By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
A new Inspector General comes. He reels out new codes. He announces the illegality of fixed police checkpoints.
He seduces the public with the re affirmation of one or two of its rights being usurped by the police. He reminds us that bail is free. He tells us the police are our friend . Then after a while, he cools down, and the things he preached against become the rule, under his big nose.
Someone once did a count of checkpoints between Lagos and Calabar. He got about 100 police checkpoints. It’s Christmas now, that number would triple. The police know that the multiplicity of checkpoints speak of the brazenness of corruption and conspicuous ineptitude in the force. Otherwise ,why do new police chiefs always announce, before they go to sleep – “all checkpoints are here by dismantled!”
We know crimes are rife on our roads. But crimes are not checked by policemen extorting motorists . Crimes can’t be checked by checkpoints that function as toll gates.
The crime fighting unit, ‘operation sweep’ was hugely successful in Lagos, 1995-1998. The military governor then , Buba Marwa bought many vehicles, new and ‘tokunbo’. The vehicles were fitted with communication gadgets. The vehicles, loaded with soldiers and policemen, were distributed across the state . The soldiers and policemen stopped no one. They sat , alert and ready, and watched. They didnt do any routine stop and search. But crime simply fled.
The police know what to do. But they have chosen to do the wrong things.
How did the police become so inured to shame? A checkpoint is fixed 20 meters away from another checkpoint, and they all carry on as if they cant see themselves.
There are some one kilometer stretches on the Portharcout- Owerri road where you can find , without exaggeration, 5 police checkpoints. The policemen with guns slung over their shoulders asking ‘wetin you carry’ , collecting tolls from commercial vehicles and shaking down private cars cannot stem the tide of violent crimes. The argument is that checkpoints make police presence ubiquitous . Policemen looking out for bribes are naturally not watchful.
When policemen position themselves like hyenas on the road and wear away innocent commuters they, undermine public confidence in the police. The perception that the police force is one of the most corrupt institutions in the country is fostered partly by the culture of checkpoints. These checkpoints are where the dirty linens of the police are washed in public. The inability of the police hierarchy to successfully abolish checkpoints has left the impression that the police cannot contain corruption within their ranks and are perhaps not genuinely concerned about their reputation.
We have made road journeys cumbersome. Yet we want tourists. Tourists go to places where they can move around without bumping frequently into eyesores. What kind of a foreign tourist can endure a road trip between Port-harcourt and Owerri and the nuisance constituted by the mushrooming of police checkpoints on that corridor? How then can anyone truly diversify the economy by boosting tourism with police besieged roads like Port-harcourt -Owerri road.
The Vice President likes the ease of doing business. I don’t know if he has bothered to survey the roads. Airports are important , but roads are more important. I have seen him worry about bottlenecks and stumbling blocks at airports. The Vice President should review the ease of travel on the Lagos – Owerri road and the Port-harcourt – Owerri road. When he does, he will know that the police are actively frustrating him and frustrating business.
I have done road trips in many countries. In the West, you simply roll. Police patrol cars stay on road shoulders and watch. In many African states , you can do 400km and meet only 3 checkpoints. The policemen will look at your face, greet and wave you on.
It would be nice to obtain figures from our police. Perhaps , just perhaps , the mushrooming of police checkpoints, which now appears to be policy, is evidence based. So it could be informative to know how many criminals were detected at checkpoints in 2019. And how many slipped through. Yes it would be nice to know how many robberies and kidnappings happened between two bribe hunting police units standing less than 10 kilometers apart.
Because there are reports that despite the siege laid by policemen on these roads, crimes still happen on them rampantly. It would be nice to know if the police force that commits thousands of men , to checkpoints, to check vehicle particulars and harass motorists believes that that is the best way to confront armed robberies and kidnapping.
The police started this checkpoint business. The Customs have joined them. Families are laid out in the sun to bake while the Police and Customs and Road Safety encamped at J4, on the Lagos-Benin Expressway, practice their predatory skills.
Life is hard enough already, so why can’t traveling be made easy?