I started driving a car in the year 2006. That was when I was working in Charity Chambers at M.C.C/Uratta Road Owerri. Since then, I have not been much exposed to the entering commercial vehicles especially in Owerri town.
Two days ago, around 7p.m., I was going to my house at New Owerri from Old Owerri Town. The mechanic working on my car did not finish putting my car in order. Because of the fact that my car was not yet in order, I was opportune to board a Keke to my house. I entered the Keke and the Keke driver took the Old Nekede/ Akanchawa Road Owerri. The Keke branched off from Old Nekede Road and entered Akanchawa Road. By the U-turn which is not up to 200 meters off Old Nekede Road, we saw a torch light flashing at the Keke signaling it to stop. Immediately the Keke driver noticed that the torch light was from the police at a police check point, he quickly demanded if any of the passengers could give him the sum of =N=50. One of the passengers gave him the sum. When we arrived at the police check point proper, the police stopped the Keke but the Keke driver wanted to play a fast one. He lied to the police who was demanding for ‘roger’ that he had earlier given ‘them something’. The policeman instructed his colleague who was standing further in front of the road to halt the Keke. On seeing the seriousness of this second policeman in obeying the instruction of his colleague, the driver gave the policeman the =N=50 and our journey continued unperturbed.
At the turn where Akanchawa Road leads straight to Concorde Hotel, one of the passengers alighted. The keke driver told the person sharing the driver’s seat with him to join us at the back seat. When I inquired accordingly, the driver told me that any keke driver carrying anybody in the driver’s seat would be ‘guilty of =N=50 ‘rojer’ fine from the police. About 200 meters further, we saw another police check point precisely at the roundabout where Heroes Square Road and Akanchawa Road meet. The police there allowed the Keke man to pass without any ‘rojer’.
However, there is a saying that no matter how a lunatic is cured, he must always behave in a peculiar manner’. Few months ago, I wrote on the persistent police ‘Road-block’ or check point in Imo State. In my write-up, I recounted the incident early this year whereby a trigger-happy policeman shot dead a commercial bus driver because the driver allegedly could not produce the N50 the policeman demanded from him at a road block in Onitsha metropolis. This killing as I said, almost brought Onitsha to its knees as rampaging youths took to the streets seeking to convert the killing to ‘ethnic cleansing’ as they claimed that a Hausa had killed an Igbo man in Onitsha. In addition, I also stated how the Onitsha incident was followed by another incident where another trigger-happy policeman killed a passenger after he shot at a conductor who refused to part with N50 in Lagos. Accordingly, I wrote that it was because of those incessant killings of innocent citizens of this country that made the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Alhaji Mohammed Dikko Abubakar who was in acting capacity then to announced a total dismantling of all road blocks on the nation’s highways and intra-state roads. I also stated how the I.G.P. warned against any observed non-compliance to this directive which its default it was reported would attract severe sanctions. Furthermore, I pointed out that some policemen were finding it difficult to comply with the order.
Further in the write-up, I was very apt in pointing out that the I. G. P’s order for the removal of roadblock was a normal ritual performed whenever a new Inspector General of Police assumed office newly. I said it that a good number of police chiefs before Abubakar took the same step when they came in newly to office. I said it clearly that such orders were not meant to work. I predicted it correctly that the order would be relaxed as soon as the police chief settled in office. I also said it loudly that the I.G.P’s move then was only in response to the recent dastardly killings of innocent citizens at police checkpoints. With these officers and men back to the trenches as usual, I think my prediction has been vindicated.
I was able to put a text across to a police friend who is a D.P.O. The text read thus: ‘I’m doing an article on I.G.P.’s order on police road-block. What is your view on constant police road block on our roads? If you can still remember, I have always eulogized this DPO. He is a perfect gentleman. Many at times, I see him at most police check points in his jurisdiction where he tries to ensure sanity on the conduct of his men. He is my brother and fellow alumnus from Imo State University. He is an epitome of what a gentle man officer should be. However, the D.P.O did not ignore my text as many of his colleagues would have done. However, he replied me through a message too. The text message reads thus: ‘What we have is police patrol and stop-and-search. Try to know the difference between roadblock and stop-and-search’. However, I also stated that from my observations that I did not think that there was a difference between the way police used to block road before the I.G.P’s order and the way they did the so called stop-and-search. For example, I remarked that every night on roads in Owerri town, that one would see policemen standing at the center of the road inspecting vehicles one after the other and sometimes collecting money from some motorists. To cut a long story short, some time this year, check points disappeared but the disappearance did not last. For people who live in World Bank Area in Owerri, the whole thing is now a big trauma. After the days work and after passing through the traumatic traffic hold up in Old Owerri town, a person going to this area in the evening is in the best person to understand what I am saying. There is usually a long cue of vehicles lined up each being scrutinized by the police. You will also see other vehicles that are forced to park by the side. Majority of these vehicles are usually the commercial ‘keke’ operators carrying passengers home. You will also see some other policemen collecting the usual thing mostly from the poor ‘keke’ drivers. Therefore, going by the above scenario, what the police call patrol or stop-and-search I said was the usual outlawed road block. I mean the policemen standing in the middle of the roads, stopping traffic flow, carrying rifles in one hand and using the other hand to collect ‘roger’.
Also, it has become a usual practice in most rural communities in Imo State for policemen attached to Divisional Police Stations to ‘lay ambush’ on major roads leading to most markets on market days. These policemen usually mount ‘road blocks’ as early as 4am, carrying guns and sticks. They wait for people, harass and intimidate them as they are going to the markets and finally do the usual thing i.e. extortion of money from them.
Unfortunately, police formations that are involved in these despicable acts have authorities. It is believed that the police authorities are the ones who ‘authorize’ such extortions probably to get ‘returns from the boys’.
I have said it times without number that no policeman in Nigeria takes anything less than =N50,000.00 as monthly salary and allowances. There is also some other periodic entitlements paid to the police from time to time. Salaries to policemen are promptly paid and they are salaries of a Federal Government Agency standard. This is far above what most states in Nigeria pay their civil/public servants. What is the monthly take home of a graduate-teacher in a state government owned secondary school? Therefore, it baffles me what a policeman will be doing with =N50 from a petty trader, a commercial ‘okada’ or Keke rider. The irony is that such police intimidations, harassments and extortions do not happen in the northern part of this country. They are more rampant in the south and that is why any policeman posted from the south to the north sees it as a punishment because that implies the end of ‘fringed benefits’ mostly from illegal extortion.
I quite agree that most kidnappings and many other crimes are committed with vehicles. I am also aware that the most effective ways of checking security threats in our country is through police road blocks but what seems to tarnish this method is extortion. It seems that the thing has eaten very deep into fabric of the Nigerian Police.
Nevertheless, not minding the disadvantages of removing police check points from Nigerian roads, people seem to be happier with it than otherwise. Journeys without road blocks are smoother and accidents on the roads are reduced because of the absence of collision of vehicles with obstacles and barricades the police use in building their check points. Not quite along while now, armed robbers came to a bank that is 400 meters away from the Imo State Police Headquarters, held the bank and the entire Owerri Metropolis to ransom for up to one hour, paraded on foot in the streets and roads at the heart of the town and escaped unchallenged. The irony in the whole saga was that as at the time of the robbery, every means of communication was used to alert many people. People were calling with mobile phones and sending text messages across. Even some radio stations in the state alerted the public but the police seemed not to be aware. As usual, it was after the robbers had escaped successfully that we saw some security agencies blowing sirens in Owerri town.
The summary of my message today is that there is no excuse that can justify a policeman mounting ‘roadblock’ carrying riffle in one hand and using the other hand to collect money from motorists. How can a policeman challenge security threat when he is carrying firearm in one hand and using the other hand to collect ‘roger’? One cannot eat his cake and have it’.
Interestingly, in his speech to top police chiefs earlier this year the I.G.P. had this to say: ‘…toll stations in the name of checkpoints adorned the highways with policemen shamefully collecting money from motorists in the full glare of the public’. Continuing he said ‘These illegalities, thrived under the ACP CIDs and ACP Operations’ watchful eyes. “Our respect is gone and the Nigerian Public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of police to do any good thing”. Consequently the I.G.P. declared that the force must be purged of corruption.
But I must tell you that it is not all policemen that are bad. I have a lot of them who are my friends. Many of my friends who are policemen are really good. Some police men need commendation. But it is like the bad ones are many. I know that the problem is a system thing. The few good ones cannot alone help the situation.
Nevertheless, I must still admit that the police is doing its best especially under the new I.G.P. I really appreciate the challenges facing them. Poor motivation, poor funding, corruption, lack of insurance to dependants in case of untimely death of policemen, lack of proper training, lack of sophisticated weapons to match criminals etc. However, these challenges have nothing to do with the ones the force has created for itself. ‘Roger’.
However, the point that must be made from the above is that the police authorities are yet to take issues of police extortion at check points seriously. Therefore, whenever the Nigeria Police is ready to truly purge itself of this anomaly we will not only hear it, we will notice it, feel it and be convinced about it. But for now, the police are back to business as usual on our roads. But I know that one day there will be a total reformation and transformation in the Nigeria Police; when the police will truly be our friend.
Therefore, it is my humble appeal to police authorities to ensure that their men no longer make life miserable for road users. Also, people should be bold enough to expose evil acts of our security agencies. The citizens on their own part should rise to protect their right against unlawful acts of the police. They should be bold enough to refuse giving money to the police no matter the amount of intimidation. Traditional rulers, community leaders, town unions and the community members should mobilize and peacefully stop the police from unlawful acts. They can also send delegations or protest letters to police authorities.
Be that as it may, it is my humble submission that the first step in restoring the dignity of the Nigerian police is by putting a stop to police extortion of money from motorists in public roads in Nigeria. I believe that if that is done, other aspects of problems confronting the force will be gradually put in place.