Bola Adewumi, 21 had gone to Ilorin to see an uncle from Lagos over her admission into University of Ilorin when the total lockdown necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic held her at Ilorin, the Kwara state capital. For two months she was held up in Kwara state until one day she was told of night vehicles that ply the Lagos route and she went for it. The vehicle she boarded set out by 11pm and by 5am she was at Berger, the outskirt of Lagos. She had to walk the long Berger bridge to enter Lagos. On their way from Ilorin, she told the magazine reporters that at every security check point, their driver had to drop between N500 and N1,000 before being allowed to pass. Adewumi’s travelogue by the time she got home was like a Nollywood movie experience.
By Linus Okolo and Success Okuchimeya
Similarly, Alex Bender, who lives in Abuja was told that the wife who went visiting her parents in Sapele, Delta state gave birth. Out of excitement he hit the road from Abuja in the night because of the lockdown order then. By the time he got to Sapele the next day, he has spent over N45,000 on security personnel on the various check points between Abuja and Delta state.
Curiously, many motorists who had to travel during the total lockdown suffered in the hands of security personnel. However, after the relief from the relaxation of the lockdown order, many stakeholders especially transporters and motorists still insist that their sufferings in the hands of security personnel are far from being over.
For instance, between Seme in Lagos to mile 2 also in Lagos, a journey of one hour thirty minutes in the 80s and early 90s now take over eight hours. Even then there are over 30 check points in the day time and about 60 check points at night mounted by security personnel. The least a transporter spends at each check point is N100. Transporters who convey passengers carrying rice, used clothes, shoes, and so on settle men of the customs separately.
At the Calabar end, transporters who ply the route to Cameroun border town equally settle security personnel. Same with transporters in Owode and Idiroko in Ogun state as well as those on the Kastina routes. Though those with inside knowledge say security personnel in the North do not force transporters and motorists to part with money for fear of being attack.
There are pent-up anxiety and fear over the ways and manner security personnel have turned transporters and other motorist to their ATM in the Southern part of the country. Inspite of the good efforts of the present Inspector- General of police to bring about lasting reform in the police, the lower cadre of the police continues to frustrate his good intentions and achievement. This is the same with the sabotaging efforts of some soldiers and customs officers who equally mount some of the nation’s highways.
In some states, transporters who think they are very smart but in practical terms, the security personnel are smarter continue to have conflict with the security personnel mounting road blocks on the expressways. Thus, the coronavirus epidemic has suddenly become a blessing in disguise to many, and a set back to others in many states of the federation.
For instance, the magazine’s reporter ran into the heavy traffic gridlock on the Niger-bridge and decided to ascertain the cause. Little did he know that those mandated to enforce law and order have converted the situation to Authomated Teller Machine, ATM. In the midst of the heavy traffic, the weather suddenly became cloudy and the reporter filled with trepidation because of the situation at the Delta end of the Onitsha head bridge. Suddenly, passengers in their hundreds began to trek. This did not bother the security personnel at the head bridge as they were busy collecting money from motorists who are perceived not to wear nose mask or moving from one state to another without permit or those who do not observe sign of social distance or have no waste bins in their cars.
The same scenario played out on the Lagos to Benin expressway where security personnel created a furore that is yet to die down owing to the panic created by the covid-19 pandemic.
For many motorists, who pride themselves as constant travelers, the reality on ground and recent reports suggest that travelling on the nation’s highways might just be another way of subjecting oneself to a growing booming business that benefits security personnel.
A police source with inside knowledge of the happenings at the Niger-bridge between Anambra and Delta states disclosed that all the security personnel, comprising the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps NSCDC, Federal Road Safety Corps, State Task-Force on coronavirus, etc, are not just at the scene for the enforcement of law and order, but to make their money. Even with the relaxation of the lockdown, the security personnel without blinking an eyelid still smile home with egunje which they collect from motorists. The source disclosed that at the end of the day’s business, the money is divided to each of the security outfit and taskforce respectively.
A source at the Onitsha head bridge who spoke on anonymity disclosed that if one choose to ply one way, rather than joining the long queue, private drivers are asked to part with one thousand naira, in each of the road block, while commercial drivers pay as much as N3,000 or N5,000 as the case may be. According to the source, on his way to Onitsha few days back, he decided to follow those he saw plying one way, on getting to the road block, he was asked to go back and join the long queue, or pay his pass fee, he disclosed that after much plea, he was allowed to move on, after he paid the sum of N1000.
One Chile Ude, not real name, told the magazine reporters that during the day, security personnel delegate some persons to handle the collection of passing fee on their behalf to avoid running into trouble water, and at the end of the day, the proceeds are remitted at the feet of the “biblical Saul”.
Investigation revealed that the number of taskforce between both states have skyrocketed, some are in charge of cars and heavy duty trucks and tankers, some are in charge of tricycles who convey traders and their load, including stranded passengers and those who could not afford the high fare, charged by bus drivers as a result of the passing fee paid to security personnel, or bear the pain of the heavy traffic gridlock. Others are in charge of motorcycles who convey passengers from Asaba to Onitsha or from Onitsha to Asaba.
Curiously, the highly connected and the political class who move around with police escort drive pass the road blocks without hindrances.
As the sorrows, tears and pain among the people continue to increase on daily basis, commuters and those affected by the effects of the lock down/road block have urged the various states government to end the “Black Market Business”, remove the security personnel from the road, who have turned them to ATM, and open up the road for easy access.
This they say have made transport cost to leap to unprecedented level with transport cost from Warri to Lagos that was N4000 before the lockdown now going for between N9000 and N10,000. Warri to Abuja that used to be N7,000 now goes for N15,000, while Warri to Onitsha has risen from N1,800 to N4000. Water transportation and air fares have equally jumped.
Apparently agonized by the huge sum of money spent on security personnel, some motorists and commercial drivers who took loan to buy the vehicle they put on the road for transportation business say their margin of profits are almost taken away by security personnel, fuel and cost of maintaining their vehicles.
While some observers are however watching and waiting to see how this will be tackled for the betterment of all, some commercial driver went on protest recently in Lagos to draw the attention of government to the overbearing and increased numbers of security on the busy Seme to Mile 2 road.
How the government will respond to the outcry and the open exhortation by security personnel remains to be seen.