By Vincent Ujumadu
Travelers using the busy Enugu-Onitsha highway had excruciating experience for about 18 hours from 8 .00 pm on Thursday till yesterday as angry lorry drivers operating along the expressway blocked both sides of the road following a scuffle between a police man at a check point and a lorry driver who had his left eye blinded by the police with the butt of his gun.
The incident occurred at Ugwuoba in Enugu State and those traveling from Enugu to Anambra and vice versa had to turn back.
The lorry drivers who deliberately blocked both sides of the road, also burnt down what they called a â€˜shrineâ€™ erected by the policeman at the checkpoint at which they alleged that the policemen often tied drivers that refused to agree with their demands.
The victim, Mr. Ikechukwu Okafor, got the raw treatment from the policemen because he allegedly refused to give himÂ the N100Â they demandedÂ at the checkpointÂ .
Okafor told reporters that he had offered the policeman N40 when he asked for Roger, from him, adding that because of his refusal to offer more than the N40, the policeman ordered him down fromÂ the vehicleÂ and eventually blinded him with hisÂ baton.
As he came down, he said, the policeman engaged him in argument during which he hit his left eye with the butt of his gun, blinding him instantly.
In the ensuing confusion that followed, Okaforâ€™s conductor, Mr. Linus Ohanedozi, was also seriously beaten with the butt of the gun of another policeman. The development attracted the sympathy of other truck drivers who blocked both sides of the expressway with their trucks, insisting that they would not leave the scene until they got justice.
The impasse dragged on through the night as traffic coming from both sides of the road could not move, leaving thousands of motorists, travelers and commuters stranded. The stranded vehicles stretched for more than three kilometers on both sides of the road.
Noteven the arrival of the Police Area Commander in charge of Oji River , Mr. Joe Nwankwo, led a team of riot and regular policemen to clear the road could deter the drivers who demanded that adequate compensation be paid to their blinded colleague. They also insisted that the governors of Enugu and Anambra States should intervene with a view to ending extortion of drivers.
The situation was however brought under control when the Chairman of the Nigeria Lorry Drivers Association, Chief Amadi Chibuazogu arrived and engaged the police team, which included the MOPOL Squadron Commander, Mr. Paul Ibegbu, for several hours of negotiation in the nearby bush before both sides reached an agreement..
The Police area commander, however declined to comment on the terms of agreement reached during the negotiations, although Vanguard gathered that financial compensation by the police was agreed upon.. He said he would only talk after he had seen the traffic holdup cleared.
The surprising aspect of the situation was that most of the motorists caught up in the traffic jam said they did not mind spending days there if it would lead to the end of the consistent police harassment of motorists along the road.
According to htem, the extortion by the police along the nationâ€™s roads have been causing motorists and commuters a lot of inconvenience, adding that they were only enduring it because the drivers were always willing to pat with their money.