" ITREALMS: Horrific! 60 toll-gates to Onitsha - ITREALMS

Friday, December 06, 2019

Horrific! 60 toll-gates to Onitsha - ITREALMS

It has become a reoccurring decimal to hear people especially easterners complaining about how tough it has become to travel during festive periods, especially the yuletide, which includes Christmas and New Year.

For the records, yuletide often occurs between December 22 and January 2 of the next year. This has been described by industry observers as the period that records most heavy traffic for the travelling public, despite the mode of transportation.

Import duties on your rice:

Last year it was reportedly gang-up to demand for ‘import’ duties of foreign rice bags being transported to the eastern part of the country both in commercial transport and private vehicles. This year, this may sound less attractive because of the closure of borders at Contonou and widely opened in Katsina border towns like Daura and lately as bags of rice were being transported with security operational vehicles on brazen convey, which was evident in a recent trending video, with of course the security personnel caught in camera shooting sporadically into the air to disperse onlookers as they drove by, thus leaving more questions than answers on whose interest is border closure.

Onyima’s travelogue:

However, the travelogue by a former Commissioner for Information in Anambra State, Chief Tony Onyima, detailing his first-hand experience along the Lagos-Onitsha route, leaves one with perplexity behind the over 60 security checking points which some travelers on that route have since tagged ‘collection points.’

For Chief Onyima, the 60 security tollgates as he named were routinely shared among the Nigerian Police, Customs, Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) and Army; at some spots supported by local vigilantes, who invariably stood in the gap in case of any monitoring team.

60 tollgates to Onitsha:

His travelogue penultimate November 27, 2019, from Lagos enroute Onitsha in the South-Eastern part of the country, encountered 60 tollgates. According to him, Lagos to Ore - 24 (Police 17; Customs 2, Army 2; combined operations-3) Ore to Benin-20 (Police 12, Army 3, Customs 1; combined operations 5; Benin Bye-Pass to Onitsha: 14 ( Police 9, Army 2, Customs 2; combined 1). FRSC was advertently missed in the equation, invariably because they were too focused on controlling traffic than any other activities.

Equally, he noted that the soldiers cause the least offence apart from elongating the traffic snarl. The policemen particularly enjoy it when they seize the car documents and the victims would be following them up and down the road, pleading.

What offences please?

Many of them could not tell because what Policemen at Point A would ask is quite different from what the Policemen 200 meters down the road would ask. Onyima did not share any thought on the amount on exchange for travelers freedom of movement per security agencies; either he did not partake in the settling of the men in black or simply did not want to reckon with that aspect of his travelogue, thereby missed out in capturing the amount extorted from the different drivers.

For another enthused eastern traveler, Ichie Ik Muo, who made his trip precisely on August 8, 2019, informed “we encountered more than 50 checkpoints between Ijebu-Ode and Benin.”

He decried that this will no doubt send wrong signals to some of the Easterners who desire homeward-bound for this Christmas and New Year season, wondering what exactly may have been the sins of the Easterners to be subjected to all manner of humiliation in the name of security checking points, moreso every Yuletide season.

Widespread corruption on our roads:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had in its 2010 study suggested that everyone is involved in corrupt practices amongst the security agencies, alluding that the widespread of corruption in the Nigeria fuel abuses against ordinary citizens and severely undermined the rule of law, which is an indication that complexity was due to lack of budgetary transparency in the police, whose primary role is to protect the citizens, coupled with inability to investigate and bring to justice security officers at all levels implicated in corrupt practices, mostly on Nigerian roads.

For instance, the 102-page report entitled "‘Everyone's in on the Game': Corruption and Human Rights Abuses by the Nigeria Police Force," recorded myriad forms of police corruption in Nigeria, which further showed how institutionalized extortion, a profound lack of political will to reform the force, alongside other security agencies and impunity combined which have made corruption an entrenched problem.

There have been excuses that they are on the road to checkmate the attacks and kidnaps by suspected herdsmen, which is partly excusable, but the way and manner exhibited by the security agencies showed they are on the road for different purpose entirely, after all ‘body no be firewood’ some may say.

Just as the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, Senator Uche Ekwunife had lamented incessant establishment of security checkpoints on Nigerian roads, particularly the roads in the Southeast, which she said is frustrating commuters.

Recounting her personal ordeal, Ekwunife said the number of checkspoints within Awka-Enugu, Awka-Onitsha and Onitsha-Owerri Expressways are numerous and pointless, stressing "The frustrating thing is that these checkpoints have not abated the rising security challenges in the southeast or the localities where these checkpoints are established".

She called on the Senate to urge the heads of the various security agencies to withdraw some of these checkpoints in order to ease the mobility of commuters on the highway.

1.6m vehicles on Lagos roads:

The Lagos State government recently proclaimed that 1.6 million vehicles ply Lagos roads daily. If going by the estimated 60 tollgates along Lagos to Onitsha, and an average collection point takes N100 per approximated 100,000 vehicles per day would give about N10,000,000 per day for illegal tollgates. Observers noted that in some instances, some motorists pay higher than N100 when caught with oblivious traffic offences.

When N10,000,000 is multiplied for some 20 days; which accumulated from 15 days (December 16) to end of year (December 31) when anticipated traffic will double and some five days into the new year, that is till (January 5) when most traffic back to Lagos are expected to take place. This will leave us with some N200,000,000. No heart attack intended, but this is what is lost to corruption and illegal tollgates based on estimation.

Dehumanising Easterners:

As the countdown commenced for most easterners with the Christmas and New Year dates drawing closer, its important that all well-meaning Igbo and south east organisations should cry out from their enclaves on this annual ritual of injustice and dehumanization of easterners at this Yuletide seasons, especially the Ohaneze Ndigbo led Dr. Nnia Nwodo alongside the conglomeration of states town unions to condemn this undue extortion and exploitation of potential Christmas travelers.

Beckons on IG Police:

Except the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, takes a keenly step by declaring ‘no checking point’ aka ‘collection point’ in preferences to stop and search routine alongside other options, the tollgates may actually increase. This could mean many families and travelers being stranded on the roads.

Equally, the governors of the South-East and South-South could send a delegation to the Presidency to get this anomaly of security tamed if not changeable despite the change we expect since 2015.

Sanity demands:

Therefore, it is very worrisome that a journey ordinarily of 451 kilometres, that is, from Oshodi Underbridge in Lagos State to Onitsha BridgeHead in Anambra State, should take some 14 hours instead of 7 hours 16 minutes. We must work on the political will to address this issue permanently, whatever may be the political interest, the peoples’ interest should matter most and should come first.

The time to start the sanity most needed on Lagos-Onitsha road is now. Happy Christmas and New Year in advance.

*Remmy Nweke/DoP

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