Is it actually the primary duties of Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to mount road blocks indiscriminately? I mean, shouldn’t there be specified spots mapped out and labelled as checkpoints? Or, is it okay for them to pick up random spots as ‘operational sites’ for the day, or for some hours?
I don’t have any problem with the NPF, but I don’t I really admire their methods of mounting road blocks and checkpoints at every nook and cranny of the country, even in streets. It is a common knowledge that they are usually there to collect #50 from motorists. In fact, drivers always have lots of the #50 denomination in their cars, which they hand out to the police officers once they are stopped at the checkpoints. If a driver doesn’t have ‘change’, these policemen can help him with that – you know, if you give him #500, he will give you #450 balance (*smiles*). Not having this ‘contribution’ means the driver won’t be allowed to go freely.
Ok, I actually don’t want to complain much about this extortion stuff with our police officers – we already know that a lot of them are on the road just for that money. My major concern here is the problem these obstructions are causing us. Worst is that most of them don’t really check cars to see that exhibits (as they call it) aren’t there. Once the driver flashes the #50, he is free to cross. Whether he is a kidnapper or a serial killer with a victim in the car boot doesn’t matter to them.
I will like to point out here that road blocks shouldn’t entirely be removed from our roads because to a large extent we still benefit from them. For instance, if you are travelling in the night or passing through a very lonely road, the presence of these police checkpoints sort of gives you some comfort. You will even want to meet as many of them as possible (even though you will only see a few or none at all). I personally like meeting our NPF officers on the road when the driver of the vehicle I boarded is rough with his driving or over-speeding, or when I have this feeling that one of the commuters is dangerous.
These checkpoints (especially the ones mounted by the Nigerian Army) are also good when mounted in some volatile areas, where robbers and hoodlums are known to operate. They give this feeling of security when they are on the road, but not in our streets and major roads.
A lot of us that ply Nigerian roads, especially down here in the East, can attest that most NPF checkpoints are not necessary. In addition to extortion, their presence also causes the following:
a. Traffic gridlock: In fact, the first thing anybody asks when there is a hold-up is if the policemen are blocking the way. And these people don’t care if their presence is causing any discomfort or not.
b. Road accident: We have heard so much about road accidents caused by these checkpoints. I could remember a kerosene explosion incidence that happened at the Mkpu Odumodu Junction of Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Umunya, Anambra State around 2008 or 2009. This incident happened because a commercial bus wanted to ‘outsmart’ the NPF checkpoint-caused gridlock. I can’t tell the number of lives lost but I remembered seeing a lot of vehicles affected by the explosion, including school buses. This is just one of the numerous accidents that were caused by these officers.
c. Harassments: If a police officer that mounted a road block has not harassed you or someone you know, then you must be very lucky. I mean, you don’t dare talk when they ask for their #50. I’ve seen where some people were brought down from vehicles and beaten mercilessly because they questioned their (the NPF) rights to carry out certain actions. Honestly, NPF are seriously harassing and embarrassing Nigerian citizens.
d. Embarrassment to the statuesque: I don’t think it is worth saying that NPF extorts money from people. It is quite embarrassing. In fact, if you talk about NPF right now, people hiss and tell you about corruption and extortion. Presently, NPF is synonymous to extortion.
e. Deaths: We keep hearing about ‘accidental discharge’ from trigger happy, drunk and emotionally officers. The people affected here are both police officers and civilians. Most of these killings happen at checkpoints, usually triggered off by disagreements between the shooters and the persons shot. To be honest with you, I have heard a police officer telling someone that he will shoot him and cover it up and nothing will happen, all because the man told them how wrong it was to extort money from people.
Like I said earlier, NPF road checkpoints are very important but they shouldn’t continue the way they do presently. If I am allowed to suggest, I’ll say that the NPF and the FG should put the following into consideration:
i. The NPF checkpoints should be duly monitored. By so doing, illegal checkpoints will be discouraged and the officers on duty will be careful with the ways they handle the citizens.
ii. Checkpoints should be stationed only in volatile areas. These are actually where people need more protection from hoodlums. The ones stationed on busy streets may not yield the desired result.
iii. Salaries of the NPF officers should be increased. I don’t know if this will reduce their high rate of extortion but I believe it is worth a try.
iv. Corrupt officers should be persecuted. I know this may not be as easy as it sounds because corruption has eaten deep into the system. But, this should be considered.
v. Police officers should be trained constantly on professionalism. They need to remember who a police officer is and what is expected of him.
NPF need to bring back the glory in their job. There is need for every Nigerian to beat his chest and say that truly, police is his friend. Hopefully, this can be achieved in the near future, if efforts are made.