CHECKPOINTS IN NIGERIA AND THEIR IMPLICATION ON SECURITY
In recent years, Nigeria has gone through very serious security challenges that have threatened the peace and stability of the populace and the Nigerian State. In the south, there has been the militant agitation by the people of the Niger Delta in response to the environmental degradation in that region and their clamour for resource control. In the north, we have seen an armed insurgency assume and metamorphose into a very brutal conflict with the insurgents named Boko haram employ the most vicious terroristic tactics that has alarmed and shocked not just Nigerians but also the international community. In response to these security challenges, the Nigerian government in trying to curtail the activities of these armed groups has among other steps set up checkpoints all over the country. Most of these check points are manned by men of the armed forces, while the usual police checkpoints are still maintained on major highways all over the country.
It is important to note that establishing checkpoints on Nigeria’s roads has always been the government’s reaction to the phenomenal increase in the activities of criminals, especially robbers on the roads. Checkpoints have always been part of the security strategy of combating crime in Nigeria. It was a pro-active measure that initially yielded desired results but over the years, we have seen incomparable measures of abuse and unprecedented proliferation of these supposed critical points of security.
Everywhere in Nigeria today, checkpoints are indiscriminately mounted by security agents on busy interstate highways. State and intra-city roads are also not spared either. The number of checkpoints grows remarkably during festive periods. Despite the intended and perceived benefits of these checkpoints, this development has aroused unceasing public outcry. At the ever-present checkpoints, travellers and motorists are subjected to undue and sometimes unnecessarily agonizing delays. In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city for instance, checkpoints on the highway into the city sometimes causes horrible traffic jams that defies any logical explanation. These checkpoints have therefore unwittingly stretched the length of travelling or commuting time to frustratingly absurd levels. Also in cities like Jos, going home after a hard day’s work has become an ordeal because of the checkpoints at major roads by security forces.
Worse still, rather than serve as stopping points where passengers and goods passing through are checked and inspected in order to ensure security and protect the citizenry, these checkpoints merely provide an avenue for security agents to extort and collect illegal tolls for corrupt self-enrichment. As a direct result, transport operators charge exorbitant fares and this ultimately creates an unnecessary economic burden on the populace.
Some checkpoints have become regular scenes of bloodshed because fatal accidents occur when unsuspecting motorists are signalled or made to halt abruptly. Many motorists have been killed by security agents for either failing to stop or refusing to pay illegal levies imposed at these checkpoints. Numerous innocent passengers have died from stray and directly aimed gunfire in the process. The deaths at these checkpoints are certainly unjustifiable.
Policemen have formed the habit of setting up road blocks to extort money from law-abiding Nigerians. Policemen and the military at these checkpoints use all sorts of objects, such as tree branches, empty drums or iron barricades that are placed across the road to restrict or slow down movement. These checkpoints have invariably created very ugly and disgusting spectacles on the highways. It might be important for the government to invest more in providing proper sand bags and decent obstacles at these checkpoints where and when they are authorised.
The indiscriminate mounting of check points everywhere is capable of causing serious tension and apprehension among the citizenry. This is because some are of the view that where such checkpoints are present, it means that there is some kind of trouble in the vicinity. It is therefore important that check points are set up to meet specific intelligence reports and not just a response to an attack or a knee jerk response to an attack as we have come to witness. For instance, every time there is a terrorist attack in Abuja, major roads are blocked by the spur-of-the-moment establishment of checkpoints that practically shuts down a large segment of the city. This ultimately affects businesses and most offices are unable to function properly since their staffs are unable to get to their offices.
A State of Security Poll (SoS), conducted by NOI Polls, a Non Governmental Organisation on the impact of checkpoints mounted by security agents across the highways, revealed that a slight majority of 47 percent think that security checkpoints are effective in deterring terrorist attacks while 43 percent think that checkpoints are ineffective. According to the poll, top key measures identified by Nigerians to help tackle security challenges in the country include unity among religious leaders, increased security within the country’s borders and better motivation of security personnel with good pay, equipment and training.
It is not the intention of this piece to question the judgement or strategy of the Nigerian government and its security agencies, but rather to point out the indiscriminate proliferation of checkpoints all over the country and its abuses. The impression seems to be given that corrupt self-enrichment by security agents rather than any desire to check crime or promote national security accounts for the proliferation of these checkpoints. At these checkpoints, gross indiscipline is sometimes seen and unnecessary queues are allowed to fester which could endanger the lives of motorists as these log jams could attract people with not too noble agendas.
No doubt, checkpoints are absolutely necessary especially with the current security situation in Nigeria today but they cannot and should not be a platform for extortion, indiscipline and the unnecessary log jams that has characterised these checkpoints. It is also clearly time for other methods of achieving security and safer roads to be exploited, especially effective use of technology which ultimately cuts down time spent at these checkpoints.