An objectively disillusioned Nigerian knows this obvious fact: there is the need to outlaw or disband the extortion points that we call Check-Points. These are the criminal points where innocent citizens driving to their offices or places of business are routinely harassed and forcefully dispossessed of their hard-earned monies. Most times when corruptive acts are explored, we usually resort to demanding military interference because we seem to believe, in Nigerian parlance, that the khaki men, especially officers at the Nigerian Army, are free of unethical practices (though our historical involvements have contradicted this stance). In the 1980s and ‘90s, members of the public complained, asking a succession of military regimes of that period to curb the excesses of security men on our roads and highways. To emphasize the military’s perceived purity and ingrained citizenry’s confidence in them, one former Inspector-General tried to impress Nigerians with the good news that all police check-points are hereby abolished. Later, it became known that his men chose to ignore and frustrate the order because the boss was said not to be too clean to stop their source of ‘extra cash’. It is disheartening to state that not only the members of Nigeria Police Force engage in this extortionist concept, but it’s also inclusive of the ‘upright’ members of the Nigerian Army, officers at the Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Road Safety Corps and the Nigeria Custom Service.
Many Inspectors-General who reigned at Sir Louis Edet House, Nigeria Police Force Headquarters did not have the moral credentials to ban policemen from staging check-points or road blocks on our roads and highways. This may have been unavoidable because clean hands and equity go together. Apart from IGP Muhammad Abubakar and IGP Solomon Arase who believed that an order remains an order and must be obeyed, others seem not to hear the screeching voices of Nigerians. It is not fazing that IGP Ibrahim Idris have not stopped his men from staging check-points as he could not at least, put in word for his men who are police recruits for their salaries to be increased. This set of officers constitutes the bulk of heart sore for the citizenry on Nigerian roads. Do you know the basic salary for a police recruit is just ₦9,019.42? This might be the reason these ‘recruit’ guys are terrorising the Nigerian populace. A police constable (Level 03) collects ₦43,293.80, Police Sergeant (Grade 05) ₦55,973.84, Assistant Superintendent of Police (Grade 08) ₦127, 604.68 Commissioner of Police (Grade 15) ₦266, 777.79 and Senior Assistant Inspector-General ₦711,498; among others. Remember, series of accidents have been caused by these check-points. In 2010, 30 people reportedly lost their lives in an accident caused by these detested road intrusions in Lagos State, SouthWest Nigeria. That same year, another accident of its kind occurred in Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, near Berger bridge bus stop. It’s so debasing that these fatalities happened because of ₦20 or at most ₦100. So pathetic a country!
For those who remember the evolution of Road Safety experiment in Nigeria, the new odour of the FRSC is patently offensive. The experiment started in Oyo State under the administration of late Bola Ige. It was Professor Wole Soyinka who headed it, gave it life, importance and propriety. Its general success in Oyo State encouraged the federal government to adopt and widen its scope nationwide. When it became a federal agency, it was one government organ to envy and emulate-focused, disciplined, with officers that were decent and polite to members of the public. Sequel to the inception of FRSC, you needed to see FRSC men flag buses to a stop anytime of the day, enter and ask passengers if the man behind the steering was driving well or dangerously, and then a few pep talks and advice, and people are again on their journey. Now, FRSC officers no longer do that. They now check vehicle documents and ask bribe-attracting questions that result in their men being compromised. It’s sadly funny as you see them sometimes on non-federal roads. I asked some of their officers what their business was, stopping cars on Eastern bye-pass, Damboa junction some weeks ago. That’s not a federal road, I believe. Their apt reply was shady and sleazy as all they could say was ‘you think you know law ba!’ When Nigerians see anyone on officer’s uniform even when he is impersonating, they seem to get this chill cold down their spine. It’s not far to see as most citizens do not adhere to rules too; they don’t even care to know about these rules. FRSC men are there in their numbers to extort, not to see to smooth flow of traffic, as they usually claim. They are more interested in asking for ‘your vehicle documents’ and once they get hold of the documents, the style is to ask the driver, especially commercial drivers, to follow them to their official car-usually parked at a distance. I am told that that is an invitation to something too shameful to discuss here. Otherwise, why are they fond of luring drivers away from the prying eyes of their passengers or inquisitive men like this writer? ‘Yellow does not mean STOP’, I told one of them one day. ‘You ought to know this more than I do!’ I insisted. He allowed me to go where I was going. And God help you if you are caught making a call. Their weekend is made that day.
I must confess that the first time I was coming to Sokoto was the first time I saw soldiers ‘collecting bribe’ on the road. I was one of those deceived Nigerians who had this antiquated belief that all forms of corruption freezes at the face of military men, not knowing they are the real feeders of corruption. From Oko Olowo, Kwara state to Yauri, Kebbi state, it is an all time brazen display of shamefulness. Sometimes, I wonder whether our political class take those routes. On my last trip to Ibadan, I tried to count the roadblocks staged by soldiers, I lost count when I got to 20. Just calculate it, when a driver gives soldiers, policemen and other road intruders ₦100 for about 20 times, how much is that? I don’t know how much trailer and tanker drivers pay. You might say it’s an amount not too huge but its meagreness does not justify this great scurry of exploitation. I was teased by a soldier on one of such extortionist activity that ‘Corper, I hope you no see anything’ and everyone in the bus just laughed it off. From another perspective, one will observe that this perceived corruption on Nigerian roads is a sort of ‘pay-through’ for commuters. Commercial vehicles that load their boots with so much luggage that protrude so dangerously behind the point of possibly dis-balancing the vehicle when in motion, are stopped, and after some minutes are allowed to continue their journey. The vehicles that are clearly not roadworthy are allowed on our roads and you begin to wonder. We must admit the fact our soldiers are doing great in securing lives and properties but what would we say of an Army that is our pride and symbol of hope in a country addicted to official corruption when the respected soldiers feed in depravity?
The excesses of officers at the Nigeria Immigration Service and their counterparts at Nigeria Custom Service must be explored. They do not need to deploy disused motor tyres to block roads for the usual harassment and extortion. All they need do is to stretch their hands and drivers could decipher what that means. Nigeria’s immigration system is extremely weak. Have you ever been abroad and see how immigration officers scrutinise foreigners? Don’t go too far; just go to Niger, Benin Republic or Ghana. Nigeria’s migration issues have denigrated to such extent that foreigners can come inside the country through border areas by giving NIS officers just ₦1500. Even, I was around Shagari local government area of Sokoto state one day and a driver gave NIS officers ₦600 to signify that there are three non-Nigerians in the bus. Get a transit from Sokoto to Gusau, Zamfara state and you will see a whole lot of ‘uniformed exploiters’ on our roads. That’s much of the depredation we’ve got ourselves into!
The scourge that our roads are not motorable is not enough for Nigerians to deal with. We also need to accommodate thieves and exploiters on death traps we call highways; that’s extortionate. The decay in our forces and security systems, and the tactic of corrupt officers to change location and continue their game really show how resilient corruption in the system has become. These are obvious signs that a lot of work need be done by the IGP, Army General, Corps Marshal and Comptroller General. All historical experience demonstrates that our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of individuals is achieved. A radical inner transformation and rise to a new level of consciousness might be the only real hope we have in the current national crisis. Officers frustrating Nigerians on the roads should understand that until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace. Instead of being a source of depression to others, you should honestly do your work of maintaining law and order and securing lives. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received-only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage. We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility!