A ban on motorbikes in the Tillabéri region in western Niger was lifted on September 1. Tillabéri has for years been the target of attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups. Although many locals are glad to once again be allowed to ride motorbikes, worries remain.
In the region’s capital, also called Tillabéri, motorcyclists have returned to the streets for the first time since January 2020. The ban on motorbikes was put in place to try to combat terrorism carried out by Sahel branches of the Islamic State group or al Qaeda. Terrorists from these groups often used motorbikes to ride into villages and carry out attacks against residents.
"Here, a motorbike is essential for getting from one place to another"
For Djibril, a lorry driver, the government’s decision was a relief.
The town celebrated the return of motorbikes to the region. People went to tinker with their motorbikes that had been parked and unused for so long. The ban on motorbikes was really difficult. Here in Tillabéri there are a lot of rural communities and a motorbike is essential for getting from one place to another. Not everyone has the money to have a car.
The ban meant that people had to wait for market day, which happens once a week, to try and find a vehicle so they could do their shopping in the village. Can you imagine how difficult it is for people who have to shop every day?
In the town, car taxis hiked up their prices because there weren’t any motorbike taxis anymore. Motorbike taxis had the advantage of being fast and cheap. Lots of people had to change jobs. Motorbike mechanics for example became welders or drivers. Those who couldn’t do anything else found themselves without a job.
"Women had to walk three or five kilometres to get to a prenatal consultation"
Saidou Hangadoumbo, a doctor in the town of Tillabéri and a former local politician, says that the time had come to lift the ban.
They shouldn’t have kept the ban going for so long, for economic as well as social reasons. Lots of teachers who used motorbikes to work in schools in rural areas were impacted by the ban.
Access to healthcare became difficult too, above all for women, who had to walk three or five kilometres or even further to get to a prenatal consultation.
That said, there aren’t many motorbikes on the streets yet because no one has motorbikes anymore – many people sold theirs. So the streets are a lot less noisy than they were before.
"How will soldiers be able to tell the difference between innocent civilians and terrorists?"
However, not everyone supports the end of the ban. Daouda Moukaila, a member of the local security council in the commune of Anzourou, told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the decision could make the Nigerien army’s job more difficult.
We asked for the ban to just be lifted in urban areas in the region and not in hamlets and villages.
We’re nervous about the possible consequences for local communities. Armed terrorist groups always operate using motorbikes in the villages. How will army soldiers be able to tell the difference between innocent civilians and terrorists?
Before, we could easily let the army know if there was someone riding a motorbike in a certain area. We’re afraid that the army will make mistakes by not being able to distinguish between a normal citizen and a terrorist, who will just take advantage of the law being lifted to go unnoticed.
We’ve been spreading the word to locals to not use their motorbikes for the time being.
In May, more than 10,000 people fled Anzourou in the space of two days after a series of jihadist attacks.
"The terrorists entered the villages on motorbikes. Before killing the inhabitants, they stole cattle and burnt down around 50 barns," a resident told the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, more than 420 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year in the west of the country. This doesn’t include the 37 people killed on August 16 in a terrorist attack on the village of Darey-Daye.