There is no doubt that the threat of insecurity across the country has hightened fears by road users on the highways necessitating the mounting of checkpoints on federal roads.
These checkpoints scattered all across the nation have also helped in reducing attacks on motorists by hoodlums, armed robbers and kidnappers.
However as Nigerians traverse the vast roads of the country, there are reported cases and witnesses to the ugly trend of extortion by security personnel stationed along the nation’s highways.
Prominent among some of the checkpoints are at the Itobe bridge, Itobe Anyigba road, Naval base, Banda, Lokoja – Jamata – Koton-karfe road all in Kogi state where commuters are being charged different amounts that must be paid to have a right of passage.
It has been observed that transporters of food products, livestock and other goods pay between 200 and 1,000 naira while passenger vehicles pay between 100 and 200 naira.
There are instances where transporters are forced to part with whatever products they were transporting such as bread, noddles, dairy products, packaged water and assorted drinks.
The personnel have also made it an obligation for petroleum tankers to submit petrol or diesel in 50 or 60 centilitres bottles in many of these checkpoints.
Apart from the extra costs incurred from all these illegal payments on the highways, ripple effects on prices of goods and services across the nation can only be imagined.
Worrisome too is the fact that nefarious activities of some of the personnel are said to have led to unwarranted loss of innocent lives.
In November 2022, atleast 11 persons reportedly burnt to ashes while seven persons were seriously injured in an accident that occurred at a military checkpoint in Ochadamu, along Ajaokuta – Anyigba road in Kogi State.
Twelve vehicles, including trucks and six motorcycles were completely burnt in the accident as a truck rammed into vehicles that were parked at the said military checkpoint.
It was reported that an altercation had ensued between a driver and the soldiers leading to blockade of the road by truck drivers.
Earlier in the same year, a conductor was reportedly killed while trying to avoid beating by security officials stationed at Muritala Muhammed Bridge.
There have also been reports of trailer and truck drivers been killed following arguments for allegedly refusing to pay a stipulated amount of 1000 naira at the same spot.
Each of the incidents resulted in several hours of gridlock on the ever busy Lokoja Abuja road as the tanker and trailer drivers barricaded the road to seek justice leaving other road users stranded for several hours.
In all these disturbing circumstances, the question on the minds of citizens is how the security agents got to collecting bribes on the road.
Mind boggling is the audacity with which these monies are being collected as if they were authorized.
When drivers pay these monies, how then do security officials check what drivers transport?
When did the security agencies become a revenue generating agency and where do the millions of naira generated from these extortions go to, owing to hundreds of vehicles that pass through the busy road?
Some drivers familiar with the road have said some CCTV cameras had been mounted around some of the military checkpoints like in Banda and Jamata to monitor activities of personnel.
However, the measure may have changed little or nothing as the illegal collection of monies have continued unabated.
For a country that is clamouring to tackle corruption, it is important that the military top echelon beam its spotlight on the menace and address it squarely.
Let the army engage private investigators and punish perpetrators of the crime if it was not sanctioned by the authorities.
Toll free lines or short sms codes should be assigned to enable drivers call whenever they fall victim of such extortion.
These would help restore the good image of the military as its personnel mount the roads to discharge their duties.
The measures would also go a long way in checking hikes in prices of goods as transporters are forced to charge ridiculous amounts on products which consumers would certainly have to bear the brunt.
In addition, strict checking of vehicles would go a long way in curbing the transportation of illicit products, drugs or arms that may ordinarily be moved around by criminals on the nation’s highways.
If these measures are cautiously taken, the fight against corruption would be successful especially among security agencies who are meant to enforce the law against corruption.
Muhammad Musa writes from Abuja