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The political economy of Lagos police checkpoints

By Martins Oloja
23 January 2022   |   3:28 am
This discussion point isn’t another seminal article on the expediency of adequate funding or reform of the police service in Nigeria.
Abiodun Alabi

Lagos State police commissioner Abiodun Alabi

This discussion point isn’t another seminal article on the expediency of adequate funding or reform of the police service in Nigeria. It isn’t about lessons learnt or not learnt on the controversial #EndSARS protest, the authorities in Nigeria have failed to deconstruct, honestly. This is just a caveat to the political authorities in Lagos, the economic capital of West Africa, that the time has come for them to pay attention to the implications of the many oppressive police checkpoints in the city centres of Lagos, our Lagos. This again is not a time for duty bearers in Lagos to play the ostrich by asking why this writer is focusing on police checkpoints instead of continuing to write on weightier matters of insecurity and rampaging corruption that have paralysed the world’s most populous black nation. This is a time to draw attention to the little foxes that have been spoiling the vines of Nigeria’s most significant city the Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) last year tagged the second most stressful city in the world.

The EIU had then noted that Lagos was second only to Mumbai in India, their research showed as the most stressful city in the world. Most media organs in Nigeria curiously failed or refused to publish the story last year but our failure to report the remarkable story as part of our social responsibility hasn’t obliterated the reality of Lagos as a stressful city. This isn’t time to discuss the critical factors that have continued to make Lagos as a city on a hill that can’t be ignored by any Nigerian. It is a city that the media have continued to under-report even as most of us operate from the city. Please, don’t ask me questions yet about a state whose economy is beginning to compete with the economy of the central government in Nigeria and South Africa’s. I have a dream that with a proper restructuring of the political economy of the commercial capital that Murtala Muhammed promised on February 3, 1976 while proclaiming Abuja as Nigeria’s capital, Lagos can be to Nigeria what California is to the United States. California, a state in the United States, is the world’s sixth largest economy.

Let’s come to the brass tacks: the expediency of regulating or eliminating obnoxious police checkpoints in Lagos. As I was saying, before it is too late for a worse outbreak of #EndSARS, the Governor of Lagos State should lend us his ears: he should gather intelligence on how the Lagos police command deploys its men to oppress Lagos road users through daily extortion. The police operatives in this business of extortion in Lagos are very artful: they use the vehicles the Lagos authorities provide for them to get to the beats where they carry out these obnoxious operations by purporting to check vehicle particulars of all categories of vehicles. They always mount the checkpoints in difficult corners and bends where traffic congestions are constant. They don’t care about gridlocks they worsen every day, everywhere. It is unconscionable that state officials are never around to ask why police who have a responsibility to help in traffic flow in already congested Lagos are now the triggers of gridlock. They know viable routes from Apapa through Oshodi to Ilupeju and Mushin where Ladipo markets are situated. I have seen police active checkpoints in the rain along Fatai Atere Way in Mushin, Lagos. Once opon a time, the police erected their checkpoints by the traffic light junction on the same Fatai Atere Way. When we complained to their commanders in 2020 why police should not be stopping vehicles traffic lights had signalled to go, they only relocated barely 200 metres away from the same traffic light on a major highway. They are still there – at the gateway to Ladipo spare-parts market.

What is more embarrassing inside Lagos than police checkpoints along the new airport road from Oshodi? At the moment, from Oshodi, immediately after the bridge, police in Lagos have the audacity to set up an extortion checkpoint on the new expressway to the airport. They were there even yesterday. When you pay at the airport tollgate, they are most times there immediately to check your vehicle documents. About a kilometre after the same FAAN tollgate, there is a police station before the Airforce base. The police by the roundabout there (before turning to Mafoluku) and before the Air-force base, they set up another checkpoint to check vehicle particulars. Most times before getting to the airport tollgate, you find Road Safety Corps officers too stopping vehicles. Apart from the airport road, there is another lucrative bridge called Cele Bridge along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway where Lagos police and Vehicle Inspection Officers compete to extort sorry to check vehicle particulars. They stand in front of each other to check particulars and other documents for goods delivery vans. They cause heavy traffic every day at the end of the bridge. No one checks their excesses. Road users suffer and smile and leave everything to God as we do everywhere in Nigeria. These are just a few examples of how Lagos can now be described as a police state.

The authorities in Lagos just need to be warned to be ready to face the consequences of shirking their responsibility to the residents who are already complaining to only God about the burden and yoke of multiple taxation in Lagos. Lagos residents and people doing business in Lagos have given up on possibility of sanity because of perception that Lagos is not about good service delivery or sanity on the road. It is about revenue mobilisation swagger. It is just curious why this particular government has surrendered the city to the police to damage the reputation of the state and police. How do you want foreign direct investors to come to a city where there are several police checkpoints harassing commuters from international to the local airport? Today is not a day to contextualise the political economy of the multiple checkpoints at the Apapa ports. It is just a day to talk to the government of Lagos State to use the opportunity provided by the arrival of a new Lagos State Commissioner of Police – to do what the new Commissioner of Police in Ondo State did before Christmas and New Year festivities. I had then reported here that the new Commissioner of Police in Ondo State reduced 42 checkpoints to three in December, 2021. I reported this feat while I was preparing for my dad’s burial. When I used the same route on Tuesday, January 11, 2022 for the burial, the checkpoint from Sagamu Interchange to Ore had been reduced to only two. That made my journey from Lagos to Ore to be within two hours. That was unprecedented. It used to be for four hours.

I am old enough to know the value of police service in any country. The police officers we are discussing are not foreigners. They are our brothers and sisters. I know enough of public affairs to hold an opinion that we cannot manage internal security without an efficient and well-equipped police force. In fact, I benefited from police service during my father’s burial in Ajagba, Ondo State last week. The Divisional Police Officer in Ajagba was quite excellent as he mobilised his own operatives to maintain security within the town and our premises throughout the ceremonies. They were impressive. I remain grateful to the officers in the Division. Don’t get it twisted, we need the police force but not the one that will deploy its officers on the highways to extort the people they are employed to protect through intolerable checkpoints that worsen traffic in a major city such as Lagos. They were not like this even at the beginning of this republic some 22 years ago.

The vexatious issue of police checkpoints has dominated some security and media parleys and there have been assurances by police authorities. There must have been some fundamental economic reasons they cannot dismantle checkpoints on the highways. There must be some serious reasons other than security the Lagos checkpoints keep increasing. I had asked the other day why the police officers who manned the 42 checkpoints along Sagamu-Ore, for instance, were not deployed to the Kaduna-Abuja highway that has become a deadly axis. The answer to this question continues to blow in the wind. There are police checkpoints that are causing problems in the South East. But my concern today is Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and West Africa’s economic capital. There is no doubt that the city is under incessant pressure as a commercial capital playing host to the only two functional Seaports in Nigeria. We understand that the Lagos State Government-powered Police Security Fund is working well. What is more, the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) arm of the police in Lagos has received several commendations from their efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery in Lagos. They have recovered a lot of stolen goods and even electronic gadgets for victims in Lagos. So, the current status of harassing residents and road users has become a blight upon the excellent service of RRS.

And here is the thing, the Lagos State government should put its own house in order. Everything should be done decently and in order before they can check police excesses. The Lagos State government should note that there are too many local government touts extorting motorbike and tricycle riders every day for some political officers and local chiefs. There have been some whispers that police must have drawn inspiration from these touts who have become uncontrollable. They are everywhere in Lagos oppressing these vulnerable auto-bike riders who don’t obey traffic rules anyway because their oppressors protect them.

However, I can’t understand why the Lagos State House of Assembly members and even the Lagos State representatives at National Assembly do not always deconstruct and mention human rights issues including the political economy of police checkpoints, among other critical factors that have made even global media to tag Lagos, our Lagos as one of the most chaotic and stressful cities in the world. My specific appeal here is to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to step out today and give us a new-year gift by dismantling all the police checkpoints in Lagos – before it is too late. Police can monitor without checkpoints of extortion. In this digital age, they can acquire modern software to check vehicle particulars without stopping road users anyhow.