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Checkpoint tragedies: Between police and eyewitnesses accounts

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By Charles Kumolu & Ifeanyi Okoli

The recent multiple auto accident on the Otedola Bridge along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which claimed several lives has once again brought to the fore the question of alleged police culpability in such incidents.

In fact, just like similar tragic cases on the roads, this recent incident has been widely blamed on the Police whose officers were alleged to have mounted a road block or checkpoint there just before the accident occurred. Not surprisingly, public emotions ran high, triggering off a deafening outcry against police checkpoints in the country.

The accident scene...

Instructively, the Lagos State Police Command through its Spokesperson , Frank Mba, promptly exonerated the police  of any involvement  in the  carnage, as he openly denied any police road block along the expressway.

His position, however, contradicts several eyewitness accounts, both in figures of the total lives lost and also on the cause of the crash.

The Police image-maker, in his widely circulated press release gave the number of lives lost as 15, attributing the cause of the multiple crash to a brake failure of a trailer truck carrying bags of sugar belonging to Dangote Plc. He also said a police officer  who drove through the expressway some few minutes before the crash did not see a policeman or a police check point there.

But eyewitnesses, some of whom were returning from a Redeem Camp programme some few kilometres away from the crash scene and others who were local residents of the area told Vanguard Metro that the police men  fled the scene immediately the truck rammed into the stationary vehicles queuing in front of a checkpoint they had mounted. They also gave the total number of burnt bodies at the scene as 72, a figure they ascertained when the bodies were being evacuated from the burnt vehicles.

Muhammed Shakaru, a motorcyclist, who resides very close to the  scene of the accident, told Vanguard Metro that  over 72  bodies were found during the clearing of the burnt remains of vehicles. Corroborating his assertion was a police officer attached to Isheri Division. When asked by Vanguard Metro the total number of lives lost, he said the figure was on the high side based on what his colleagues and other officials of government rescue agencies saw during  the night they spent removing debris to pave way for traffic to resume its normal flow. But he confirmed that the figure was close to 72, “although we could not count everything as many of them were burnt beyond recognition”.

Muyiwa Adewale, a roadside mechanic, challenged the PPRO’s claims that brake failure caused the crash. According to him,  the police have long been in the habit  of collecting tolls at the spot.  “That is what they do on daily basis; they stand and collect N50 tolls at that spot and  they have been doing so with impunity; nobody has ever asked them to stop. If Frank Mba thinks he can joke with human lives and say what he likes then he is wrong.

I have given the matter some serious thought and I want to believe  there is no way  that trailer would have rammed into 25  stationary vehicles if nothing had kept them there. Even if the brake was bad, the driver would have knocked over  the culvert along the exspressway or crashed into the bushes.  But policemen kept those vehicles on the road and that was what caused it. Something has to be done urgently before these policemen send all of us to the grave,” he said.

Meanwhile, a worried Samson Nwachukwu, an Onitsha-based trader, whose house-help has been missing since the day of the incident, has called on government to thoroughly investigate the carnage and bring any one found culpable to book.  “We have had a case like this in the past and government had done nothing about it. These policemen have been allowed to go scotfree. Last May a police checkpoint cased the death of over 20 persons and left lots of people with severe injuries at the Obosi end of Onitsha-Owerri Road, when a tanker carrying petroleum product rammed into stationary vehicles at a checkpoint. There is also  the case of six traders killed in Apo village, Abuja in 2006. They were killed by the police at a check point and labelled criminals.

“On each of this case government had instituted a panel of enquiry but nothing came out of it. The perpetrators are still walking the streets as free men.  And also since the Police Force will be the ones investigating the present case, don’t be shocked that nothing meaningful will come out of it,” he noted.

The Force Public Relation Officer,  Emmanule Ojukwu, told Vanguard Metro  when contacted that, the Force was doing all within its powers to stop illegal checkpoints. According to him: “Mounting of check points is line with police duty to curtail crimes. But it has to be in response to  orders from  high commands. But I’m not saying that what we had that Sunday was caused by a police check point. We are currently investigating and we will come out to the public with our findings,” he said.

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