SEPTEMBER 4, 2014 By Alpha Rashid Jalloh
President Koroma’s immense and timely effort in containing the Ebola outbreak has been widely appreciated in the country as many lives have been saved, save that the Okada (commercial motorbikes) curfew has caused untold hardship[ to commuters especially those residing at Wellington and beyond.
The 7.00 AM to 7:00PM curfew imposed on Okadas in the city was as a result of suspicion that they were trafficking persons suspected of being infected with Ebola into the city or to certain destinations. Many people have now however observed that contrary to the suspicion that was cast on the okada riders, it is taxies that have been found to be a better means of trafficking such persons, if that is the case at all, within the city because okadas are not a safe means of transporting people who are seriously ill. Their weak conditions coupled with the speeding on the high way or the rugged side routes are enough to make a person collapse or finally give up the ghost by the time they arrive. In such instances sick persons therefore find taxies to be very convenient to commute as was evidenced recently when a taxi driver transported an Ebola patient to a hospital in the east of the city and deposited the person not knowing that the staff took his registration number as he left. The person died few minutes later and the police were alerted. By the time the taxi arrived at K-Step or Calaba Town Police Station, he was apprehended. This is a clear example which of the means is convenient for a sick person to travel.
The question we need to ask, with all due respect is, how many sick persons could withstand the rigours of a bike either on the highway or a rugged side route?
The commercial vehicles on the other hand have found out that the early retirement of okada riders from the highway leaves passengers at their mercy. They devise ways and means to get workers and traders stranded in the evening so that they extort more money from them or just refuse to take them to the right destination. Sometimes they do it with impunity and tell commuters to tell government to buy buses. Unfortunately many of the commercial vehicles are owned by senior police officers, so law enforcement on drivers is very poor in Freetown. With his kind of disposition from lawless drivers, the curfew has now brought untold hardship on commuters who wish to join their families early after work but could not do so because of hassles they undergo. The current order on drivers to reduce the passengers they carry per each row of seats by one passenger has not been adhered to. What use to happen was that drivers licenced their vehicles to carry excess passenger more than their usual capacity. They have been enjoying this illegitimate right for years and now they claim right over the excess passengers because they were licenced to carry such numbers. So, you see the danger of appprobating illegitimate acts? There have been sensitization exercises to enlighten them that cramming passengers in vehicles is dangerous as it creates a conducive atmosphere for the virus to be spread through close contact, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears.
Every day after 5:00PM, which is the normal time for people to leave work and travel home, bus drivers’ attitude would change and they would refuse to take passengers to the right destinations. Many of them would start loading passengers for Kissy when their destination should have been Calaba Town or Wellington. Many people get stranded till midnight before they could arrive home and would start thinking of how they would commute in the morning. Our problem in Sierra Leone is that many of the public figures drive jeeps and live in heaven, so, they do not know how the common man feels and how he copes with life, when they go closer to the president they express mundane ideas. The hope now is that since buses in the east of the capital are stopping half way and disobeying the order that they should reduce the number of passengers carried per seat, the okada curfew should be extended to 10:00PM so that those who are dropped half way would continue their journey home by hiring okadas. This brings to mind something from which we need to learn a lesson. During the war President Kabbah was making frantic efforts to bring it to an end but as the rebels outsmarted government and also tried to increase their onslaught many of these affiliated to the president officially or not used the opportunity of meeting with him to unrealistically influence his mind from what they get from the officious bystanders and mischief makers. Some of the information they gave him had semblance of truth but were not true but if you dared say so you would be branded as a “collaborator”.
Today, it is Pa Koroma that is on the driver’s seat. The hope is that as Pa Koroma is preparing to exit in 2018, for people to remember him with appreciation and perceive a difference between him and his predecessors, many of whom ended in lonesomeness in their last days he would continue to take pragmatic decisions. Mind you pragmatism is different from correctness.
The president should seriously think of the plight of the eastern sufferers and shift the Okada curfew to 10:00PM. May God bless him!