POLICE ROAD BLOCKS : A CALL FOR RESPONSIBLE OPERATION

I just traveled back from Asaba using the Asaba-Benin express road and I was amazed at the number of road blocks on that route. I love the police presence on that road and in fact aside from the usual menace of twenty and fifty naira syndrome which the police force has gotten itself synonymous with, I really don’t mind them. Did I hear you say one mans meat is another mans poison? Oh yes, I know the private transporters wont feel this way, but let the truth be said, the men and officers are doing a marvelous job and the deterrent effect of a police men cannot be lost on anyone. However there is a very noticeable menace which I find very hard to understand. This is the new face of road blocks as seen in contemporary post amnesty Nigeria .

The new face includes huge stacks of sandbags heaped sometimes to 3-4 feet height at both sides of the road placed in an adjacent manner to one another. I first noticed this on the Warri-Ughelli road and Warri-Sapele axis. I was quickly reminded that this is the Niger Delta and anything can happen. In fact at this check points, you will see a semblance of a real war situation as seen in war films. You will see an eventual halt of traffic on major highways with vehicles meandering slowly. It’s not possible to be in a hurry in this place, how dare you? As you approach the officers you notice that they look very mean and serious minded usually with intimidating garbs wrapped all around them, you wonder who the enemy really is. These ones qualify for a ‘tourist attraction’ themselves

You could be spoken to with unkind words by junior men who probably are still fresh from Police College and others who appear to be uncontrollable even with their superiors standing by. You can also find police men who just joke plainly and bid you goodbye especially if you are a good and faithful tax payer who deposits with them without a whimper. These ones qualify for a rebate from time to time. As usual and expected, cash collection is in a frenzy with usual bargaining of what to pay into the police welfare bank on the boil., poor drivers who have bought petrol at high prices, begging armed men to pay this or that for their release and freedom in a rather congenial atmosphere. Here it is a mixed grill of events and you are expected to accept your lot. All these are normal in the Nigerian life. We really are not bothered. In fact we heckle our driver who had tried to get his papers right as slack and stupid, fake and novice if he dares to justify why he should not pay this compulsory tax. We say words like, “This driver is very stupid, you no go give them their money make we commot for here”? All such niceties. We encourage the police to extort them

Of course there is no love lost between us and our drivers likewise the police and the drivers. We just want to be on our way. The other day, at the emergency unit, it was recounted that a mobile policeman was knocked down by a bus driver. The road block was so unbearable as the driver felt it was getting late and had to quickly try one or two maneuvers so that he could be on his way, and ended up knocking down an officer who suffered a fracture/dislocation of his ankle joint. When he was brought to the hospital, he screamed so much in pain and it was clear to everyone that he had blood running in his veins, and of course not liquefied steel. Indeed he is like you and I after all. So why not treat others with that same humaneness

But as you go your way you see another face of road blocks. Wooden objects, used tires, parts of trees, bush lamps, plain rubbish and refuse etc. These are mere human contraption to ensure slow down of vehicular movement. There are no proper barriers so we are making do with what the police have.

However, this is an accepted usual occurrence in Nigerian life. Now, as night falls, and police relocates, you then begin to see empty check points with the human contraption taking the form of human/ road traffic accident hazard. Sometimes, they become taken over by robbers, since you must slow down at each point, or plainly as obstruction causing terrible accidents especially as dew/fog falls at night and the early mornings. The irresponsibility of the “tax collector” now hunts the poor drivers who it is expected, must have a good fog light to see their contraption. You see nails left on the highway; you see a crass disregard of human life by the police force.

There goes a popular saying that if you throw a stone in the market place, your brother may be the victim, and this usually plays out all the time. I work presently at the emergency unit of a hospital serving the Onitsha-Benin highway and it is common place to see very terrible accidents, mass casualties as a result of this contraption of death. Now if the police are quitting the road block for any reason, why allow it persists. Why carelessly allow them to block the passage. I think this is unfortunate and crass lawlessness. Is there nothing the federal ministry of transport can do about this? Is there nothing the FRSC can do about this? Can’t this unfair obstruction be replaced by movable barriers that can be rolled off the road when the police are leaving? Is there no way Nigerians can be spared of the untimely deaths suffered at the hands of these unmanned fixed roadblocks? I think there need to be a re orientation in this regard.

We must start by demanding that these contraptions be replaced with more civilized and proper devices that will make our police appear non combat like in peace time. Somebody just informed that the roadblocks are as a result of the tense security situation in the country as regards the Niger delta issue in post amnesty Nigeria and the kidnapping issue. Well said, but are they still necessary when unmanned? Which kidnapper will they check when the operators are not there? I dare say that it is unjustifiable. Now, we are trying to make Nigeria a new brand and make it accessible to tourists, but all tourists see is a semblance of a war situation, risk to life and limb and travel advisories by the different embassies meanwhile a journey on these highways kills the brand good people great nation and confirms their fears and anxiety.

If you have lived abroad and visiting your dear motherland after a long while, you will see why these unmanned road blocks are scary, a nuisance and a mere accident prone point on our highways. They are a sad commentary on the unavailability of adequate supervision by the necessary authorities. They have become toll gates of some sort, centers of unforeseen death, made life more terrible in this Nigeria and even a source of economic loss to men of good will. We have gradually become victims of our security needs and efforts to tackle them.

Don’t get me wrong I am not campaigning for a removal of these road blocks as I have actually extolled their usefulness in contemporary Nigeria , but a need for the operation of roadblocks with humaneness and a high sense of responsibility so that the usefulness cannot be defeated. Everyone agrees that we have gradually accepted the need to support our police men even though they forcefully collect the twenty naira, because we actually give them sometimes without them demanding it, but we must ask that they operate the blocks with a sense of service and remove them from the road when leaving so that we can be alive, to give them another twenty naira tomorrow.

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