By Muhammed Abdullahi.
If you are coming from Abuja, the moment you passed the boundary between Ekiti and Kwara states; you won’t need a ‘welcome to Kwara’ signpost to know you have arrived the state of harmony. The moment you entered Kwara state, you will encounter roadblocks almost at every kilometer. Yet Kwara is not safe!
Along that same road where you have a large army of police who deposited themselves at checkpoints like teams of migrating ants; residents and travellers have been known to depend on hunters and local vigilantes for security. This same team of policemen have never been reported to perform any heroic anti-crime duty. There has never been any report of the policemen who humiliate motorists on that route preventing any crime from happening. And for as long as I can remember, the men in black uniform have always been on that road.
Yesterday, I travelled to Koro in Ekiti local government of Kwara state in company of two friends to attend the burial ceremony of the mother of my boss. Our journey from Ilorin was without hitches and we did not encounter any delay, largely because the three checkpoints before and after the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) and the University of Ilorin Sugar Research Centre were no longer there. I was excited at the prospect of getting to our destination on time.
On getting to Obbo-Aiyegunle, the first police checkpoint was right ahead of us! And from that point, we were subjected to needless delay by policemen at roadblocks placed at just one kilometre apart. And if you think the plenty roadblocks were for security reason, you will be forced to change your mind when you begin to hear the inquisition of our men in black/blue uniforms.
I was bombarded with many irrelevant questions and needless ‘hyping’, all in a bid to dispossess me of the little ‘change’ in my pocket. Example: “Where is your driver’s license?” “You no carry anything for us?” “I love your ‘humbleness’, so I won’t delay you. But find your guy something.” “You are tall and handsome, make we too look like you now”. Etc.
After exhausting the little money I had with me, I had to tell one of them that I am just a ‘bloody’ civil servant like him and do not have money to give. The policeman, a bit elderly, looked me straight in the face and said, ” But you are not an applicant looking for work. You at least have a job. Find me something.” His boy, or assistant if you may, who had checked my vehicle papers earlier and who had seen my names, kept backing his Oga up with hailing and shouting of my name, “Abdullahi Baba! Abdullahi!” Realising I was dealing with ‘beggars in uniform’ who were not likely to forfeit whatever they wanted to get out of me, I had to part with the last N500 in my pocket so they could let me go.
At some of these checkpoints, we saw only two officers. Now you ask me, what crime can two people prevent or how many criminals can two policemen, with only one gun, apprehend. Obviously, they were only out for “stop and search”, the popular euphemism for the police business of highway extortion.
Yes, Nigeria is currently grappling with serious security challenge, but I doubt if the Nigerian police who have so much debased and abused roadblocks can be of much help. With the way some of our unscrupulous policemen have turned checkpoints to their ‘cashpoints’, the barricades on the roads have proved ineffective in curtailing criminal activities. Yet, road users are always been subjected to constant harassment of official extortionists who hide behind uniforms to force money out of innocent Nigerians.
It’s possible that the leadership hierarchy in the Nigerian police force have for a long time realises that police patrols on highways are more effective than the ubiquitous roadblocks; hence almost all Inspectors-General of Police in the last two decades have always ordered the removal of roadblocks. About two years ago, specifically on the 25 September, 2017, the immediate past Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, “ordered the dismantling of all roadblocks nationwide with immediate effect.”
To reinforce the directive, the police spokesperson at the time, Jimoh Moshood, who issued a statement to announce the new decision clarified that “no police department, section, squad or unit should mount roadblocks without the express permission of the Inspector General of Police”. But the checkpoint businessmen, the policemen on highways, just ignored the directive of their overall boss and continued with their lucrative ‘trade’.
Before former IGP Idris gave his unheeded directive, the order against roadblocks had been issued earlier by the Federal Executive Council sometime in March, 2009. But like a man intent on protecting his honeypot, policemen on highway duties are willing to risk even their uniforms to protect what obviously has become a guaranteed source of illegal income. Hence, they have disregarded their IG and disobeyed the highest decision making authority in the country, the FEC.
Unless the police force decides to take itself serious and prevail on its heads of commands to enforce the ‘no roadblocks’ directive, which has been passed repeatedly, and also punish noncompliance; am afraid those of us who often ply the highways as drivers would just have to keep paying our ‘ogas on top’. Already, we have encountered stories of our ‘highway ogas’ killing drivers over money as little as N200. For us to keep our lives, we would keep paying the ‘bribe’ for the privilege to drive our own cars on a road built with our collective wealth.
The police is indeed (our) friend!
Abdullahi, a media and youth development practitioner, writes from Abuja. He tweets @mfabdullahi
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on our opinion page are those of the writer and do not represent the position of INSIDER or any of its reporters/editors.