THE South East zone can rightly be said to be under siege by soldiers and police that have mounted checkpoints almost at every two kilometers in all the major roads in the zone.
From Aba to Umuahia to Owerri, Enugu to Abakaliki, Awka to Onitsha to Nnewi, the story is the same. From Aba to Enugu, a distance of 150 kilometers, there are at least 12 army checkpoints and over 16 police checkpoints, permanently mounted and a couple of stop and search police teams
The situation has been a source of worry to motorists and other road users in the zone, some of whom have described it as an embarrassment and an assault of the people of the zone.
Recall that during the last South East Security meeting with the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo raised alarm over the multiple police checkpoints in the zone with the attendant extortion of motorists, harassment and intimidation of even passersby.
In Abia, Aba-Umuahia, both the expressway and the old road have several number of army and police checkpoints; Umuahia-Uzuakoli-Bende-Ohafia road and the Umuahia-Owerri road are not left out. The motorists plying the Abia State section of the Enugu–Port Harcourt expressway and the old Aba-Umuahia highway have been lamenting the extortion, harassment and intimidation they pass through from the soldiers and policemen at these checkpoints.
Vanguard observed that soldiers in Abia engage the service of young men who stop motorists, collect money for them at various checkpoints. They extort money based on the size of the vehicle. Big vehicles, like trucks, tippers carrying sand or chippings, give as much as N1, 000, while those conveying containers are forced to pay much more. Buses are extorted between N200 and N500 and the amount could be higher if the bus is overloaded with commodities.
It is a similar situation at checkpoints mounted by policemen but their own is done with brazenness as they even negotiate and give change to the motorists. One notorious police station involved in this illegal act is Ndiegoro Police Division in Aba where a ‘Civilian DPO’ once held sway, arresting and detaining residents who purchased their freedom at very high prices.
From the Imo gate border between Rivers and Abia States to the boundary between Abia and Enugu State, it is always extortion bazaar by soldiers and policemen at the multiple checkpoints on this route
It is further observed that similar situation takes place along the old-Aba-Umuahia highway. From Acho Nwakanma junction to Obikabia junction, a distance of 5 kilometers, there are over 7 police checkpoints harassing motorists for ‘roger’. Attention is always focused on buses from Akwa Ibom/Cross River who came to buy goods from the various markets in the city.
The Police in Aba have also converted the Aba–waterside bridge to a checkpoint where they extort money from motorists, especially tricycle operators.
Despite warnings boldly written at these army checkpoints, that no bribe should be given or taken, the soldiers never obey the warning as they embark on their extortion spree. Most guilty are the checkpoints at Asa High School, Ukwa West; the Isiala Ngwa junction; as well as another at Itungwa on the old Aba–Umuahia highway. Others include those at Obikabia junction in Obingwa council area and another one on the Umuahia–Ohafia highway. Even the Federal Road Safety Corps are not left out of the menace as they now openly collect bribe from motorists.
A motorist, Ikechukwu Chijioke, narrated to Vanguard how he was once assaulted by a soldier for refusing to part with N500 at a former checkpoint at Ndiolumbe, Isiala Ngwa South council area.
On August 7, 2019, a soldier, Lance Corporal Ajayi Johnson shot dead an okada rider, Chimaobi Nwaogu, for refusing to part with N100 at a military checkpoint at Ohanze in Obingwa council area. For riding past the checkpoint, Corporal Johnson pursued the deceased to his community, Umuokereke Ngwa, a distance of about 6 kilometers from the checkpoint, and shot him dead.
This illegal act by the soldiers and police is a source of worry for people in the zone. The chairman of the Civil Liberties Organization, Aba unit, Prof. Charles Chinekezi, lamented that the security agencies in the state have abandoned their duties and focused on extortion of money from the people.
In Anambra State, the story is the same. Motorists plying the roads in the state know what to expect from the security operatives who position themselves on the various routes anytime they drive out from their homes, which is that they have to part with some money to be able to reach their destinations.
Between Awka and Onitsha through the expressway, which is a distance of about 40 kilometers, there are checkpoints at Amansea (Police), Aroma junction (Police), Umuopku (Road Safety), Umuopku (Police), Enugwu Agidi (Police), Dunukofia (Police), Awkuzu (Police) Awkuzu (Road Safety), Nkwele Ezunaka (Police), Borromew roundabout (Police) and Bridge Head (Police /Road Safety/ Army).
Along the old Enugu–Onitsha road, there are checkpoints at Amansea (Army), Mobile Police junction (Police), Zik’s Avenue (Road Safety), Enugwu Ukwu (Police) and Ugwu Nwasike (Police).
On the Onitsha–Owerri road axis, there are also checkpoints at Oba, Ozubulu, Okija, Ihiala, Uli and Amorka and all these are points for extorting money from motorists. Some commercial drivers who spoke on the issue said there are checkpoints that collect N100 while others collect N200 and above. For Road Safety, the amount to be collected depends on the number of charges recorded.
Mr. Johnson Onuigbo, who plies the Onitsha-Awka road said the drivers already know the amount to pay on each trip, adding that what they do is to keep the money aside and just hand it over once they approach any checkpoint.
“Police checkpoints are even better than those of Road Safety because we just bring out the money and hand it over. There is only trouble if the driver refuses to drop the money, in which case you waste your time and that of the passengers.
“In the case of the Road Safety, you have to park your vehicle and then approach them and hand over the money. The amount is between N500 and N2000 depending on what one is carrying”, Onuigbo said.
Former President General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, Chief Ozoh Anaekwe has also expresses worry over the several security check points in South East, saying they are crippling the economy of zone.
“The activities of the security men particularly the Police, Army and Navy, at the check points have become a source of embarrassment to Nigeria, this is because foreigners come into this country and pass through these checkpoints.
“ I am really embarrassed by the level of indiscipline that is now common with the Army as regards extortion on the roads and at check points without minding who is watching them. Soldiers of the Nigerian Army have become shameless over extortion at the checkpoints. We are asking the Chief of Army Staff if he is not embarrassed by the high extortion being carried out by his soldiers in the South East; he should answer that question, why they are mounting of military check points on the roads under democratic government
In Enugu, many checkpoints are mounted by soldiers and police along Enugu-Abakaliki highway, Enugu-Aba and Enugu-Awka as well as those along Nsukka road and between Nsukka and Benue State boundaries.
There are also checkpoints mounted by men of Air Force at Penoks Bus stop and at Emene, near the Akanu Ibiam International airport.
Within Enugu metropolis, Police check points cause long queues along Abakaliki express road at peak periods when residents go or return from work and business. Annoyingly, what takes place at these checkpoints is extortion of money.
It is observed that the new extortion style of police in the state is targeted on market routes, where they mount multiple checkpoints and collect tolls from commercial vehicles that convey goods, especially food produce, to and from the village markets.
On an Orie market day, Vanguard observed that seven police checkpoints are mounted between Ibagwa-Nike and Orie Ugwuogo, a distance of ten kilometers. Between the same Ugwuogo and Opi junction in Nsukka localgovernment area there are another eight checkpoints including a military checkpoint that all collect tolls from motorists heading to the Ugwuogo market. Still on the same Ugwugo market are other four check points that take care of commuters emanating from either Nkwo Neke or other rural markets in Isi-Uzo local government area.
This ugly acts of the police prompted a group of legal practitioners in Enugu state to petition the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, demanding for justice over an alleged assault on a colleague, Mr. Nwanneka Agwu, who the lawyers said was dazed by a group of police officers at a checkpoint in Trans-Ekulu Enugu for no just cause.
The case of Imo State is interesting. The people call the daily extortion as “toll gates” which has become a new normal in the state. While military checkpoints are mounted at definite locations on all the major federal highways in the state, most police checkpoints are itinerant, not for any known operational reasons, but for obvious financial gains.
Army checkpoints have since become money spinners. The modus operandi adopted by the personnel posted to the checkpoints are the same. They hardly check any vehicle or collect the monies themselves. They all have able-bodied young men working for them. It was noticed that while the soldiers sat comfortably in their tents, the stick-wielding boys take full charge of the checkpoints. It was also noticed that it has since become a routine that all articulated vehicles stop and “pay their allegiance” to the soldiers before continuing on their journey.
In Ebonyi State, the extortion by the various security operatives became too much for motorists plying the road, forcing them to recently block the road at the boundary between Enugu-Ebonyi on the Enugu-Abakiliki expressway to protest the extortion and harassment by police.
According to one of the drivers who gave his name simply as Chukwuma, the policemen did not only extort money from them but also manhandled any driver who refused to comply with their monetary demands.