Why police officers defy IGP’s order to disband checkpoints
Despite the order given by successive Inspectors General of Police (IGP) that police checkpoints across the country should be disbanded, the proliferation of the checkpoints, which a lot of Nigerians perceive as meant to exploit the citizens, particularly motorists, has continued unabated especially in Lagos where they are mounted within short distance. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes that the security officers even lobby and offer bribe to get transferred to Lagos to be able to make money from the flagrant disobedience of the order of the IGP.
Despite the agitation for dismantling of all ‘exploitative’ police checkpoints across the country, especially in Lagos State, more are being mounted within short distance on the roads.
The police personnel are not deterred by the restrictive order from the successive IGPs who banned erection of checkpoints and ordered that they be disbanded, especially during the #EndSARS protests in the country.
As many observers wonder whether the rank and file of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) who mount these checkpoints wields greater power than the IGPs who banned them, others feel the police bosses are never serious about disbanding the checkpoints due to economic gains.
The situation is more worrisome when the police personnel would not be seen doing their official job at places where they are seriously needed but are found in clusters at places where their presence is less required.
It was learnt that there are over 60 police checkpoints between Lagos and Onitsha in Anambra State and some hundreds of other checkpoints in Lagos. The Guardian’s investigation revealed that the proliferation of police checkpoints across the country is mostly for economic considerations than provision of security.
Apart from the checkpoints manned by the police officers, there are others being mounted by the military, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO), Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Customs, Immigrations and officials of the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) along Badagry-Seme Road, among others.
At most of the checkpoints, the security officers use Area boys also known as Agberos to collect money from motorists. They extort not only drivers of commercial vehicle but car owners, especially car importers, for putting their new vehicles described as ‘new arrivals’ on the road.
The Guardian observed that the Agberos at a military checkpoint under the bridge at Alakija, along Mile 2 – Badagry Expresway, also collect money (Owo Ile) from residents who transport cows and goats home to be slaughtered. At this checkpoint, there are also police, LASTMA and FRSC personnel.
It was gathered that security personnel usually lobby to man these checkpoints with an undertaken to remit certain percentage of the money they make to the senior officer that posted them to the beat.
The Guardian also gathered that some officers outside Lagos do lobby and engage in financial inducement of their senior officers to get transferred to Lagos, where they believe there are opportunities for them to enlarge their coast through the exploitative checkpoints.
Some of the security personnel extort motorists jocularly, making appeals such as Oga, your boys are here oo… anything for the boys? and Oga make we drink something nah. Others create soft-landing for offenders by allowing settlement. By such option, one could negotiate one’s way out of any trouble by parting with certain amount of money.
In this category of officers are those who ambush motorists who are without valid driver’s licence, fire extinguisher, those with expired vehicle licence and other vehicles particulars. The VIOs check for a number of things including shattered screen with the plot to extort motorists.
At Cele Bus Stop, Ijesha, on both ends of the Cele-Ijesha Bridge, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos, police, LASTMA and VIOs compete for space to control the checkpoints. The VIOs are on one side and the police are on the other side while LASTMA mounts guard on the road divider waiting for motorists that would violate the traffic law so the officials can jump into the offender’s vehicle. The bottom line is exploitation.
At FESTAC, along the First Avenue, there is a checkpoint at the Firstgate and there is another one towards the FESTAC Bridge. Also at the junction before the New Catholic Church, there is a checkpoint and at the junction between 4Th and 1st Avenue, there is another checkpoint.
Along the 4th Avenue, there is one checkpoint immediately after the 21Road and 4th Avenue junction. There is a ‘permanent’ military roadblock at the end of the 4th Avenue and another one at the beginning of 7th Avenue due to alleged illegal oil bunkering being perpetrated in that area.
Occasionally at the 2nd Avenue, police would mount a checkpoint in front of their station during the day while all the checkpoints are constantly mounted at night till the early hours of the morning when motorists are intercepted for checks. Sometimes, the security personnel would be found after the junction between the 5th and 2nd Avenues. At the junction between 7th and 2nd Avenues, by Alakija, there is another checkpoint.
After the Stop and Search team at Alakija, while descending from Alakija Flyover, there is a checkpoint by Abule-Ado flyover connecting to FESTAC. There is another one before the Trade Fair Bridge, Barracks, Volx and Iyanoba. The Guardian learnt that there are over 22 checkpoints on that axis.
From Badagry to Seme, it is almost the same situation. All the uniform agencies’ personnel, including the Immigration, are there.sssss
Before Agbara, coming from Seme to Lagos, soldiers would mount five checkpoints in the evening at Odofa, Luri, Oko-Afo and two other bus stops between Badagry and Oko-Afo.
For Customs, there are about eight checkpoints, contrary to the three ordered by the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).
The checkpoints by the Customs are manned by different units of the Service, including the Seme Border Command, Comptroller General’s Strike Force, Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and others.
The Gbaji checkpoint has become so infamous as motorists spend between 30 minutes and one hour to do less than five- kilometre distance. Both the police and Immigration officers have Seme commands and border patrols at Seme.
Coming from Mile 2 to Oshodi, after the one at the Mile 2, there is another checkpoint by Iyana-Itire on the service lane. And just before Iyana-Isolo, there is another one. Coming to Aswani after Five Star Bus-stop, off the express, there is another checkpoint by Osolo-Express link road, opposite Emzor Pharmacy. The situation continues.
It is disgusting seeing police checkpoints along the airport road, which is a gateway to the country, at very close intervals.
As motorists pay fees at the tollgate, the police are there in most cases to check vehicles’ documents. Some poles after the same tollgate, there is another police checkpoint before the Air Force base. Most times, before getting to the airport’s tollgate, there are FRSC personnel stopping vehicles.
On the reasons for the continued erection of checkpoints, a police source told The Guardian that a lot of officers are on the road to make money to augment whatever they are paid as a salary by the Federal Government.
Though he claimed he didn’t lobby to be deployed to Lagos, but said he had seen the reason many officers would do anything to get deployed to Lagos.
The source who said he came from Kano to Lagos noted it was hard to make money in the North because checkpoints are not many.
Comparing Kano with Lagos, he said: “There is money in Lagos. One can make money from operating a checkpoint and from goodwill from well-meaning Nigerians. The socio-economic situation in the country where police officers are not adequately taken care of has shifted the goal post. Police officers now see checkpoints as a way of making money for themselves through offenders who would opt for settlement.
“You should understand that the major reason for mounting a checkpoint is to control crime and fish out criminal elements in the society. It’s at the checkpoint that we recover stolen vehicles sometimes, arrest people with arms and ammunition, and arrest ritualists with human parts.
“You can’t underestimate the importance of checkpoints. I agree with you that there are some checkpoints that shouldn’t be, especially those that are mounted close to each other. We use them, sometimes, to cushion the effects of the economy on us,” he said.
The source explained that “when there is a crime in Agbara and we receive intelligence, we will mount emergency checkpoints at Alakija or Mile 2 or at another place where the criminals will not be expecting to meet any checkpoint. So, checkpoints are to save the situation. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Trying to justify mounting of checkpoints, he said: “We spend money on virtually everything. We spend our money to buy boots, which the government is supposed to provide for us. We sow our own uniform and caps. If you look closely at the police uniform, you will notice that the colours are not the same.
“You will see some difference in what we wear. Is this normal? If we don’t mount checkpoints, where do we get money for these expenses we do. Our bosses will not stand here because most of them are big and bigger than this. They are also comfortable but they can’t be here; we get permit to go.
“Sometimes, we will be the ones that will meet our Ogas and beg them to allow us to mount a roadblock to make some money. When they allow us, they will still have their own share. Sometimes, emergency checkpoints are not because there is an intelligence gathering, but to make small money.
“You are a Nigerian; you know what is happening. In some cases, when there is no fuel in the station to run our generator or fuel the patrol vans, we need to take permission to do one thing or the order. We mount checkpoint, raise money and buy fuel. Once we achieve that, we go back.
“Also, during some official motorised patrols, officers can stop briefly to make some money for food and drinks. At this point, we are not looking for offence; we don’t stay long. Just expecting good Nigerians to do us well.”
On why lobbying to come to Lagos, a retired police officer said: “There is money in Lagos and the state has the population of people who are ready to settle and continue their businesses.
“Lagos residents don’t want to waste their time. They are always ready for settlement to allow them to carry on with their businesses. Lagos is a commercial centre and people easily part with good amount of money when being threatened.”
The Guardian learnt that offering bribe to security officers in Lagos is spurred by the fact that there are many illegal businesses in the state and the owners prefer to settle the police to look the other side while they do their businesses.
A resident, Kunle Adekan, who was dealing in adulterated engine oil and oil bunkering in FESTAC before the military post was located between the 7th Avenue and the 4th Avenue, used to settle certain officers on a regular basis to be able to remain in the business.
At a time when he wanted to stop the business because of the huge amount he was paying to the officers, he was encouraged to continue. They said to him: “You don’t have sense. So, you want to stop and to be idle? Are we collecting all the money from you? Do your own and give us our own. If you stop, what do you want to be doing?”
Explaining why orders to disband checkpoints are not being obeyed, security experts said it had to do with the will to enforce the orders, lamenting that the IGPs would say one thing but the officers would do another thing. According to the experts, the IGPs are not firm with their declaration, which has become a ritual with each successive IGP.
In a chat with one of the officers at a checkpoint in FESTAC (Name withheld), he said the reason for lobbying for deployment to Lagos was not different from the reason many Nigerians were coming to Lagos in search of white-collar job.
“There is only one major reason officers want to be transferred to Lagos like every other person. People go to where opportunity exists. Lagos is a place of high opportunities. It has the population and it’s easier to make money in Lagos than Borno State.
“There is money in Lagos. There are big men who are ready to share with the police. Some of them want police protection and are ready to pay the officers. Some of them want you to patrol around their house, offices or business centres so that people will know that police are on guard there.
“Even big churches use police during vigil. The presence of police at an event or church vigils does a lot to the psyche of the worshippers and those with criminal intentions. The bottom point is that there is job opportunity in Lagos.
“We are looking for opportunities because we also have bills to pay like every other Nigerian. We have families, children and friends who are looking up to us.
“So, for us to meet up with our obligations, with the peanuts that we are paid as salary, those who violate the laws must be arrested. Some of them opt for settlement instead of going to jail. We are also human beings, so we allow those who promise not to commit crime again to settle out of station,” he said.
Apart from police checkpoints, VIOs are also mounting checkpoints and exploiting motorists.
A motorist, Mr. Emeka Nnoruka, was driving from FESTAC through Apple Junction in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos State. On getting to the Apple Junction Traffic Light, a VIO ordered a junior officer to stop him.
The inexperienced officer approached the motorist and requested for his driver’s licence, which the motorist gave to him without suspecting any offence. But to his amazement, the officer handed the driver’s licence over to his superior who pocketed it, telling the motorist to pull over.
The officer accused the motorist of committing a traffic offence, but the motorist disagreed. The motorist was later told that he had a shattered windscreen, a short single line on the screen. The motorist insisted he did not commit any offence.
When the officers saw that the motorist, who was a journalist, was unyielding and refused to part with money, they allowed him to go and gave him his licence.
The VIOs at that junction were up to10 in number. They positioned themselves on the roads coming from FESTAC and the other road coming from Second Rainbow on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway to Apple Junction. The hungry-looking officers stop vehicles with threat to impound them, an intimidation that makes their victims to opt for settlement.
The VIOs demand for driver’s licence in their strategy to arrest motorists, and list different offences including shattered screen, which could be a single crack line on the screen.
There’s no how you won’t see policemen on roads – Police
The Force Public Police Relations Officer (FPRO), Olumuyiwa Adejobi said policemen were on the roads for police visibility.
Adejobi, who said the cancellation of roadblocks was because of extortion, harassment and extra-judicial killings, maintained that it is one of the strategies adopted by the security agency to effectively police the country. He said no IGP would ban stop and search.
He said that the masses should be able to differentiate between four strategies, which he listed as roadblock, search point, observation point and pin-down point.
“If the roadblock is not the one in which they put logs on the road to form zigzag movement, it is not a roadblock. A situation where we have policemen stay in a bad portion of the road is not a roadblock, it is a stop and search point. Because there is no log of wood or drums on the road, it is still a stop and search point.
“Where there are policemen seated inside their vehicles, it is either you call it an observation point or nipping point. So, we have roadblocks in some areas across the country created at the instance of the governor of those states.
“Some governors write to the police that they want roadblocks and in some places, we know we can’t operate without proper roadblocks. There is no how you won’t see policemen on the road. It is their job to be there as part of visibility policing and no IG has cancelled ‘stop and search points.’
“They cancelled roadblocks because of extortion, harassment and extra-judicial killings, yet it’s one of the strategies adopted by police to police effectively. So, we should be able to differentiate between these four strategies.”
When contacted to speak on the proliferation of checkpoints and roadblocks on Lagos roads as well as allegation of extortion of motorists by police, the Lagos State Command Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundyin, declined comment.
However, the police are advised to monitor without checkpoints. In this digital age, they can acquire modern software to check vehicle particulars without stopping road users anyhow.
The Senator representing Enugu North, Chukwuka Utazi, once moved a motion on the floor of the Senate to lament the number of checkpoints being used to oppress motorists and cause hardship.
“Sixty checkpoints are what a traveller and the motoring public will have to confront in moving from Lagos to Onitsha. You know what that means. The Senate will not renege on our responsibilities when the masses of this country complain that government police meant to protect them have been turned into oppressive conduct by those concerned and which the IGP and people of his ilk may not be aware of.”
Following this complain, the Senate asked the then IGP, Adamu, to reduce the number of checkpoints on federal highways across the country to reduce the gridlock on the roads.
Adamu was also urged to direct his officers to stop extortion of motorists while carrying out their checks.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.