Motorcyclists: Time for Regulation

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The Liberian government has with immediate effect banned commercial motorbike drivers from the main thoroughfares of Monrovia, confining them to operation within local communities.

This action was taken in response to an incident that took place last week. After a transport bus accidentally hit a motorbike, other ‘pehn-pehn’ drivers converged on the transport bus and set it ablaze while the passengers were still on board.

It is an everyday occurrence for motorbike drivers to rush to the scene of an accident in which a motorcycle is involved and attack the car driver in support of their fellow motorbike driver, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. In the mêlée, money and other valuables are often stolen before police are able to bring the situation under control.

It is also an everyday occurrence for motorcyclists to drive recklessly on the highways, cause very serious accidents, aid and abet criminal activity and make quick getaways without ever getting caught — except, that is, by the law of sowing and reaping.  Everyday, bike passengers are brought into the hospitals, having been severely injured in motor accidents.  In many cases the bike operators, having mounted their bikes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, have recklessly  made u-turns  in front of an oncoming vehicle.

When an accident occurs, the motorbike operators, without any concern whatsoever for their injured passengers, elope (run away), leaving the injured passengers at the mercy of bystanders and on-looking motorists.  The bike operators, most of whom hardly anyone knows, are never seen again. 

And so it was that after a mob of bikers burned a transport bus last week, police authorities banned commercial motorcyclists from the principal streets of the city. Their response? “Fine! We won’t ride at all!” The day after the ban was issued, all motorcyclists parked their bikes and stayed at home. It was only over the past few days, cash running low perhaps, that more and more have returned to the streets, some again plying the main thoroughfares in defiance of the ban, especially at night.

The airwaves have been inundated with discussions of the issue. For many Liberians, the ban presents a hardship, as motorbikes are in some cases the cheapest mode of transport. For others, it is not necessarily the cheapest or the safest but it is the fastest way to get around. As such, they are pleading with the government to see reason to lift the ban so that this inexpensive mode of transportation may be made available to them once more. Others still have argued that the decision was too hastily made; that the solution is policy, not punishment.

But it is likely that the government took such swift and drastic action to send a message; to say that this reckless behavior on the part of motorcycle operators will no longer be tolerated; that while it is understood that most riders are either ex-combatants or illegal foreign residents, mostly from Guinea, trying to earn a decent living, it must be done in accordance with the laws of the land; to say that the era of lawlessness has ended. 

It is exactly this “jeh forget it” attitude of wrong doing with impunity that has got us stuck in this rut of underdevelopment today; where laws are not enforced because everybody wants room to maneuver — a “back door way if doing things” as one diplomat put it recently. Why do people equate law enforcement with punishment or wickedness? Yes, crime is in fact punishable — some by fine, some by imprisonment, some even by death; and those who are pleading on behalf of the motorcyclists are obviously only concerned about their own interests (cheap and fast transportation) and had no relatives on the bus that was torched with gasoline.

We congratulate the law enforcement authorities for the swift and decisive action taken.

We have been informed that motorcyclists are staging a “peaceful protest” today.  Do they feel they have been wrongfully penalized? Do they not believe they have done anything wrong? They must be informed that we are no longer in the Charles Taylor era; that the ATU is no longer active; that in this new dispensation, rights such as freedom of movement come with responsibilities.

Before motorcyclists are allowed back on the streets (if ever at all), the union governing them must be made to pay for the replacement of the burned bus; for all income lost during the time that it has been out of business; for any damages or losses to those affected; and for injuries, loss of limbs of victims, and deaths.

A code of ethics governing motorbike operations must also be instituted and made available to each rider so that violators are henceforth without excuse for reckless behavior — not that they ever were.

Only Liberian citizens or people with Residence Permits should be allowed to operate a motorbike; and each operator should be given an operating license, just as automobile drivers are licensed.  And the issue of the licensing of drivers MUST BE ENFORCED.  The incidence  of corrupted police officers MUST STOP; otherwise the laws governing transport in this country will NEVER be enforced. Then the country is doomed for true.

We, however, cannot allow that to happen.  We must at long last start behaving like a serious country, Africa’s oldest independent republic.  

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