Only 3 out of 30 are approved
By Godfrey Bivbere
Despite public outcry and condemnation of the continued multiplicity of checkpoints along the Mile2 – Seme Expressway, the practice has continued. This is against the protocol of free movement of goods and services of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to which Nigeria is a signatory. The development, according to diplomatic sources, is causing Nigeria immeasurable level ofÂ embarrassment.
From Lagos to Seme, there are supposedly only three approved Customs checkpoints on the route but in practice, there are over 30 checkpoints mounted by various security agencies. The ridiculous aspect of it is that these illegal checkpoints are only poles away from each other.
Financial Vanguard gathered that some of these agencies leave their locations whenever their pockets are dry from as far away as Ibadan and move to the border to mount some of these illegal checkpoints.
Efforts in the past to rid the road of these illegal checkpoints have proved abortive. There have been several directives by various Police, Customs and other paramilitary chiefs, for such road blocks to be dismantled to no avail.
The practice has become a culture that has eaten deep into the fabrics of those involved. It is hindering trade within the sub-region and makes goods produced within the region more expensive, especially on the Nigerian side, due to the various extortions at these checkpoints.
So endemic is the practice that even a Presidential directive by former President Olusegun Obasanjo could not stop theÂ illegal checkpoints as his directive that road blocks be dismantled was flagrantly disregarded few months later.
Since then, the number of checkpoints along that route has continued to grow to the present number of about 30. A drive by Financial Vanguard from Ghana to Nigeria revealed that there are only five such checkpoints from the Ghanaian border post, to the Republic of Benin to the Nigerian border post while from the Nigerian side of the border to Mile 2, there are a total of about 30 checkpoints.
Speaking to Financial Vanguard on the issue at the Nigerian House in Accra, Ghana recently, the Nigerian Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana, Abdullahi Salibu said that the issue is causing the nation and Nigerians living in the sub-region a whole lot of embarrassment. According to him,
â€œThere are about 49 checkpoints at the Seme border alone, from Customs, to Quarantine, to Police, to the SSS and God knows what. It is a shame, it is a very big shame. They are tarnishing our image and the government has to wake up and do something drastic about it.â€
Salibu explained that a journey from Ghana to Benin – Nigeria border takes about four to five hours while it takes about 14 hours to drive from Seme to Mile 2. He noted that former President Olusegun Obasanjo gave the order to the effect that all illegal checkpoints be dismantled but after just a week, they were back.|
He expressed regret that the Nigerian security agencies are gradually introducing the same practice to officials of Benin Republic. He suggested that the only way to bring the problem to an end is for government to show the political will and desire to eliminate the scourge.
An evidence that most of the Customs checkpoints on the route are illegal was during the visit of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, to Seme early this year, when almost all of them disappeared remaining only the legitimate three. Commenting on the numerous road blocks, Customs Area Controller (CAC) at the Seme border station, G. O Aliu, said that there are only three approved checkpoints by the Customs authority along the route which, according to him, are those in Gbagi, Agbara and Aradagun.
This also was collaborated by the CAC of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone â€œAâ€, Comptroller Kane, who disclosed to Financial Vanguard that the FOU is only present at two points, Gbaji which is about 40 kilometres from the Seme border, and Agbara that could be connected by other illegal routes away from the border.
Aliu had accused some officials of the various federal law enforcement agencies of coming from as far as Ibadan and Abeokuta to mount illegal checkpoints and Nigerians usually give in to them. He advised that the time has come for Nigerians using the route to challenge officials of any of these agencies that are not in the approved locations.
He said in some cases people who are not even security personnel also mount road blocks and extort money from people plying the route and stressed the need for drastic action to be taken on the matter.
However, Financial Vanguard discovered that there are about seven to nine illegal road blocks mounted by officials of the Nigerian Customs Service on the route while about 20 other illegal check points are mounted by the Police and other security agencies. From the count made by Financial Vanguard, the Police has the highest number of illegal checkpoints of between15 and 20 on a daily basis.
Mr. Dominic Ukpemi who plies that route daily toldÂ Financial Vanguard that Police checkpoints are more along the route. Ukpemi said that there is the Inspector-Generalâ€™s (IG) squad, the Deputy Inspector-Generalâ€™s (DIG) squad, Festac and Mowe squads on the same route doing the same job.
He also explained that all the Police Divisions along the route – Seme, Badagry, Oguafun, Morogbo and Ijanikin – have three each along the route. He also disclosed that the Anti-Terrorist squad sent to the border has two road blocks while the squad set up by the Police authorities to checkmate the activities of its officers has also set up two checkpoints along the route.
Responding on behalf of the Lagos State Police Command, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, said he is not aware of the numerous Police checkpoints along Mile 2 – Seme route, but only that there is Police presence along the route. He noted that what the officers are authorised to do is stop and search to checkmate car thefts along international routes.
The Police image maker said those officers along that route are expected to maintain â€œstrict professional call, decency and decorum in the discharge of their duty.â€ To this end, he continued, a monitoring unit was set up to curb all such vices not just along that route but across the state. He further noted that the monitoring unit is also expected to checkmate officers posted to that route to ensure that they do not engage in practices that are unbecoming of police officers.
According to him, â€œIt will be wrong to sacrifice the security of Lagosians because of the wrong doing of a few officers by moving out officers posted along the route.â€ On the allegation that the monitoring unit itself has set up two road blocks along the route, Mba said, â€œIt is not to the best of my knowledge.â€
It would be recalled that the Customs helmsman in November last year set up a committee to check all forms of bribery and corruption in the service. The committee known as the Monitoring and Quick Response Team was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the Service is rid of all vices which have resulted in the bad image presently associated with the Customs Service.
Deputy Public Relations Officer of the Service, Joseph Attah, who disclosed this toÂ Financial Vanguard noted that the squad is divided into two teams to monitor compliance with headquarters directive on checkpoints and inland ports and report all cases of non-compliance as well as arrest officers and stakeholders who engage in any form of bribe giving or taking.
The squad is also expected to embark on surprise attacks on smugglers and make seizures and operate incognito in sniffing out information on new smuggling routes and methodology.
The statement further noted that â€œthe CG emphasized that the squad should not be taken for a task force as they are only put together to compliment the efforts of the Area commands and the Federal Operations Units in ensuring compliance.â€
â€œThe squad is divided into two teams headed by Assistant Comptroller, Daniya Abdullahi and Chief Superintendent of Customs, Abubakar Argungu. The teams are to cover in rotation all parts of the country.â€ Despite the operations of the committee six months after, the problem of checkpoints along Seme route has persisted contrary to the directive of the CGC.
Other security agencies present along the route are the Quarantine that has two, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) two, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), not permanent and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) which also has two road blocks. Similarly, the Port Health Control has two check points, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), State Security Service (SSS) and others.