I had pushed the throttle pedals of my vehicle towards Portharcourt road, from Owerri, Imo State, last weekend, before I encountered an incident worth sharing with readers. As I passed the barracks of the 34 Field Artillery Brigade of Army in Obinze, near Owerri, heading toward Mgbirichi part of the road, I was struck by the presence of stranded passengers on the road. Their helpless situation, especially, that of a medical personnel among them ,I am familiar with caused me to march the break pedal to render assistance.
Consequently, I reversed, but the tales of woes of the stranded passengers were quite appalling . Looking famished and dejected, the passengers chorused in one voice how their front vehicle tyre got burst and their experienced driver handling the 18 –seater commutter bus managed to steer it to safety on the same Owerri-Portharcourt road, after the Obinze barracks. I was informed that perhaps, the deafening sound made by the burst vehicle tyre attracted one of the soldiers at the sentry point who hurriedly raced to the location of the parked vehicle to seize the driver.
Reason for the action of the armed soldier said to be of junior rank was why the driver allowed his vehicle tyre to get burst near the barracks and with such loud noise.
He was also accused of wrongly parking on the road near the barracks. For that reason, he was taken to the barracks in the full glare of the stranded passengers. He was ordered to undertake manual labour of clearing dirt from the road drainage of the barracks internal roads.
According to the passengers who later moved to the scene to inquire what was amiss, the obstinate soldier further threatened to deploy them to join the punishment if they dare complain about what had transpired. To avoid becoming victims of the soldiers deviltry, they quietly kept away and retraced back to where the vehicle was parked.
it was at the point I met them. Efforts I made to move to the point of arrest and seek the release of the detained driver to enable him fix the tyre and continue the journey was resisted by the passengers who warmed me to keep off the scene because of the soldier’s perfidious mode.
However, after about 50 minutes wait, the driver was released to the passengers to fix the tyre and proceed on his journey.
This inglorious scene somehow evokes sad reminders of the untold hardship road users are undergoing in the hands of these gun totting security agencies. Since the advent of unknown gunmen menace in the South East zone, the area has undoubtedly turned a mini supermarket to security agencies, especially policemen and soldiers stationed on the highway for security of lives and property.
From Onitsha to Owerri, Umuahia to Abakiliki extending to Enugu and all major roads in Igbo land, motorists undergo untold hardship.
Before now, corruption on Nigerian roads cannot be ruled out of existence, but the volume increased tremendously after cases of unknown gunmen attacks were recorded. In the past, it was difficult to see soldiers on road checkpoint extort money from innocent road users on their legitimate mission. But overtime, their operational methodoly had changed to the extent it has become a monotonous practice where they employ civilians in colourless uniform tdo the “dirty job” of collecting money from drivers.
It is prominent to observe police operatives extort money from drivers on the highway. Overtime, the word “Roger” has become instituted among policemen and drivers since it a became another toga for bribe and extortion.
Few weeks ago, yours truly was on transit from Owerri to Onitsha and on getting to Ukwu Orji military checkpoint on the Owerri Onitsha road, soldiers who blocked the road couldn’t allow vehicles enjoy a thoroughfare movement. While the private car users had to waste hours before crossing, commercial operators parted with money before they could pass.
At Mgbidi checkpoint on the same road, our vehicle spent not less than three hours due to heavy gridlock caused by the road blockade. It was still the same extortion pattern. By the time our vehicle managed to move beyond the Mgbidi road block, that of Uli in Anambra state was another hell. Apart from the delays, passengers were mandated to alight from the vehicle and walk pass.
The quantum of relevant hours wasted on the road from Owerri to Onitsha was outrageous. For a journey of an hour plus, travelers now waste not less than six hours. It is not about the wasted man hours only, various checkpoints mounted by police and army in most cases not more than 100 meters distance are only pay points for the drivers. The amount collected from the drivers range from #100 to #1000.
The disturbing point is that the security operatives collect these payments with impunity. Drivers are not only harassed and intimidated but brutalized in the process to ensure they cough out money by force. I once witnessed where a policeman used a jackknife in his kit to puncture and flatten one of the tyres of a commercial driver who it was suspected refused to part with money on the highway. For road users in the South East, the new headache is how to overcome the challenges posed by security checkpoint on the road.
More pathetic to the numerous problems of the motorists on the highway is the unwarranted closure of the road whenever darkness falls. Even where the state governors have not imposed curfew, the security agencies quickly block the road thereby frustrating genuine persons on transit. Once it is 6pm, they drag all manners of obstacles to block the road and at 8pm the road is closer to traffic leaving those on transit stranded.
Some of these night time road closures are done without prior notice to road users for precautionary measures.
It’s pertinent to state that these abnormalities by security agencies on the road help to fertilize tension and uneasy calm in our society which can’t be divorced from influencing the activities of the dreaded unknown gunmen.
Interestingly, there has never been a report that those on road block have encountered, challenged or even busted any of the unknown gunmen team or criminal gang.
The security agencies need to change operational methodoly to checkmate the activities of unknown gunmen than punish road users while milking drivers of their hard earned money on the highway.