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Police checkpoints in the south east

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Many Inspectors General of Police have made efforts to remove checkpoints from Nigerian roads. IGP Ogbonnaya Onovo banned checkpoints in July 2010, citing numerous fatal accidents caused by checkpoints across the country as reason. The ban did not last as policemen defied the order and mounted checkpoints few weeks after the ban. But the effort of Mohammed Abubakar was more enduring. On assumption of office in January 2012, Mohammed Abubakar ordered the immediate removal of all checkpoints on Nigerian roads to checkmate the activities of some policemen and criminals who use police uniforms and checkpoints as points for robbing travellers. His successor, Solomon Arase also maintained a no-checkpoint policing posture. On September 1, 2016, the current IGP Ibrahim Idris directed all commissioners of police to dismantle roadblocks across the highways in Nigeria, declaring them illegal even as he instructed the different commands to ensure visible policing to deter criminals.

Besides causing accidents and crime, cases of extortion and assault on motorists by policemen have also become rampant and in fact, led to the death of many innocent Nigerians. Nigerians therefore welcome it anytime a police helmsman orders his men out of the roads. To ensure the safety of the highways, the IGPs have always ordered the police to mount surveillance patrols along the major highways and inner city roads, and adopt ‘stop and search’ method to randomly search vehicles. The stop and search order is to forestall a situation where armed bandits would take undue advantage of the complete absence of the police on the roads and unleash mayhem on hapless Nigerians. Notwithstanding apprehensions by many Nigerians, the removal of checkpoints has not led to increase in crime rate; a pointer that checkpoints are unnecessary.

Unfortunately, these bans on police checkpoints have always met with successful compliance in other parts of the country and outright non-compliance in the South East where police checkpoints have become a regular feature on the bad roads that dot the entire zone. Restricting checkpoints to the South East raises many questions and suspicions. Does it mean that it is only the South East that requires maximum policing? Why are the police authorities not keen on enforcing the ban on South East roads the way they enforce it on other zones? Many questions that deserve answers indeed.

A drive through other parts of the country will reveal that checkpoints are non-existent. There is no guarantee that checkpoints prevent crimes as many crimes have been committed within earshot of police checkpoints without any effective response from the police.  It is therefore worrisome that sometimes there are as many as four police checkpoints within one kilometre in South East even when there is no proof that the zone has the highest crime rate.

The police high command cannot claim ignorance of the fact that police checkpoints still exist in the South East and their continuous presence despite orders by several IGPs eminently leads to the conclusion that the police checkpoints have been left in the zone for inexplicable reasons. These checkpoints cause untold hardship and suffering to motorists, travellers and businessmen because those who are not willing to part with bribes are subjected to several hours of delay. Their continuous existence is also proof that those who mount illegal checkpoints have the protection of the high echelon of the police because they probably make returns to them.

We call on the Inspector General of police to immediately dismantle all checkpoints in the South East and order his men to embark on surveillance patrols to scare criminals away from the highways, especially during the forthcoming festive season and afterwards. We also call on Nigerians to always help the police in the discharge of their duties by being polite and respectful to those who put their lives on the line for our sake. Motorists and road users should always make themselves available for search when approached by policemen on the road to avoid unpleasant consequences.

The Nigeria Police should not allow itself to be used as an instrument of oppression and domination against a section of the country as the overwhelming presence of police checkpoints in the South East seem to suggest. A good police force is one that is devoid of ethnic, religious and social discriminations and the Nigeria Police should fit into the category of a good police by dismantling all the checkpoints in the South East.

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