Following recent attacks by gunmen in the South – East, motorists have expressed mixed reactions over the sudden disappearance of security personnel on major highways in the region.
Some of the respondents who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a survey, said it was dangerous for motorists to ply the roads without presence of security personnel while others thought otherwise.
A motorist in Enugu, Mr Amechi Udeh, who pleaded anonymity, told NAN that “travelling along the highway is not as it used to be”.
“Now, you are on your own. You are gripped with fear while travelling because there is no security on the highways, and you don’t know who is who.
“Yes, there are still military checkpoints, especially within the Enugu axis,” Udeh said.
A commercial driver, Mike Chukwu, who plies the Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway, however said the presence of military personnel at checkpoints had not prevented robbery attacks.
According to Chukwu, some security personnel on the roads are even more dangerous than robbers because they are after money rather than providing security.
“They collect money from road users and end up making more than they earn. They are not doing the job,” he alleged.
Chukwu also decried the level of robbery incidences at the Better Life junction at Abia State axis of the Enugu-Umuahia expressway.
“Once you enter Better Life at Enugu where there are soldiers, you start seeing robbery incidents. Here, you find checkpoints manned by armed robbers,” he claimed.
On his part, a driver, Mr James Chukwuemeka, explained that he encountered a number of military checkpoints on his recent journey from Lagos to Enugu State but on getting to the South – East, none was seen from Onitsha to Enugu.
Chukwuemeka prayed that the same level of military checks by members of the Armed Forces would be concentrated in the South – East.
The transport worker called on the state government to take action to tackle rising insecurity in the state and the region in particular.
Another bus driver, Mr Uchenna Mba said there were no security personnel along Enugu – Ebonyi highway except at the boundary between the two states.
“This is unlike before that one will pass up to seven roadblocks before getting to Ebonyi.
“I was surprised that I travelled yesterday without noticing the presence of policemen and Road Safety officers on the way.
“I think they are afraid considering the recent happenings around the South – East,” Mba said.
Izunna Mbanefo, another driver, said that Enugu – Nsukka road that used to have up to eight checkpoints manned by different security personnel had only few policemen at 9th Mile, Egede, and Umuoka.
Mbanefo blamed the dismal number of security personnel to the killings of policemen in the country.
Alex Okafor, a commercial bus driver said that there was only one checkpoint at Umumba along Enugu-Awka/Onitsha expressway.
According to Okafor, the officers do not come out on daily basis as they did in the past.
“It is only God that has been protecting us. How can one be driving on the highway without security officers on the road?
“This is not good at all; I want government to do something about it because we are now providing security for ourselves.
“I urge the citizens to stop attacking and killing security personnel,” he pleaded.
A police officer who pleaded anonymity frowned at the killing of policemen at will, saying that they were also human beings like others.
According to him, policemen have wives, children and relations who depend on them for survival, so killing them affects these people.
“How can we patrol or mount roadblocks when citizens do not want, let them protect themselves,” he said.
A cross section of civil society organisations also expressed opinion that previous checkpoints constitute only economic sabotage to the people without any meaningful security impact.
Mr Kindness Jonah, Coordinator of Voice of the East, a civil society organisation, said that the checkpoints were economic sabotage instruments as they had become illegal tollgates.
Jonah said that the activities at the checkpoints had led to high cost of foodstuff and services since the cost of payments at “these artificial tollgates” were transferred to our rural people’’.
“At no time did the checkpoints or roadblocks act as they were meant to. It worked against the economic progress of our people with unnecessary extortions, harassments and delays of our business people.
“They have moved out now. Have you heard of any major robbery incident unless the ones that will be planted by the aggrieved security men out of the roads already?,” he asked.
Mr Ikechukwu Iwu, a motorist, who plies between Garki and UNTH Ituku/Ozalla axis of Enugu – Port Harcourt Road, noted that the illegal payment was becoming outrageous especially when some of the materials conveyed were just farm produce.
“Within the short space of Garki to UNTH, you meet three or four checkpoints, where you must drop nothing less than N100 at each point or a quantity of the farm produce you are carrying,’’ Iwu alleged.
However, Mr Olu Omotayo, former Chairman of Civil Liberties Organisation in Enugu, said that the recent development portended great danger to lives and properties especially of those travelling on the roads.
Omotayo said this was because the mere presence of security personnel on the roads scared criminals and gave confidence to travellers.
Meanwhile, a cross-section of motorists in Abakaliki, Ebonyi has decried the spate of attacks on security personnel and facilities across the country, recently.
The motorists told NAN in Abakaliki that the development had exposed road users to high risks in view of the volatile security situation in the country.
According to them, the attacks on police and other security personnel which began with the #ENDSARS riots of 2020 led to the killing and destruction of security facilities in different parts of the country.
They lamented that the situation which caused unofficial dismantling of checkpoints especially in crime flash points posed danger to transporters and travellers.
Mr Emmanuel Eshaya, a transporter who plies between Abakaliki and Onitsha noted that travellers faced great danger with the absence of security checkpoints in crime prone spots on Abakaliki/Enugu highway and Enugu /Onitsha highway.
Eshaya advised authorities to beef up military and police patrols on the routes to keep criminals off the highways.
He said that the only police and military checkpoints on the road were the ones after the permanent site of Ebonyi State University and at Nkalagu boundary between Ebonyi and Enugu states.
“It’s becoming increasingly risky to travel by roads these days with insecurity everywhere leading to attacks and abduction of passengers.
“The situation is worsened by recent spate of attacks by armed hoodlums against policemen at different checkpoints leading to loss of lives of the policemen.
“I think it’s important that security experts devise a more robust scientific means to police our highways in order to ensure safety and protect road users,” Eshaya said.
Another transporter, Mr Livinus Abba said that except few checkpoints that were found within the state capital, police checkpoints had virtually disappeared in many parts of the state.
“The military checkpoint located at the popular Timber shade junction in Amasiri has been vacated following a recent attack by unknown gunmen that led to the death of two military personnel on traffic duty.
“The usual police roadblocks along the ‘Mile 2’ Ishiagu axis of Okigwe-Afikpo highway have been abandoned.
“The situation is worse at night because there is complete absence of security men in all the checkpoints from Abia State to Ebonyi,” Abba said.
Mr Chikaodiri Elom, an intra – state transporter who plies between Abakaliki and Ikwo local government area said that local police checkpoints had disappeared following the shooting of two policemen at a roadblock recently at Umuezenyi in Izzi LGA.
“Though, they extort money from the motorists, we feel safe knowing that there are policemen on the roads,” Elom said.
Mr Franklin Igwe, a criminologist and security expert said that the current security challenges demanded that police authorities should think outside the box on how to effectively secure the highways.
Igwe said that physical checkpoints might not provide solution especially with the recent escalation of attacks on security facilities and he called for deployment of technology and intelligence gathering.
He also advocated security surveillance especially at identified flash points to keep criminals in check.
“Police should evolve a new strategy where technology will play a major role in combating crime instead of using the traditional method of mounting roadblocks.
“Our security handlers should consider the use of artificial intelligence and drones to provide security on our highways,” Igwe said.
However, Mrs Loveth Odah, Police Public Relations Officer, Ebonyi Command said that the police would not shy away from its statutory responsibilities of maintaining law and order as well as protecting the citizens.
Odah said that the Command had increased patrols in all identified flash points in the state.
“We are not deterred by attacks on our personnel by hoodlums. We assure the public that the police is there to ensure their safety and protection,” she said.
The police in Abia have said that the gradual disappearance of checkpoints in the state was just a change of strategy, in helping to police the state.
The Command’s spokesman, SP Geoffrey Ogbonna told NAN in Umuahia that the police were still carrying out their duties.
Ogbonna spoke in view of the fact that security agents were gradually leaving the checkpoints in the South – East possibly because of rising attacks on them by gunmen.
“Posting our men to checkpoints and nipping points is one of the crime-fighting strategies.
“So, if you no longer see our men at those points, it doesn’t mean that the police are not working.
“Rather, we have changed our strategy and we have adopted other strategies to ensure what we call visibility policing.
“One has to tread with caution because you can only provide or secure somebody’s own life when you are safe,” he explained.
Ogbonna urged members of the public not to panic, but go about their normal businesses, saying that the police were doing their best to ensure that the state was safe.
Some commercial drivers who spoke with NAN at various motor parks confirmed that the security agents were no longer as visible as they used to be on the roads.
Mr Cyprain Unanka, a Coaster bus driver on Umuahia – Aba route said that he had not seen security agents at their checkpoints for the past two weeks.
Unanka said that their absence had neither affected transportation nor caused any security breach, stressing that drivers had been doing their normal businesses.
Mr Elijah Obasi, the manager of Ochendo Park, Umuahia, lamented the 8.00pm to 6.00am curfew imposed on residents by the state government, saying that it was affecting their operations.
“They just impose curfew to make us suffer when there is nothing happening in Abia.They should lift it please, because it is affecting us,” Obasi said.
Also, Mr Oliver Okorie, a motorist who plies Umuahia – Arochukwu route said that there were still checkpoints though not as busy as they used to be.
Mr Felix Njoku, another driver, who plies Umuahia – Uyo route said that some of the police and military checkpoints were still functional along the axis.
Njoku however, decried the poor security situation in the state, saying that it was beginning to cause panic among road users. (NAN)