A greater percentage of interstate roads in Nigeria are probable death traps. From state to state, the deplorable state of these roads is an enduring feature one will find everywhere. As things stand today, it will be the 8th wonder of the world to travel a 100-kilometer stretch of road anywhere in Nigeria without encountering potholes, craters, gullies, and other hazards. As bad as the roads already are, the predicaments of Nigerians do not stop there as checkpoints, better known as roadblocks in local parlance have added more pain to their suffering.
Anyone who is a regular user of Nigerian roads, especially in the southern part of the country will easily corroborate the fact that one cannot easily traverse three kilometres on any major highway without encountering either soldiers, policemen, men of the Nigerian customs service or immigration officials or a combination of all men in uniforms. Going by their operational mandates, they are on the roads ostensibly to keep Nigerians safe from all kinds of dangerous people on the roads who are on the prowl seeking whom to harm and dispossess of their properties.
As sane and sensible as these mandates are, it will be difficult to find Nigerians who completely support their decision to proliferate the roads. Rather than ease off Nigerians and make the lives of road users much safer, they have only managed to become a source of worry due to the great inconvenience they often cause on these roads. The stories from Nigerians about this reality are sad and disheartening and quite surprisingly, rather than mitigating them, the authorities in charge of these security outfits are constantly adding more of these roads blocks to the roads.
At any police checkpoint in southern Nigeria, the good, the bad, and the ugly are always on full display for everyone to see. The stories are not particularly the same in the Northern part of the country where one can travel hundreds of kilometers without encountering checkpoints or any form of roadblocks. Regardless of the fact that many Nigerians will prefer not to say it, does not take away the fact that it is the truth. Is it not amazing that on a particular road in the south, for example, the Benin-Sagamu Expressway, one can even discover that there are checkpoints that are literally 100 metres from each other, it leaves one wondering what their real mission on the roads is. The story is the same everywhere in southern Nigeria and this should not be allowed to continue.
The history of roadblocks in Nigeria is the history of corruption. Rather than fighting crimes, these roadblocks have become ‘bribe collection points’ for men in uniform whose only interest on the roads is purely commercial and not in any way related to crime fighting or the protection of the lives of road users. Several cases have been reported of armed robbers operating within a few metres of these men in uniform without any form of resistance or hindrance so what then do they do to the lives of Nigerians if not to make it worse?
It is sad that these anomalies have continued for ages without any serious effort to end them. Once appointed, every new Inspector General of Police always makes it a duty to redeclare roadblocks illegal and almost immediately announce a plan to dismantle and banish, them with immediate effect. These police Supremos often end up sounding like a foreign police officers deployed to reform the police force in a west African country. Their actions are often predictable because it always starts with them espousing intelligence gathering and lampooning bad eggs who have continued to misuse roadblocks to bring the force to disrepute before they move on to making lifeless pronouncements. The police bosses know for a fact that no modernised police force needs roadblocks and that roadblocks don’t deter criminals. Sadly, the roadblocks never go away and the ugly cycle continues.
One thing that must be stated is that the lust for roadblocks in southern Nigeria is not an affliction that troubles only the soul of the police force. Many Nigerians often erroneously conclude that only the police have this penchant, however, that is not the truth. Every uniformed security-related outfit in the country has grown this appetite such that even the Civil Defense Corps now have the audacity to mount roadblocks.
There is somewhere around Avu on the outskirts of Owerri where the Civil Defence men often lay ambush at night to wait for trucks laden with illegal crude and illicit diesel. Granted that the Civil Defence was established to protect national infrastructure, however, rather than use drones to monitor pipelines and other national assets to deter vandalisation, they have now resorted to instituting roadblocks to interact with successful criminals to demand and collect bribes.
Now that every John and Johnny agency in Nigeria has made the forming roadblocks, it will be difficult for one not to pity the police who invented the roadblock ideas in the first place. A good look at several states in southern Nigeria will reveal that all different kinds of agencies have made it a point of duty to encroach into the business jurisdiction of the regular police while reducing their source of salary augmentation in the process. From VIO officials to NDLEA agents down to other military and paramilitary agents, they have made it a point of duty to extort motorists and other road users without provocation.
Regulatory agencies know the utility of roadblocks. They create bottlenecks. Bottlenecks bring economic opportunities for the policing and regulating agents. But these physical roadblocks are only the tip of the huge corruption iceberg. In all government offices, processes are made deliberately slow so that bribes become indispensable. When bribes become inevitable, they lose wrongfulness.
A report from the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law showed that the Nigerian Police Force pocketed N78.02 billion, the military (Army, Navy, and Air Force) received N6 billion, and paramilitary formations (Customs, Road Safety, NAFDAC and NDLEA) took N16 billion, totalling N100.02 billion ($330 million) in 2022 alone from the 5 states of the Southeast. These funds were extorted from motorists and none of it was remitted to the coffers of the Nigerian federal government. If this is not madness, one wonder what it is.
The culture of checkpoint corruption has been a recurring feature amongst Nigerian security and law enforcement agencies for many years, even as their respective leaderships continue to speak stridently against the practice with threats of harsh consequences, nothing has happened to the culprits. Apparently, they collude. Several reports have been made about officers who engage in these illicit activities but nothing remarkable has been done about them. This should not continue.
In conclusion, the only way out of this injustice is to have Nigerians speak out against it. The extortion on the roads not only causes damage to the psyche of road users, but it also makes road travels unnecessarily perilous. Many drivers have been extrajudicially murdered by trigger-happy men in uniform over their reluctance to pay N100 bribes. Sometimes, while trying to outwit these armed officers, some overzealous drivers endanger the lives of many in avoidable accidents. From every indication, the EndSARS national protest of 2020 did not teach these men in uniform to appear unperturbed about it. The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, and other heads of security units must without further delay dismantle all these checkpoints to make the lives of Nigerians better.