Notorious criminals have been caught in the past during such routine checks and patrols on the major roads in the country, and encomiums have been showered on the security operatives for their wonderful works in the past.
But recently, there have been doubts over the authenticity of the work being done by the officers at different checkpoints, especially as there have been video evidences and images of people being extorted by these security operatives.
During a visit to Igbo Ora in Oyo state via Lafenwa in Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital, NAIJ.com correspondent witnessed (first hand) how soldiers, police officers and local vigilante officers were extorting money from the drivers and road users.
Between Lafenwa and Rounda (a roundabout in Lafenwa leading to Igbo Ora), the road was quite terrible and dusty, there were no road blocks or checkpoints there because even movement was not totally easy.
But immediately after the roundabout just a few metres away from the bad road, a checkpoint emerged and the driver of the vehicle boarded by our correspondent simply alighted and the next thing, currency changed hands with an ‘Oga mi, Sir’ (meaning: my boss, Sir) greeting.
Not quite long afterwards, about 500 metres away from the first point, a road block surfaced with just a young man standing in front of our vehicle. He was not putting on any uniform, but observations showed that there were men on camouflage relaxing under shades around (a clear indication that he had their permission to carry out his ‘assignment’).
This time, the driver did not alight from the vehicle. He simply passed the bucks to the man with another ‘Oga mi, Sir’ hailing, and we moved on.
At this point, it was becoming really obvious that there was little or nothing the vehicle owners plying these routes (at least from the driver’s disposition) could do about the money they had to pay routinely at each of the different checkpoints.
The vehicle had not moved more than one and a half kilometres when we saw another checkpoint ahead of us, and this time, they were local vigilante security officers on the road, who, with their guns, also received their fair share of the goodies.
With another generous ‘Oga mi, Sir’ greeting, the driver of the vehicle we boarded dished out another Nigerian currency to the security operatives, at which point our correspondent was forced to ask: “Hey man, are you going to give out everything you got as payment for transport to everyone you meet on the road?”
The driver kept mum and a woman sitting beside our correspondent simply smiled, no one else in the vehicle uttered any word still. The driver got back into the vehicle and the smooth ride continued until we saw another set of security operatives.
This time, the woman who smiled earlier was forced to query the driver in the presence of the security officers although it remains unclear if the officers heard what she was saying or not.
With his routine ‘Oga mi, Sir’ greeting style, our driver doled out another round of cash ‘gift’ to the security officer who met him after parking the vehicle we boarded.
The look on the driver was that of joy and his disposition towards the people he was handling the gifts to, was that of sheer appreciation rather than that of oppression.
After a few metres and another exchange of cash, the driver finally opened up on why he had to ‘settle’ a security operative at every checkpoint.
“Unless you want to have a bad day, that’s when you’ll start getting into issues with these people. The best bet for us on the route is to simply do as they have advised. Alight from the bus, give them their ‘right’ and move on with your journey.
“Anyone who argues or feigns ignorance while moving through this place will be delayed and may be robed into a case which was never in existence,” the dark-skinned man said in Yoruba.
Before arrival at the entrance to Igbo Ora, our correspondent had counted about six checkpoints; all within about five to seven kilometres.
Some of the people living in the area told NAIJ.com that the road checks were many in their area majorly because the route is mostly used to smuggle goods and vehicles into the country from neighbouring Benin Republic.
Although they would not want their names mentioned for security reasons, the people noted that the presence of the security operatives there was a blessing to them initially as they were not often attacked by hoodlums.
However, “It is getting out of hand with the way they now extort money from people, especially commercial bus drivers on this route.
“The checkpoints are really massive, there are so many of them that one almost gets scared of even attempting to set out on a journey outside the house for fear of being delayed or held down if one refuses to make the remunerations which are expected,” one of the residents lamented badly.
Even those who were conversant with the area stated that it was almost impossible for the roadblocks and checkpoints on the road to be cleared because it is quite close to a border town where smuggling of goods takes place on a regular basis.
“The terrible thing is just that these people do not carry out the checks they are meant to carry out on these roads, instead, they receive kickbacks and allow these vehicles smuggle illegal goods into the country from neighbouring Benin republic,” she stated.
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