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Return of police roadblocks? No

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The Bisibee with Bisi Olawunmi

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The battle for and against police roadblocks has begun in earnest, barely two weeks after their scrapping. On Tuesday, March 14, apologists of police ‘toll gates’ in the House of Representatives moved a motion for their restoration because, according to them, the removal has engendered an increased rate of crime. Friday Itulah, an Edo man and PDP member of the House, who moved the motion claimed that the removal has exposed Nigerians to increased armed robbery attacks.

He had support from some of his colleagues,including two from the Action Congress on Nigeria (ACN) - Messrs Jimoh Babatunde and Yakubu Abiodun Balogun. Some ACN ‘Progressives’ indeed! So, within two weeks, are these lawmaker ‘researchers’ saying they have done a comparative nation-wide study of crime prevalence with the corresponding period last year and the preceding two weeks to come up with empirical evidence of a upsurge in armed robberies? This is clear evidence that much of our lawmaking is not driven by intelligence, but based on whims and caprices.

Fortunately, the more public spirited members of the House had the numbers to throw out the hare-brained motion. It is also gratifying that another ACN member, Ayo Omidiran, an ‘Omoluabi’ from Osun state, restored the party’s progressive credentials by being among the leading opponents of the motion with the counter poser: “How many kidnappers or bombers have been apprehended at any of these roadblocks?”.

Highway robberies have taken place within gunshot hearing distance of road blocks without response from the police. Many people – passengers, drivers - have lost their lives at police check points, killed by drunken or trigger-happy police officers. It is particularly shocking that the House of Representatives members from Lagos could agitate for roadblocks’ return when it was a roadblock accident that claimed several lives and destroyed over 30 vehicles at Berger in Lagos about two years ago.

In an era when security, crime fighting and control are technology-based, mounting roadblocks all over the country typifies the crudity of the nation’s policing. Rather than make a case for an odious past, the pro-roadblock agitators would be better engaged to lobby for adequate funding, training and moral re-orientation of the police

The counter offensive of the ‘Egunje Collabo Group’ seems to be manifesting earlier than anticipated. When recently the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, directed the dismantling of police roadblocks, otherwise known as check-points, alias ‘toll gates’, for illegal tariff collections, many road users felt relieved. It was generally applauded as a people-friendly decision. But there were skeptics who held that it was a public relations ploy by the IGP to be seen as pro-active but that the directive, like previous such directives, would soon be reversed. They contend that the same police leadership would start conning the press with statistics of increased crime rate with the scrapping of the roadblocks to create a justification for their restoration. There are those out-right cynical ones who hold that dismantling roadblocks is tantamount to reducing police pay as many police officers are believed to have factored ‘toll collections’ into their legitimate earnings.

Of course, ‘toll’ collection at police toll gates is an open secret. I find it quite amazing that police officers can brazenly collect these monies from motorists in the full glare of all in a queue! It says a lot about the descent into the pits in terms of corruption in an organization that is expected to be a bulwark against corruption. Are we therefore surprised that fighting corruption in Nigeria is turning out to be a lost battle? Police roadblocks are the ubiquitous contact points between the police and the people and a critical factor in the perception of the police. Till now, that critical contact point with the people had brought public relations disaster to the police because of the negativism of police action. Commercial drivers have scant regard for police officers at check points and in some instances, they become so chummy in an embarrassing manner.

I once gave my students an assignment to write a two-page personal experience feature article. There was this student who narrated an experience at Lawanson bus terminal in Surulere area of Lagos where a bus conductor playfully removed a policeman’s cap but the wonder for this student was that the policeman was just as playful, asking the conductor to drop his cap! She concluded: See what ‘egunje’ has done to the police.
Even, where vehicle documents are complete, it is an indication of the abject nature and low self esteem of many police personnel that they become beggarly, just to induce you to part with some money. Their refrain: ‘Oga, your boys are loyal’; ‘Oga, what do you have for the boys?’ Well, these days, I take advantage of culture in responding to their solicitations, pointing out: ‘As a senior citizen, the boys must give to the elder’. Everybody would laugh, and I’ll be on my way. But then, it is not everybody who has the advantage of age and position to get an easy passage at police roadblocks. For many, police roadblocks have proved fatal – with the shooting to death of many road users while others are maimed simply for refusing to oblige the police the N20 or N50 extorted by police at roadblocks..

IGP Abubakar deserves the support of right thinking Nigerians in his bold decision to dismantle police roadblocks – they constitute a menace to the travelling public.

So, let the NO to return of police roadblocks resound loudly in the land.

Road killings unlimited: Paging the FRSC

The deaths of 18 young graduates of Imo State University over a week ago on the journey to their NYSC orientation camp was a sad reminder of the ‘Grim Ripper’ that Nigerian roads have become. The hopes of parents and pride of siblings have been ripped apart by these latest horrific deaths on our roads. My heart grieves for these bubbling lives prematurely terminated. A son of my townsman died in a road crash sometime ago while returning to Lagos from Port Harcourt. He had a first class degree in petroleum engineering. The shock of his death has shattered the father’s health till date.

The continuing road carnage demands that the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) be more activist, designing road ‘accident’ preventive strategies to be implemented aggressively and not be seen as competing with Customs as a revenue earner through its new vehicle and driver’s licensing scheme. By way of suggestion, the FRSC can embark on a nation-wide campaign to mobilize people against excessive speeding. It can also compel commercial drivers and vehicle owners to have comprehensive insurance so that where road crashes do occur compensation can be paid the survivors and relations of those who died. Nigerian highways cannot continue to be horrorways.

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