Obnoxious checkpoints from Lagos to Calabar
The Senate’s recent appeal to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to reduce the number of security checkpoints on the federal highways should be regarded by the authorities concerned as an assignment of urgent national importance. The call is in public interest and so should not be ignored by the IGP and other security agencies at this festive period.
The prevalence of armed robbery, kidnappings, marauding killer herders, cultists and ritualists, among other testaments of insecurity, justify the presence of security operatives, though not the current barricades that put major roads on lockdown as security operatives make frivolous checks and financial demands on law-abiding citizens. We once again reiterate that security is more of intelligence gathering than physical presence or lounging by uniformed men. But in the interim, the road users are advised to brace up for the worse, while hoping for safe and itch-free travels in this season of goodwill.
Indeed, the sight of multiple checkpoints across major highways is enough to draw the ire of all, not only that of the lawmakers. Across the nooks and crannies of the country, the heavy deployment of checkpoints is a grim reality that is typical of territories under siege. It is as if the menace of Boko Haram has now infected the South West and South East even more than it is in the North East.
Let’s be fair to the security operatives. The turnpikes had increased in the wake of kidnappers and daredevil killer herdsmen reducing our major arteries to a theatre of war. With air travel still poorly connecting the cities or simply nightmarish due to delays and cancellations by airlines operators, terrorists are waylaying the highways for their targets.
No one should forget so soon the dastardly killing of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, in an alleged kidnapping attempt by herdsmen on the Ondo-Ore Expressway. Just before that, a visiting family of three from Canada – father, mother and daughter – were abducted and all raped by kidnappers before their ransom arrived. Memories of these gory incidents, among many unsung others, will forever haunt these families and forever too will they loathe the Nigerian system that let them down at the most critical time of their lives.
To deliver us from evil, the Federal Government announced the deployment of troops on the highways. It means travelling was never going to be convenient; it never was. On the flipside, the speed bumps of stop and search were the prices to pay for safe travels and security. Snaking at snail-pace on the highway is by far lesser evil than scampering to dodge AK-47 bullets that are randomly shot by maniacs that often are called kidnappers and herdsmen. After all, we are all better late than never. For these efforts at keeping us safer even at the expense of their own lives, we thank the security operatives.
However, the ugly and regrettable side of the development is the multiplicity of the barricades and extortions that go with it. Today, across all the federal highways in the Southern parts of the country are checkpoints by diverse security agencies – the Army, Police, Customs, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Immigration. Worse still, the agencies are resorting to self-duplications such that it is possible to, from one checkpoint, sight another between 200 metres to one kilometre ahead. Between Omotosho and Ore, in Ondo State, a distance of 39 kilometres, for instance, there are about 20 checkpoints. A traveller once counted a total of 400 checkpoints between Lagos and Onitsha, with travel-time now more than double for road users.
Most reprehensible is that most of the stop-and-search units are often to squeeze the commuters. After the verifications of car essential documents, accessories and baggage, the next is to demand freebees – by hook or crook. Such actions negate the good intention of keeping the highways safer and this act stands condemnable at this time.
It is in this sense that the IGP, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, and other heads of security agencies cannot leave the proliferation of checkpoints unchecked. In their ranks are many officers who are bent on giving the agency and Nigeria as a whole, a bad name. Specifically, Adamu should note that an empty declaration against police extortion will be futile. His earlier proclamations had gone unheeded by his men. It is also no longer acceptable that the customs would be so complacent to allow unregistered vehicles to bypass the border posts with the hope of apprehending them in highways’ stop-and-search. As the Senate had called, all the concerned parties must do everything possible to keep the checkpoints minimal, as their men deploy more intelligence in combating the threat to life and property.
Officials on checkpoint duties too must be reminded that this is the season of goodwill. They must watch and lower their expectations from the travelling public, who are already stressed by the decrepit state of the roads. Mounting roadblocks for the sake of extortion is never charitable nor likely to earn anyone goodwill. More so, the main security threats operate by no rules whatsoever and often avoid your checkpoints. It is the law-abiding citizens who approach the checkpoints in orderly manner. So, reduce the checkpoints and keep the traffic flowing.
Above all, it is also our prayers that the road users would be more tolerant with the security operatives. They deserve our respect and goodwill. In one way or the other, they are our neighbours, if not friends or family members. So, let us be our brothers’ keepers this season. Even in the face of provocation, let us be more patient, never antagonistic. This is a timely warning to the security agencies too that when citizens are tired of oppression on the highways, they will resist and demand responsibility and decency from officers of the law they are paying to guard them on the highways. All told, the Senate and indeed all representatives even at state levels must as a matter of priority monitor and evaluate compliance with the resolution for reduction of checkpoints on the highways even beyond the festive seasons.
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