A FLOOD OF MISERY

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Monday comment2

Adewale Kupoluyi argues that many vehicular checks on the highways are unnecessary

A major burden placed on motorists is the seeming duplicity of vehicular checks by security agents. This practice has not only become a nuisance but a nightmare as many drivers are not even sure of what they might encounter when plying the roads. Almost at the same time, motorists driving on intrastate and interstate roads regularly confront officers from the Nigeria Police Force, Federal Road Safety Commission, Vehicle Inspection Office, state road traffic authority, environmental protection agency, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Army, and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, among others.

No doubt, the security agencies have different mandates. Some of these operational activities are overlapping but the main issue is that in the course of discharging these responsibilities, they often give unnecessary agony to the people, making one wonder whether their presence is to protect the people or to inflict pain on them; all in the name of safety and security. A few days ago, a taxi driver was flagged down by VIO personnel and asked to produce his car papers. He confidently released the documents not knowing that the certificate of roadworthiness had expired. He had assumed that the lifespan of the certificate, which he processed alongside the vehicle insurance, was for one year and not six months.

For driving with an expired document, he was threatened that he would be sanctioned. Along the line, someone advised him to ‘settle’ the officer so as not to be delayed unnecessarily but he (driver) declined. Rather, he opted to be fined and pay the official fees. What drew my interest during the driver’s conversation with the officers was that they refused to be lenient with him on the excuse that he knew that the document would expire after six months. During the argument, the VIO personnel told him that no amount of plea would make a difference because they were given specific targets on the number of erring drivers that must be booked for the day!

At another time, a road safety corps demanded specific car papers from a taxi driver. Having been able to produce the necessary ones and still not satisfied, the officer requested evidence for the installation of a speed-limiting device. Completely disenchanted, the driver sought to know when it became an issue to be enforced. This led to an altercation and at the end of the day; the driver had to part with some amount of money before he was let off the hook. The same scenario is played out with other law enforcement agents on our roads.

A more sympathetic scenario involved a senior citizen, who was asked to show up for pensioners’ verification exercise in a nearby state. Not being too familiar with the roads, he innocently approached one of the traffic officers on the correct lane to ply, to avoid breaching rules. To his surprise, he was asked to take the inappropriate lane, only for another colleague, who had misled him, to hotly pursue him and charge him for driving on the wrong lane. After appealing to him that it was another staff like him, wearing the same uniform with him that mischievously directed him to take the route, he denied knowing anyone like such and demanded bribe money or risk being arrested. In the end, the old man was forced to give him money so as not to be delayed unnecessarily.

There are other agonising examples that I have personally read, seen or heard about. It is the same problem everywhere. It’s always a case of exploitation, deceit, and high-handedness. Unfortunately, government authorities do not appear to be helping matters, as little or no attention is paid to the plight of motorists. On several occasions, the police high command had announced that it has stopped roadblocks across the country. What happens is that immediately the directive is given, roadblocks disappear, only to reappear, again. Rather than serving as a means of crime deterrence and rapid response, the checkpoints are used to perpetrate bribery, extortion and human rights abuses.

According to the civil rights group; Intersociety for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, a whopping sum of N306 billion had been extorted at checkpoints from Nigerians in the south-south and south-east geopolitical zones alone within a two-year period, an amount that represents the estimated total of security shakedowns between August 2015 and October 2019 at about 6,300 police and 600 military checkpoints spread across the two regions. Intersociety’s report has further revealed that N56 billion was extorted at checkpoints manned by the military.

From the modus operandi of the various security personnel, not much is being achieved on the roads in the name of checking and demanding vehicle particulars. Many innocent motorists have been attacked, brutalised, raped, and killed while resisting the illegality committed by security personnel. Many security operatives are rude, arrogant and act as if they are above the law. Without delay, the respective agencies should call their staff to order, to desist from punishing drivers unjustly. This abnormal operational mode makes drivers engage in sharp and corrupt practices to beat the security agents, who appear to be working to meet revenue targets by collecting money illegally from motorists.

Not only that, prices of goods and commodities become unnecessarily expensive because the fines and bribe monies forced on commercial drivers are passed on to consumers. The existing driver’s licence should be upgraded to have more security features such that many documents would not be demanded from motorists simultaneously. It is rather unfortunate that the national identity card scheme has not been developed properly to serve multiple functions unlike what is obtainable in other countries. We have what it takes to have a better and functional system.

It is only hoped that the planned Nigerian military’s nationwide operation to demand identity cards from citizens across the country code-named ‘Operation Positive Identification’, meant to see soldiers accosting citizens on the streets or highways and asking them to produce means of identification on the spot, would not be counter-productive. Apart from the likelihood of exploitation and human rights violation, the operation could be used to victimise citizens, as usual, rather than combating security challenges.

The idea of arbitrarily stopping people on the highways is likely to be dehumanising, especially when carried out under the present arrangement where there is poor coordination of national identification. People have many economic troubles to contend with. The military should suspend the operation. Amid the prevailing insecurity in the land, we can manage the security architecture better than what is now obtainable. Security chiefs should be more creative and sensitive to the people and the environment. All that is needed is the sincerity of purpose and political will to make things work better not only on security matters but in other facets of our national life.

Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta