Commercial motor bike riders, locally called ‘okada riders’, Monday began a three-day strike action over claims that the Police have been persistently harassing them.
In the early hours of Monday morning, Okada riders were seen in their numbers rallying round colleagues not to convey any pillion. Pillions were asked to disembark as the riders made their intention of wanting to sit and talk with President Ernest Koroma before they could resume their trade clear.
According to Abdul Lahai, a rider from Lumley who this reporter met at Kissy Road, the Police have been holding sticks and spikes to hit them and destroy tyres of their motor bikes, adding that law enforcement officers arbitrarily prevent them from plying certain routes in Freetown.
“The government did not provide a job for us and now that we have engaged ourselves in this business, the Police have been chasing us as if we are criminals. All what we want at this moment is peace and freedom,” the rider stated.
Another rider, Saidu Turay, lamented that although riders campaigned for the re-election of the president in 2012, their reward had been Police harassment, threats, and imprisonment.
“The Police say we are lawless but are all Police officers law abiding? If our situation is not addressed within three days, we will know what to do next,” he said.
Asked if bike riders president, David Sesay, was aware of their action, Turay said they have grown impatient with him, as he alleged the former has sold the union to the ruling party. He added that Sesay took lots of helmets which had photo of President Koroma to help campaign for the APC in 2012.
“We don’t trust him anymore to lead us. We want now to make our position very clear to the President that if we are not allowed to ply the routes of Freetown, we will take another action,” he said.
Director of Traffic Management and Road Safety in the Sierra Leone Police, Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Patrick Johnson, told our reporter that said when he took up office he engaged the riders on how to bring sanity to the municipality of Freetown.
He noted that many Sierra Leoneans, investors and foreigners have complained that some bike riders are lawless. “Some of them hit passengers and run away with no remorse of what they have done. Some have embarked on robberies and mob justice,” he explained.
CSP Johnson disclosed that the Police had planned an operation for 15 April but postponed it to a date, which he could not divulge, adding that the aim of that operation was to stop riders from using one-way traffic routes as two, taking excess passengers, among other road safety violations.
“Categorically, I want to state that the Police were not informed about this strike action and we did not mount any operation on Monday [yesterday],” he noted.
Meanwhile, President of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bike Riders Union, David Sesay, when contacted said he was not aware of the strike action.