New Telegraph

Dispatch Riders: Abuja’s prowling ‘lawless messengers’

Stakeholders in the burgeoning e-commerce market have continued to decry the infiltration of the sector with courier services providers who are obviously not adhering to required regulations. More worrisome to them, is the recruitment of dispatch riders who apparently lack requisite training and orientation needed to build public confidence in the sector. Some of the stakeholders expressed concerns that the advantages, benefits and abounding prospects in the industry, may be truncated by the activities of the dispatch riders who have been identified as a serious clog on the wheel of the industry’s progress. Stephen Saibena, an e-commerce expert based in Abuja, said the advent of the internet and rapid technological advancement, have made e-commerce and other forms of online commercial transactions more considerable options to in-person and conventional markets.

Dispatch riders

He, however, regretted that the services of dispatch riders, almost a mandatory concomitant in the industry, were also becoming a threat, if not properly regulated. According to him, reports have it that as at 2022, the estimated number of internet users in Nigeria was more than 108 million. Moreover, the share of the population using the internet is expected to grow to approximately 60 percent by 2027. His argument was predicated on the fact that internet was providing a viable platform for people to stay in the comfort of their homes and do their shopping, deploring the services of dispatch riders.

New Telegraph’s investigation shows that courier services, using dispatch riders (people who use motorbikes for courier services) had swiftly saturated many mega cities across Nigeria. Experts say the choice of motorbikes for courier services by many providers is obviously not just for conveniences, but for speed and easy access to hard-to-reach places.

Regulations and enforcement

Unfortunately, a seemingly lack of effective regulations and rules’ enforcement by appropriate authorities have opened up deployment of dispatch riders in the ecommerce sector, as an all-comers affairs, with attendant serial abuses. In Abuja, since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the increase in dispatch riders has become astronomical. Some residents in Abuja have even mocked the FCT administration, saying the efforts to rid the city centre of lawless commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as Okada riders, have been rubbished by the increase in the number of courier dispatch riders. Their basis for the mockery is on the fact that the mischievous attitude which led to the ban of Okada operations in the city centre, had been doubled by the unregulated dispatch riders.

Recklessness/Disobedience of traffic rules

Abuja’s residents, especially regular commuters, on a daily basis, loathe the unruly behaviour of the dispatch riders who are often very reckless on the roads, coupled with their colossal disregard for traffic rules and regulations. These riders are said to have unprecedented impatience for traffic lights. It appears that waiting for the traffic light to turn green, is an anathema and alien practice to them. This is even as they also drive against traffic with impunity. Virtually on a daily basis, ghastly accidents involving reckless dispatch riders are witnessed on major intersections of roads in the nation’s capital city. The high records of road accidents was said to be due to the riders disrespect for traffic rules. Some residents have even expressed worries that semi insane people were taking over FCT roads, in disguise as dispatch riders, and relevant authorities were not living up to their responsibilities.

Drug peddling

New Telegraph’s check could not confirm if any dispatch rider has been prosecuted and convicted over this allegation, but the validity has been established by two regulatory agencies. The allegation was established by both the Director, FCTA Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS), Dr. Abdullateef Bello and the General Manager, Courier and Logistics Regulatory Unit of NIPOST, Mr. Dotun Shonde.

Unregistered bikes

Another issue around the dispatch riders which experts consider as a threat to national security, is the massive use of unregistered bikes for the operation of courier services. Experts’ grave concern is that while relevant government agencies continue to look away over the use of unregistered bikes for the business, criminal activities involving the riders could remain concealed. It was said that since these dispatch riders have been alleged to be engaging in some illegal activities, it would be difficult to trace and establish right identities with links to any crime.

FCTA mulls stiffer enforcement of regulations

Dr. Abdullateef Bello, who acknowledged that the e-commerce sector had been fraught with so many abnormalities, however, hinted that stiffer enforcement was underway for dispatch riders. While he confirmed that there has been an increase in the numbers of unregistered dispatch riders, he also corroborated the findings that many of them were getting involved in illegal activities in the nation’s capital. Bello even admitted that dispatch riders were becoming a growing threat, which requires the synergy of all stakeholders to tackle.

He disclosed that FCT administration was not folding its hands and watching the situation, but working assiduously to end the menace. Bello said: “The issue of dispatch riders is an emerging threat in the FCT. As we all know it is a new development. It started at the wake of COVID-19, when people suddenly realised that services can be taken to you where you are.

“That was what brought credence to the emergence of dispatch service riders. Now it is becoming like something that has come to stay with us. It is an industry that is growing, many young people are now bracing up for the business. “And because it is new, it is easy for us to begin to establish some regulation to ensure that we arrest whatever that is seen to be a danger to the city in it.

“For instance we have started with active registration of all the riders in the city, whether you are a company or a solo rider doing the business, you have to come to DRTS to register, so that we can have your particulars. “And after registration, you will proceed for training. We now have an institute in Lugbe that provides training for riders. After the training you will get what we call a riders certificate. “Now all dispatch motorcycles are going to carry a new customized license. Not only that, they will have to move from these regular bikes to something not less than 200 CC capacity. That is a bigger bike, which is for safety and standardisation. “This is so we can know who is an Okada man or dispatch rider. These bikes are more expensive than the normal bikes. The dispatch riders will have the safety helmet, reflective jackets, and boots and others. “We have registered some companies that have already moved from the regular bikes to the 200 CC capacity.” New Telegraph further gathered that once the full enforcement starts, any operator that does not have all the requirements cannot ply Abuja’s roads.

NIPOST also worried …

The General Manager, Courier and Logistics Regulatory Department of NIPOST, Dotun Shonde confirmed that there had been efforts to sanitize the industry. According to him, e-commerce in Nigeria was recording a huge growth and needs credible and well- disciplined people as dispatch riders. Shonde disclosed that his Department in NIPOST has the statutory powers to regulate activities of courier services in the country. He stated that actually the issue of using the dispatch riders to peddle illicit drugs was a reality, having arrested many of them through security agencies.

Shonde further disclosed that efforts to sanitise the industry were paying off, with over 200 illegal dispatch riders having been arrested in Abuja and 500 in Lagos. He also added that collaboration has been created with several agencies, as further measures to fix all the loopholes in the e-commerce sector. “The proliferation of courier services, especially solo or independent riders is not only in Abuja, the issue is everywhere, even in Lagos we are having serious battles with them. What we are doing is what is provided for in the NIPOST Act.

The Act provides that if you are not licensed and registered by NIPOST, you have no business operating without license, because we will clamp down on you,” he added. One of the worrisome dimensions of the situation is that some of the dispatch riders had been linked to crimes – some as heinous as murder.

This was confirmed by Shonde, who noted that enforcement was being intensified because of the abnormalities in the sector. Shonde disclosed that: “If you engage in courier services, postal logistics, and other delivery services , you must obtain a license from the NIPOST. If you are not licensed, it then becomes an illegal operation.

I have a lot of complaints in our office, because some of these guys kill people, from our arrest, we have seen some of them carrying drugs and other prohibited items. “So, we are doing constant pin down and enforcement of the law. In Abuja we have arrested over 200 illegal courier operators, and in Lagos we have arrested over 500. Illegal courier operation is a criminal offence, and a crime against the state, so we hand them over to the Police to handle the prosecution.

“Once we arrest and discover that you are carrying illicit drugs or wanted items, we hand them over to relevant agencies. We are in partnership with NDLEA, Customs and the NSCDC. “We have also given to these agencies the list of licensed operators nationwide. We are embarking on public education to sanitize the e-commerce sector. We are also creating partnerships with other relevant stakeholders, so that they will not be ignorant of the law.”

Riders’ defence

Allegations of recklessness, and other misdemeanour against the dispatch riders may completely not be a case of giving a dog a bad name, because some of them admitted to the offences, but still came up with defence for this. Godwin Adams, a dispatch rider and an independent courier service provider, agreed that the unrepentant characteristics of disobedience to traffic rules attributed to his peers in the industry were true. Adams, however, justified their flagrant violation of traffic rules, to the demands and urgency required in the service. He said that the riders were always rushing to meet up with time and also avoid being penalised by their companies. According to him: “Beating the traffic light allegation is true, because many of the riders always want to meet up with time. Especially those that work for big courier companies. “Many of the riders will lose money if they are behind schedule. If they don’t meet up with time, their office can deduct money from their salary.”

Measures adopted by courier companies

Chucks Nkemakolam, a manager in one of the courier service firms in Abuja, disclosed that part of measures his firm already adopted to curtail recklessness by riders, is getting them to sign an undertaking at the point of recruitment. He also noted that once a rider working for his firm is arrested by law enforcement agencies for any established offence, such a person is shown the way out. On the allegation of drug peddling by dispatch riders, Nkemakolam said he cannot defend nor exonerate anyone, saying he can only vouch for his company. He added that dispatch riders working for his company have never been caught in such a web of illegality.

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