A motorcycle ban intended to curb drive-by killings in Nigeria's restive northeast has put thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers out of work, a union leader said Friday.
Kaigama Mohammed, the Borno State chairman of the Motorcycle Transport Union of Nigeria, said the move has affected some 7,000 drivers in the urban centers of Maiduguri and Jere.
The government ban is a last-ditch effort to put an end to regular motorcycle-mounted attacks which have claimed dozens of lives in the area. Authorities blame a radical Muslim sect locally known as Boko Haram for the killings which have targeted police officers, soldiers, clerics and local leaders.
"The governor told me that the security of the state and its citizens take precedence over everything else," Mohammed said. Police have also installed numerous checkpoints in an effort to catch sect members.
Boko Haram, which wants the strict implementation of Shariah law across Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north, has also attacked local beer parlors, churches and engineered a massive prison break. The continued violence in the area has left residents in fear as federal authorities seem unable to stop the group from attacking at will.
The state government promised to provide 5,000 rickshaws and new buses to make up for the motorcycles, but drivers and commuters are unhappy about the sudden move.
"I have lost my only source of income and parked my motorcycle at home. Now, how do I feed myself, wife and my five children?" said Tijani Bulama, a 45-year old driver.
A commuter, John Tize, 34, said his eight children walked for 45 minutes Friday to get to school because he couldn't afford to pay for bus fares.
Boko Haram was thought to be destroyed in 2009 after Nigeria's military crushed its mosque into concrete shards and its leader was arrested and died in police custody. However, the group has been carrying out a series of attacks, including a bombing last month at national police headquarters in the capital of Abuja that killed at least two people.
Once considered by Nigerians to be a local problem, Boko Haram now dominates talk in the nation of 150 million people divided largely into a Christian south and Muslim north.
Tensions in Nigeria are fueled by poverty and unemployment in a country where an unreliable power supply has led to the closure of factories and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the textile industry alone over the last few years, especially in the Muslim north.