Nigeria. Police have started to arrest scores of motorcycle taxi riders with dried fruit shells, paint pots or pieces of rubber tyre tied to their heads with string to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets.
New regulations have caused havoc around Africa’s most populous nation, with motorcyclists complaining helmets are too expensive and some passengers refusing to wear them fearing they will catch skin disease or be put under a black magic spell.
The new law came into effect on January 1 and pits two factions equally feared by the common Nigerian motorist against one another. On the one side we have the erratic motorcycle taxis known as “Okadas”, whose owners are notorious for road-rage, and on the other side we have the bribe-hungry traffic police.
Visitors, uninformed about the situation are amazed to see bikers using calabashes or pots and pans tied to their heads with string to try to dodge the new helmet regulations.
Health and Safety Suffer
Construction workers have set up a lucrative trade renting out their safety helmets for around 500 naira (R33.69) a day.
The commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission in the northern town of Kano, Yusuf Garba said that motorcycle taxi drivers now use pots, plates, calabashes, rubber and plastic as makeshift helmets. “We will not tolerate this. We gave them enough time to purchase helmets.
“Six months ago the price of helmets was below 800 naira, so complaints about non-availability and high prices are no excuse,” he told Reuters.
Helmet prices have since risen sharply as sellers cash in on demand.
He said 28 arrests had been made in Kano. Newspapers have reported more arrests in other cities. Those detained are fined and their bikes impounded until they buy helmets.
There are tens of thousands of Okadas buzzing around Lagos, a chaotic city of 14 million people, many of them given to unemployed and illiterate youths as part of poverty reduction programmes or on hire-purchase schemes run by businessmen.
Most have never been taught traffic rules.
Fear of Helmets Abound
Okadas passengers as saying they fear that the helmets could be laced with magic spells so as to knock the wearer unconscious and make them easier to rob, while others feared they would pick up an infection.
One newspaper columnist said transportation can already carry a health risk, and recounted how he had picked up a bedbug while sitting on a bus.
“The story is that people who have scabies, craw-craw, ringworm, dandruff and all other such diseases would easily infect others with them through the helmets,” Steve Nwosu wrote in the Daily Sun.
By: Nick Tattersall