The perennial menace, (it is difficult to not to term it so) of police and military checkpoints on Nigerian roads was brought to the fore by a Southeast group, Cultural Credibility Development Initiative. It complained in a letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba, and the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, about the ‘strangulation of Igbo land with checkpoints’ and the “suffocation caused by the humongous number of checkpoints in Igboland.” The group alleged existence of checkpoints at every kilometer that create five-kilometer –long traffic snarl and demanded that these ‘security’ posts be reduced by 75 per cent.
A media report has gone so far as to say that the Southeast geopolitical zone ‘‘can be rightly said to be under siege by soldiers and the police.’’ While no one doubts that the nation is on the precipice security-wise, police checkpoints have been so abused as to compound rather than relieve citizens of their misery. This situation needs be reformed.
Security officers at checkpoints have been accused by not a few persons, high and low, of excesses that patently violate the rules of engagement on their duty. House of Representatives member, Ifeanyi Momah, has gone so far as to accuse checkpoint officials of human rights abuse, ‘‘devastating, degrading, and inhuman treatment’’ of citizens that include whipping women and searching traditional rulers ‘‘in an embarrassing manner.’’ No less a person than the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, reportedly accused security agents of using the checkpoints to extort, harass, and intimidate road users. Vehicles, from motorcycles to large trucks are forced to pay varying sums according to type and size of goods. It is also reported that checkpoints are deliberately set up on market roads. The question cannot but be asked: how can the security agencies receive cooperation and intelligence while they behave in ways that generate distrust and ill feeling against them?
Checkpoint, by ordinary meaning of the phrase, simply is ‘‘a place where traffic is stopped so that it can be checked’’ for any act of illegality.
Of course, it is used in other lands within and at the borders. Alas, like many other things that are borrowed from other jurisdictions, some crooked –minded Nigerians have devised a way of bastardising a sound idea and a good process to enable them derive personal benefit. Indeed, with the aid of modern technology, human factor in checking people and vehicles for illegal items has reduced. But those who would gain from not adopting this method will not let it happen. A journey that should take a few hours ‘costs’ hapless travellers twice or even thrice precious time. The received opinion is that checkpoints have been turned into ‘‘toll gates’’ and ‘‘collecting centres.’’
The menace of extortionate security men at checkpoints is nationwide. Countless times, literally, police chiefs have directed their officers and men to desist from mounting checkpoints unless they are approved for specific reason. Successive IGPs have had to order their men off the road because they do not do what they ought to by law. Besides, they tend to go beyond their briefs. Policemen on legal checkpoints have been repeatedly told that they have no business checking the documents of vehicles, unless a particular vehicle is reported missing. They hardly comply with this simple order from ‘above’. In late September 2017, the then IGP Ibrahim Idris ordered that checkpoints be dismantled ‘‘to enable ease of business in Nigeria, safeguard and guarantee free passage of goods and travellers throughout the country.’’ Indeed, according to the police spokesperson, Moshood Jimoh, ‘‘special X-squad teams of the force have been deployed throughout the country with strict instructions to arrest, investigate and discipline police personnel violating the IGP directive.’’ Mohammed Adamu had, in December 2019, directed that ‘‘only checkpoints and nipping points that are operationally expedient for crime prevention and other forms of key duties’’ should be allowed on the roads. Adamu went further to specifically address the heart of the problem about checkpoints. He admonished that ‘police officers posted on checkpoint duties are expected to eschew corruption …be firm…courteous and polite to citizens.’’ That was two years ago. If anything changed, the Cultural Credibility Development Initiative, the Ohaneze Ndigbo leader and the House of Representatives would have no cause to lament.
Early December 2021, a resolution of the House of Representatives asked the IGP to order that ‘‘illegal and unnecessary checkpoints’’ be dismantled. Where checkpoints were not properly mounted, they have caused accidents many times. Just one example: along the Owerri-Onitsha road, on November 28, 2021, a fully loaded articulated truck rammed into vehicles stopped at a check point. 20 people were killed.
Clearly, checkpoints are not serving the pure and simple purpose that they are meant for. In the Southeast, police posts are attacked and sacked at will, About 30 communities are reported to have been taken over by criminal elements. These are happening all over the country. Criminals move freely on highways, terrorists with ease, trucks transporting aliens with their deadly arms hidden on the floor of the vehicles move through so-called checkpoints. Often, it is the local vigilante teams that accost, detect and arrest them, not at all the officials at the checkpoints.
The current IGP Baba promised, on assumption of duty in April 2021, a police force ‘‘guided by the principles of public accountability … conformity with the rule of law, compassionate servants and helpers of citizens.’’ Unfortunately, the conduct of his subordinates at checkpoints denies these good intentions. They constitute an existential threat to the convenience and safety of road users. Baba has much work to do to bring his wishes into reality.