The numerous checkpoints and roadblocks on the highways and roads across the country by security agencies, including the Police, Customs, military and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), have been identified as one of the reasons for lost of man hours, increased prices of consumer goods and services and other items, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
But the security agencies are quick to push back, either denying allegations of extortion or blaming motorists for plying the roads without proper vehicle particulars.
While some of these checkpoints might be legal, most are not; hence the call on the appropriate authorities to curtail their activities.
From Lagos to Asaba, the Delta State capital, for example, there were over 120 checkpoints/roadblocks during the lockdown and ban on interstate travels, but the number has barely reduced since the easing of the lockdown and restrictions.
Even within Lagos State, including on bad roads, it is not unusual to meet checkpoints, where the only activity is parting with something.
Between Mile 2 and Badagry, there are numerous stops mounted by the Police, Customs and FRSC, as well as other para-military outfits, all compounding the plight of motorists and gradually discouraging tourists from visiting beaches and other attractions in the area.
Indeed, Chairman, Badagry Local Government, Segun Onilude, called on relevant authorities to come to their aid by dismantling the multiple checkpoints that hinder the development of Badagry as tourism destination, lamenting that no businessman in his right senses would want to do business in these conditions in Badagry, which has the potential to be great, especially in the area of tourism.
Onilude regretted the multiple checkpoints by the Police, Customs, Immigration and border patrol, who he alleged, take advantage of the deplorable state of the roads to set up ‘tollgates,’ adding: “Within a kilometre, you see about three checkpoints. No matter the size of your vehicle, you must part with between N200 and N500. From Agbara to Seme, you see about 70 roadblocks or checkpoints.
“I heard that from Agbara to Seme and Owode, we have about 92 checkpoints in a distance that is not up to 30 kilometres. What were they looking for?”
In Jos, the Plateau State capital, one hardly drives up to half a kilometre without running into a checkpoint. From Farin Gada to Terminus, a distance of four kilometres, there were about 10 Police checkpoints on ‘Stop and Search’ or checking vehicle particulars, overloading or sundry offences, with or without being its primary responsibility.
For instance, from Jos to Bukuru, about 20 kilometres, has seen an increase of fare from N100 to N150 and between N200 and N500 for those carrying food items. It is even worse carrying firewood, as the local government revenue department would also collect a charge, with the final consumers at the receiving end.
Therefore, women selling cooked and roasted corn, tomatoes, peppers, and the like in the markets are forced to increase prices to remain in business, alleging that they pay revenue to government and also settle security agents to allow them carry the goods to the market.
A motorist, Christopher King, who shuttles between Abuja and Jos, Bauchi and Gombe, said: “I carry day-old chickens to supply people. My worst experience has been that each time I am entering Jos from ‘Welcome to Jos’ point coming from Abuja and from Bauchi, I will meet several checkpoints and I will have to pay N600, N800 and sometimes N1000.
“There was a time I refused to pay and had to stop and park till midnight before taking off to my next destination when some of the policemen had left the checkpoints.
“From about 7am to 6.30pm, the Police will be there to collect their gate pass without issuing any receipt. ”
Some of the checkpoints in Jos are not regulated, as the Police come out every time, seven days in a week.
In Abia State, the military, Police and Customs mount checkpoints on most expressways. Going to Aba from Umuahia, the state capital, there are five steady checkpoints at Ubakala before the Enugu-Okigwe-Aba expressway and military checkpoints at Ntigha, Ugba Junction, Arongwa and Osisioma.
The modus operandi is similar, except the military seems to be more security-conscious and strict, with drivers submitting to turn-by-turn checks, not making or answering telephone calls, not throwing out wastes from vehicles windows or conveying suspected criminals.
For the Police, who do not have sustained checkpoints on the expressway, but mount ‘stop and search’ operations, a commercial driver plying Umuahia-Aba road said they often ask for vehicle particulars and check for loading, suspicious-looking passengers and goods carried, with offenders taken to the stations, warned or asked to ‘settle’ them.
But the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) explained that the high number of checkpoints on major roads across the country is mainly to check crimes, boost public confidence and ensure safety on the highways.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), told The Guardian yesterday in Abuja: “It is a known fact that ‘patrols,’ ‘checkpoints,’ ‘stop and search,’ ‘observation points,’ and the like, are strategies to ensure visibility policing towards checkmating crimes and criminal activities world over.
“Typically, Police deployment is moderated by public safety concerns in our cities and along the highways, as we respond proactively to potential criminal activities or crime.
“While some citizens point to numerous checkpoints in some areas, others raise concern about the limited number or absence in some other places.”
The FPRO added that checkpoints should not be considered indiscriminate or numerous, as deployment of Police personnel at checkpoints is a function of the security and threat assessment of the areas.
Responding to a question about the abuse of checkpoints by some officers, he said: “We constantly request citizens to report to us, incidents of Police misconducts or inappropriate behaviour. Appropriate sanctions are in place to deal with inappropriate and unprofessional conducts or practices by Police officers, whether on checkpoint duties or elsewhere.
“The NPF website – www.npf.gov.ng – contains several resource numbers that can assist citizens to reach Police authorities whilst in distress.”
He reiterated: “Deployments are carried out for various reasons and the points may be dismantled or cancelled when it is no longer essential. For instance, if a checkpoint is set up because a section of the road is almost impassable and slowing vehicles down to create opportunity for crime to occur, the checkpoint there or near it may remain until the road is fixed.
“Also, if the traffic density of a particular road is low, Police presence, in form of checkpoints, may be necessary to boost public confidence on that road and reduce the propensity for crime at the same time.
“If vehicular-related crime (one chance), car theft, kidnapping, intra-city road accidents, and the like, is on the rise in a city, it may be necessary to have Police stops to check it.
“Some checkpoints may be ad-hoc, some may be mobile, while some may be semi-permanent. Necessity is the driving force. If the checkpoint is unnecessary, it will not be there.”
Mba noted that all Police checkpoints are target-oriented and not indiscriminate or oppressive tools in the hands of its officers, adding: “Motorists will tell you that they are often apprehensive when they drive a lonely stretch of road without a Police patrol or checkpoint in sight.”
He maintained that the Force frowns at every act of extortion or demanding with menace by men in uniform or other citizens, saying: “Officers deployed to checkpoints are strictly being monitored by the Police X-Squad and Monitoring Units.”
Mba offered some tips to Nigerians on how to avoid clashes with officers at a checkpoint: “We beseech members of the public to always be calm and respond appropriately to all legitimate inquiries from a Police officer and provide all documents on demand.
“Having done these and there are perceived indiscretions and tendencies of unprofessionalism from the officer (s), do not engage the officers, rather request to speak with the most senior officer on ground. You can also report the incident(s) later to appropriate Police authorities.”
On how the road can be made safer and less hectic to travel, he said a number of factors could readily account for what makes traveling on our roads hectic, noting: “From the policing point of view, we understand the inconveniences sometimes experienced by motorists arising from routine checks by the Police and other security agencies. These are regrettable, but are necessary security measures put in place for the safety of road users.
“We also advise that motorists make appropriate documents and permits – driver’s licence, Insurance, vehicle registration and any other document required by law – readily available on demand.
“Needless to state that other non-law enforcement departments also have important roles to play in making traveling on our roads pleasurable, safer and less hectic, including fixing and maintaining our roads and bridges; creating speed breakers where necessary; clearing overgrown bushes and shrubs on our highways; providing street lights and providing ready and appropriate responses to challenges on the highways, such as ambulance services.
A Police officer told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that less that 30 per cent of vehicles on the roads operate without valid particulars and prosecuting offenders according to the law would cause more problems for society.
Another commercial bus driver said even if your vehicle particulars were in order, “they would still find one fault or the other that would compel you to spend money. We have considered it wiser to be giving tips; hence we build the tips into what we charge the travellers as fare.
“The travellers also agree; hence they build the cost of travelling into the service they provide or goods they sell.
“If anybody tells you that he or she was detained or prosecuted by the security on the way, he may have been found to have committed a serious crime, like conveying criminals or contraband, refusing to stop when asked to do so or refusing to part with some money for ‘pure water.’
“We feel more secured when we see security keeping watch on the roads, for without them, people would not be on the road due to armed robbery attacks.
“Besides, these checkpoints have become viable spots for hawkers of various items demanded by travellers, including food vendors.”
Motorists in Kwara State complain over alleged increasing numbers of checkpoints across the state. From the north to the southern parts of the state, there has been over 80 per cent increase in the number of checkpoints.
Apart from slowing down the traffic and increasing traveling time, due to intermittent stops, motorists allege extortion by the law enforcement agents, as those mounted during the lockdown still subsist even with the easing of the lockdown.
The backlash of the development was an astronomical rise in prices of foodstuffs and essential commodities in the state, especially major towns, such as Ilorin, Offa, Lafiagi, Patigi, Omu-Aran and Ajase-Ipo, with at least 40 per cent increments in the cost of rice, beans, maize, garri, semovita, yam tubers and cassava flour.
However, the Public Relations Officer of the state Police Command, Ajayi Okasanmi, insisted no checkpoint exist in most parts of the state, but only at flashpoints to checkmate the activities of criminals.
“The Police are our main problem on the roads; they should be removed from roads,” said motorists in Ibadan.
But the state Command insisted that there are no checkpoints in the state, as they are there to protect lives and property.
In various inter-town roads within Oyo State, checkpoints are common sights. On the Oyo-Ibadan road, there are about five, same for Iseyin-Ibadan and Shaki-Iseyin roads.
However, traveling to Kishi, Igbeti and other parts of Oyo North, commercial drivers and traders lamented numerous Police checkpoints, resulting to hike in transport fares.
Many motorists alleged that the Police use the checkpoints to exploit them, as they are compelled to part with between N100 and N500 at each point. Both motorists and traders called for the dismantling of the roadblocks.
A motorist, Abduljeel Olawale, who plies Okeho-Iseyin-Ibadan route, said: “There are many Police checkpoints on the roads. From here (Ibadan) to Iseyin, they will be up to 15. They collect at least N100 from each commercial driver. Some of them will even turn down the N100 and demand more than that.
“Some collect N200, others N500, but if we see some of them we are familiar with, they will collect N100. They keep collecting the money till now. Even while returning from Ogun-Oke, we will spend money from there to Moniya.
“If we tell them that we had given something in the morning, they will deny and thereafter ask us to park and open our boot. Their activities have made transport become less profitable. We want the government to take them out of the roads or at least reduce their number. They are too many.”
Reacting, Oyo State Command spokesman, Olugbenga Fadeyi, insisted there is no roadblock in the state, saying policemen are deployed to those areas for the protection of lives and property.
He warned that any officer caught collecting money would be dealt with, adding: “There is no roadblock; Police don’t do roadblocks any more. Policemen are not there for checkpoints; they are deployed to those areas because of robberies and kidnapping. People called that they needed Police presence on the highways, so that hoodlums will not come and block the roads.
“So, their deployment is for protection of lives and property; to have a smooth drive and at the same time people can travel to their destination without attacks, kidnapping or robbery. Nobody sends anybody there to go and collect money; the main aim is to protect lives and property. Anybody doing that is doing so at his/her peril.
“We have Police monitoring team and Police anti-corruption team that always go on routine checks from time to time. Anybody caught will be dealt with in accordance with the departmental and extant laws.”
At a security summit held in Enugu for the Southeast, attended by Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, in February this year, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said the zone alone harbours over half of the overall check points mounted by security agencies in the country, adding that this has compounded travelers’ nightmare on the dilapidated highways scattered across the zone.
Nwodo called for the dismantling of the roadblocks, insisting that they have become an avenue to corruptly enrich security operatives.
He had told the IGP that there were over 50 roadblocks between Enugu and Onitsha alone, adding that it was made worse by the fact that they are being used to extort motorists.
“I deliberately took a count. In some cases, we took pictures and video recordings of what transpired in those check points. The sad thing is that they are used to extort our people. We are not in a war situation and one wonders what anybody wants to achieve with this level of roadblocks on our highways.
“I, therefore, entreat you to dismantle these roadblocks and help our people manage the bad road that have become part of the zone,” he said
In the same vein, a former national chairman of the defunct Justice Party (JP), Chief Ralph Obioha, told The Guardian, yesterday, that road users enjoy a very short reprieve when a new IGP is appointed, as according to him: “The first order he issues is dismantling the over 300 roadblocks mounted in the entire Southeast.”
He stated that zone alone has over 300 roadblocks mounted by Police and soldiers, the highest by any zone of the country.
Obioha estimated that road users in the area are sucked over N50million monthly, a development he said had negatively impacted on the zone.
He wondered how a driver whose vehicle papers were declared as incomplete could be declared complete after he was made to part of N200, stressing that the volume of money that exchanged hands at roadblocks was encouraging the setting up of more.
The Guardian’s investigations revealed high volume of security checkpoints, with every federal highway dotted with checkpoints mounted by the Police and soldiers.
It was observed that officers who man the checkpoints also rotate shift, with some on mufti while others wear uniforms and are well armed, with checkpoints mounted by soldiers usually having small tents set up around them to provide shelter for the officers.