Source: The Guardian
In February 2009, I was at a motor park in Maraba, a satellite of the Nigerian capital Abuja, looking for motorcyclists wearing dried vegetables on their heads. The Nigerian Police Force had recently tightened laws requiring drivers and passengers of motorcycles to wear helmets. In the case of motorcycle taxis – known as achabas in northern Nigeria – drivers would now have to provide helmets for their passengers. There was an uproar. Everyone knew that taking a trip on an achaba could be a dangerous thing; the drivers had a reputation for recklessness. But many Nigerians did not like the new rules.
Above all, the law gave the police an opportunity for extortion. One motorcycle taxi driver told me it was going to cost him 10,000 naira (around £40) to buy two helmets. As he made between 300 and 400 naira per day (less than £2), there was no way he could afford to obey the new law. Everyone knew what would happen. The police would set up flying checkpoints, near markets, motor parks and busy thoroughfares. They would swoop down on motorcyclists, flailing sticks and canes as the riders madly accelerated out of their traps.
People who drive achabas are close to the bottom of society. They are men (andonly men) without much formal education, often without any other marketable skill. Many sleep rough, under bridges or awnings, some sleep on their motorcycles, guarding their source of income. Their passengers are also mostly poor. The vast number of achabas on the roads is a symptom of Nigeria’s economic problems. The new helmet law was, in the minds of most, just another squeeze on people already in perilous circumstances.