Commuters, motorists lament harsh security measures on Onitsha-Owerri Highway
By Francis Onyeukwu
Commuters and motorists traveling through the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway have been narrating their harrowing encounters at security checkpoints on the highway.
It took about one hour and forty minutes to travel through the highway before heightened security checks were introduced.
New measures by security operatives, who demand that passengers alight from vehicles, raise their hands and trek through every checkpoint now makes the journey to take upwards of four hours.
The situation is more pronounced at army checkpoints at Abbott Boys Secondary School, Ihiala, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Mgbidi and Ukwuorji in Mbaitoli area of Imo.
Mr Ukachukwu Ndukwe, a commercial bus driver told this reporter Wednesday in Awka that commuters and motorists had not been finding movement on Owerri-Onitsha Highway easy in the past two months.
“There are more than seven checkpoints on that road now; at each point, passengers would come down, raise their hands and cross to the other side.
“This is in addition to parking of the vehicles for about 30 minutes plus the money you have to give them,’’ he said.
Ndukwe said to avoid the checkpoints, some drivers used alternative routes passing through villages, but they were also at the mercy of village youths and women who blocked the routes to extort the drivers.
“Young boys and even women use all manner of things to block the pathways insisting that you must give them either N100 or N50 before you can drive past chains of blockages,’’ he lamented.
A commuter, Mrs Chika Uzokwe, who travels through the Onitsha-Owerri Highway regularly, said that passengers trekked long distance to wait for vehicles conveying them to cross through the checkpoints.
She said her bad leg that was swollen as a result of a domestic accident had swollen the more and appealed to relevant authorities to look into the operations of security operatives in the area.
“We are made to suffer unjustly because of these security checks. Cases of gun attacks in the area happen more often from dusk; I do not know why daytime travellers are being made to suffer this much,’’ she said.
When contacted, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, Police spokesman in Anambra said increased security challenges in the area necessitated the new measures.
“In Anambra for instance, even before the order came from the Inspector General of Police banning the use of tinted glasses in vehicles, police in the state had proscribed its use also because of upsurge in crime,’’ he said.
Ikenga said he was learning about the system of making passengers to alight from vehicles for the first time and promised that the issue would be investigated.
He, however, appealed to travellers to be patient while the new measures lasted, saying: “before long, things will return to normal’’.
Contacted also, Lt. Oluwafemi Tayo, Army Public Relations Officer, 82 Division, Enugu, requested NAN to list the checkpoints where army personnel were operating on the Onitsha-Owerri road.
“I will get back to you later, anyway,’’ he said.
Several calls put across to him after the assurance went unanswered. (NAN)