January 9, 2009

News agency Reuters reports that Nigerian police have arrested scores of motorcycle taxi riders who have tied dried fruit shells, paint pots or pieces of rubber tyre to their heads with string to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets.

The new regulations which came into force on 1 January, have caused chaos in Africa’s most populous nation, where motorcycle taxis or “okadas” often carry two or three or even four passengers squashed up behind the “driver” round the chaotic and crowded streets of cities like Lagos and Kano. Many motorcyclists complain that helmets are too expensive and their passengers are refusing to wear them fearing they will catch diseases such as scabies, craw-craw, ringworm or dandruff ‚ or become victims of black magic spells.

The law is causing frequent confrontations between two rival factions equally feared by Nigerian motorists: the okada operators, who are notoriously prone to erratic riding and road-rage, and the bribe-hungry traffic police.

Some bikers are using calabashes (the dried half-shells of a gourd-like local fruit the size of a pumpkin, usually used as bowls) or pots and pans tied to their heads with string to try to dodge the rules. Meanwhile construction workers have set up a lucrative trade renting out their safety helmets for around 500 Naira (2.42 GBP) a day.


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