The many checkpoints mounted by security officers are sources of frustration and delay

The Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Damian Okeke-Ogene recently expressed dismay over roadblocks and extortions across roads in the Southeast. “Today, the roadblocks have increased, even to residential areas, and nobody is talking. The level of extortions at these roadblocks is enough to build a third Niger Bridge,” said Okeke-Ogene who lamented that various units of law enforcement agencies had continued to mount roadblocks across the region, particularly for extorting the motoring public, rather than for security reasons. Unfortunately, Okeke-Ogene is expressing a popular opinion on an old issue. Roadblocks and checkpoints mounted by security officers on Lagos-Benin-Onitsha Road and beyond are not only sources of agony but are also making the journey to states in the Southeast geopolitical zone unattractive.

While acknowledging that modern security is all about information gathering, digital monitoring and preventive mechanisms, the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun has reiterated that the NPF cannot afford to do away with checkpoints. “They are vibrant parts of visibility policing,” he said, “which is crucial to effective policing of our contemporary society.” But this cannot be a justification for what is happening on many of our roads. Aside from the menace of bad roads, the numerous checkpoints have become sources of hardship, nuisance, trauma and loss of valuable time as a journey of 10 hours can last for two days.

It is noteworthy that a former Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Monday Ubani once dragged the Attorney-General of the Federation, Inspector-General of Police, Comptroller General of Customs, Chief of Defence Staff, Corp Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) before the court on this same vexatious issue. He sought a declaration that the proliferation of intra-state roads and highways with roadblocks mounted by their officers particularly enroute Lagos to the South-east is a violation of his right to free and undisrupted movement as guaranteed by section 41 of the 1999 Constitution.  The Federal High Court in Lagos dismissed the case earlier in the year, arguing that the security agencies were empowered by enabling laws to do so as part of their responsibilities to secure the country and check crime. 

Although the court failed to address the issue raised by Ubani on why the measures said to be for securing the country are heavy within one region and minimal on other routes, he has a valid point as concerns mount over this issue of checkpoints, minimal or pervasive. Besides the sometime suffocating roadblocks mounted by the police, soldiers, men of the FRSC, and even by overzealous touts, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has become an additional burden to motorists, leading to frustration and unnecessary delays. They seize vehicles, and so-called contraband goods and in the process extort money from their unlucky victims. At some checkpoints, motorists with vehicles as old as 10 years or more, are intimidated and forced to part with money as the operatives have the monopoly of knowing whether the papers are genuine or fake or whether there is underpayment. 

Though often on the move, the ever-busy Naval Base area of the Abuja-Lokoja Highway in Kogi State, the Ibilor area in Edo State and the Okene-Edo-Ekiti route, are cited as some of the notorious checkpoints where these NCS operatives ply their trade. Recently, a member representing Ovia Federal Constituency of Edo State, Dennis Idahosa, petitioned the immediate past Comptroller General of the NCS, Hameed Ali over alleged extortion and harassment of motorists and other road users at Ekiadolor, along the Benin-Ore-Lagos Highway. While acknowledging the fact that activities of smugglers and importers of contraband goods must be checked, Idahosa noted that this should not be used as an avenue to extort innocent and hardworking Nigerians.

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