Home Viewpoint Checkpoints Of Tension. BY RICHARD ODU

Checkpoints Of Tension. BY RICHARD ODU

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No doubt, the presence of security men on major roads across the country gives road users abundant hope that their safety is guaranteed while they travel to their various destinations. This sense of security has become even more necessary these days that the roads are replete with crime and criminality. 

Kidnappings, robbery and banditry on Nigeria’s highways have become commonplace, such that commuters virtually hold their breath while on transit and celebrate everyday they get home safely after the day’s outing. There is every indication that Nigerians are worried over the constant apprehension and the reality that such high crimes on our highways have hindered the business and social life of the country. 

It was on a highway that His Eminence S.K.C. Uche, the Methodist Prelate, was kidnapped and his church had to pay N100 million ransom for him to be released. That abduction opened the eyes of the nation to the atrocities that have been happening on the south eastern highways hitherto believed to have been safer than others across the country as that crime was committed on a road that cuts across Imo and Abia.

In the Southwest was the widely condemned murder of Mrs. Funke Olakunri, the daughter of former Afenifere leader, by suspected killer herdsmen, an incident that also happened on the highway. Up north, the highways are already no-go areas because hoodlums have taken over.While these unfortunate incidents might seem to portray the nation’s security men as inadequate, we should not forget that there are also instances where the police and the army had fought and crushed the daredevil bandits.

Some of the uncommon bravery they exhibit, sometimes in the face of superior firepower of the hoodlums, should not go unrecognized. To that extent, security checkpoints are vital on the nation’s roads, especially during the approaching Yuletide when the volume of road travels are expected to increase.

However, some issues arising from the presence of policemen and soldiers on our roads often make the ordinary road user to recoil at the thought of these security men on the highways. First is the artificial traffic jam which the checkpoints cause when long queues of vehicles are formed at these points.

While motorists wait for their turns to be checked, they burn precious fuel and lose man-hours that would have been used on some profitable ventures. The ones late to work or to appointments grow weary with tension. And, disappointingly, the weary motorist often discovers that the vehicle-after-vehicle checking is all about collection of what looked like tolls, or, should we say tips to the security operatives.In Imo State, particularly on Owerri-Orlu, Owerri-Umuahia, Aba and Port Harcourt Roads, among others, road users have silently endured this discomfort.

Just recently, there had been four remarkable checkpoints within, roughly, two kilometres on Owerri-Umuahia road, precisely from the Heartland FM axis to Emekuku, where commuters suffer delays in the morning hours when people are virtually rushing to their workplaces or in the evenings while they are returning after the day’s job. On the Orlu road axis, much time was spent at the Ubomiri and the timber market checkpoints, among others. 

More disturbing is what seems to be violations of human rights that go on at these checkpoints, especially at the points where men of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) are on duty. Passengers of commercial buses are forced to disembark and are frisked one after the other while their bags are turned upside-down, sometimes to the point of ridiculing and humiliating the owners of the bags. Very often, one beholds young people being hounded into armoured personnel carriers parked at the checkpoints, apparently as suspects awaiting transportation to the headquarters for prosecution.

Many times, they are taken to nowhere and reports are that victims with fat accounts who have their ATM cards available could pay their way out of the momentary confinement.Fairly well-off young men, perhaps found driving expensive cars are intimidated on the roads, their phones pried into while they are forced to part with some money or risk being arrested as IPOB adherents, drug dealers or Yahoo Boys.

A reformation of the checkpoint policing method to one that respects the dignity of road users would gladden the hearts of many Nigerians. The patrol system which obviously offers the advantage of creating uncertainties as to the whereabouts of men on duty might turn out to be more effective. This uncertainty and the element of surprise necessary in crime busting could be helpful in dissuading criminals and actually lead to their prompt arrest. It would also expose criminals who disguise as policemen and waylay innocent citizens on the highways. As for the check of vehicle papers, the force should fully utilize the new information and communication technology to detect fake and expired particulars.

As a proactive measure, holders of vehicle particulars can be alerted in advance, using the short message service (SMS)  when their papers are about to expire. Defaulters could be traced to their places of abode and given summons to appear in court.The police authorities, it has been established, are known to have applied the hammer on some bag eggs that abuse citizens on the highways. One of such cases is a police inspector who was caught on camera collecting money and boasting that nothing would happen to him, but got a surprise later.

Also, the authorities have constantly warned the security men against searching the phones of people they find on the road. These bag eggs that smear the image of the force should not be spared. They reduce the checkpoints to checkpoints of horror and terror. But, the police are our friends and must be seen to be.

Dr. Odu can be reached through dirimrich2018@gmail.com.

“Kidnappings, robbery and banditry on Nigeria’s highways have become commonplace, such that commuters virtually hold their breath while on transit and celebrate everyday they get home safely after the day’s outing. There is every indication that Nigerians are worried over the constant apprehension and the reality that such high crimes on our highways have hindered the business and social life of the country”

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