Despite the out cry and condemnation that has greeted the continuous retention of multiply checkpoints along the Mile2 – Seme expressway, the practice has remained persistence and has continue to cause the nation unquantifiable level of diplomatic embarrassment.
Efforts in the past to raid the road of these illegal checkpoints have proved abortive. There has been several directives by various police, Customs and other paramilitary chiefs, instruction such road block to be dismantled but the practice has become a culture that has eaten deep into the fabrics of those involved.
So endemic is the practice that even a directive by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, with all his dictatorial tendencies was tendencies could not stop it as his directive that the road blocks be dismantled was fragrantly disregarded few months later.
Since then, the number of checkpoints along that route has grown over the years and there are presently about 30 of them. A drive by Vanguard from Ghana to Nigeria revealed that they are only five from Ghana to the Benin – Nigeria border while from the Nigerian side of the border to Mile 2, had a total of 30 such checkpoints.
Speaking to Vanguard on the issue at the Nigerian House in Accra Ghana recently, the Nigerian Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana, Abdullahi Salibu, said that issue is causing the nation and Nigerians leaving in the sub-region a whole lot of embarrassment. According to him, ‚ÄúThere are about 49 checkpoints at the Seme border alone, from Customs, to Quarantine, to Police, to the SSS and God knows what. It is a shame; it is a very big shame. They are tarnishing our image and we have to wake up and do something drastic about it.‚Äù
Salibu explained that a journey from Ghana to Benin – Nigeria border takes about four to five hours while it takes about 14 hours to drive from Seme to Mile 2. He noted that former President Olusegun Obasanjo gave the order to the checkpoints to be dismantled but after just a week, there were back.
He expressed regret that the Nigerian security agencies are gradually introducing the same practice to officials of Benin Republic. He suggested that the only way to bring the problem to an end is for government to show the political will and desire to eliminate the scourge.
Evidence that most of the checkpoints are illegal was the visit of the Comptroller General of Customs, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, to Seme early this year, almost all of them disappeared remaining about three or four. Commenting on the numerous road blocks, Customs Area Controller (CAC) of Seme border station, G.O Aliu, said recently in Seme that there are only three approved checkpoints by the Customs authority along the route which according to him are those in Gbagi, Agbara and Aradagun.
This also is collaborated by the CAC of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone ‚ÄúA‚Äù, Comptroller Kane, who said recently that the FOU is only present at two points, Gbaji which is about 40 kilometers from the Seme border and Agbara that could be connected by other illegal routes away from the border.
Aliu had accused some officials of these agencies of coming from as far Ibadan and Abiokuta to mantle illegal checkpoints and Nigerians as usually give in to them. He advised that the time has come for Nigerians using the route to challenge officials of any of these agencies that are not in the approved ones mentioned above.
He said in some cases people who are not even security personnel also mantles road block and extorts money from people plying that route and stressed that need for drastic action to be taken on the matter.
However, Vanguard can say authoritatively that there about seven to nine illegal road blocks mantled by officials of the NCS up till tomorrow. In the other hand, the police have the highest number of checkpoints amounting to between 15 and 20 on a daily basis. Mr. Dominic Ukpemi who plies that route daily told Vanguard that Police checkpoints are more along that route. Ukpemi, There is the Inspector General‚Äôs (IG) squad, the Deputy Inspector General‚Äôs (DIG) Squad, the Festac and Mowe squad etc.
He also explained that all the Police Divisions along the route, Seme, Badagry, Oguafun, Morogbo and Ijanike, has three each. He also disclosed that the Anti-Terrorist squad sent to the border has two road blocks while the squad set up by the Police authorities to checkmate the activities of its officers has also set two check points along the route.
Responding on behalf of the Lagos State Police Command, the Police Public Relations Officer Mr. Frank Mba said he is not aware of any checkpoint but only police presence along the route. He noted that what the officers do is stop and search to checkmate car theft along international routes.
The Police image maker said those officers along that route are expected to maintain ‚Äústrict professional call, decency and decorum in the discharge of their duty.‚Äù To this end he continued, a monitoring unit was set up to curb all such vices not just along that route but across the state.
He further noted that monitoring unit is also expected to checkmate officers posted to that route to ensure that they do not engage in practices that are becoming of police officers.
According to him, ‚ÄúIt will be wrong to sacrifice the security of Lagosians because of the wrong doing of a few officers by moving out officers posted along the route out.‚Äù On the allegation that the monitoring unit itself has set up two road blocks along the route, Mba said, ‚ÄúIt is not to the best of my knowledge.‚Äù
It would be recalled that the Customs helmsman in November last year set up a committee to check all form of bribery and corruption in the service. The committee known as the Monitoring and Quick Response Team was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the Service is raided of all vices which has resulted in the bad image presently associated with it.
Deputy Public Relations Officer of the Service, Joseph Attah, who disclosed this recently, noted that the squad is divided into two teams, is to monitor compliance with Headquarters directive on check points and inland ports, monitor and report all cases of non compliance and arrest Officers and stakeholders who engage in any form of bribe giving or taking.
The squad is also expected to embark on surprise attacks on smugglers and make seizures and operate incognito in snuffing out information on new smuggling routes and methodology.
The statement further noted that ‚ÄúThe CG emphasized that the squad should not be taken for a task force as they are only put together to compliment the efforts of the Area commands and the Federal Operations Units in ensuring compliance.‚Äù
‚ÄúThe Squad is divided into two teams, headed by Assistant Comptroller, Daniya Abdullahi and Chief Superintendent of Customs, Abubakar Argungu. The teams are to cover in rotation all parts of the country.‚Äù Despite the operations of the committee six months after, the problem of checkpoints along that route has persisted contrary to the directive of the CGC.
Other security agencies present along the route are the Quarantine that has two, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) two, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), not permanent and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) which also has two road blocks. Similarly, the Port Health Control has two check points, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), State Security Service (SSS) and others.