  You know how radical these people can be, when they feel that their rights are being trampled upon,” Jean T, a senior police officer remarked.

According to Okalia Bilai, the time allowance is intended to enable the riders comply with requirements including the registration of their bikes and personal identification flagged off about two months ago.  But observers insinuated he was camouflaging the impotence of the authorities in regulating the sector.

A 2008 prime ministerial decree stipulates that riders be restricted to the suburbs of particular municipalities, have their bikes painted yellow, wear helmets and jackets, possess the category A driver’s license, be identifiable, etc.  But the Douala motorbike taxmen have strongly obstructed all attempts at enforcing the regulations.  Frequently, they have engaged fatal clashes with security forces deployed to oblige comply with regulations.

“They want to force us out of business.  They should provide jobs for us.  I have three children and it is from this occupation that I send them to school.  It is with my motorcycle that I can ensure their health and so on.  When you say I should not come and work in Akwa for example, how much will I earn?  It is unacceptable, and even after the three months, it will still not be accepted,” Jean Paul Mbiakop, a rider stated.


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