February 25, 2024

Security checkpoints override South-East roads

Security checkpoints override South-East roads

ROAD users in the South-East region, particularly passengers, have cried out over the ugly scenes they experience on some roads in the zone, especially at checkpoints manned by soldiers. They are lamenting the level of humiliation, intimidation and harassment they are subjected to on some roads in the region.

THE South-East zone can rightly be said to be under siege by soldiers and police that have mounted checkpoints almost at every two kilometers in all the major roads in the zone.

From Aba to Umuahia, to Owerri, Enugu to Abakaliki, Awka to Onitsha to Nnewi, the story is the same. From Aba to Enugu, a distance of 150 kilometers, there are at least 12 army checkpoints and over 16 police checkpoints, permanently mounted and a couple of stop and search police teams.

The situation has been a source of worry to motorists and other road users in the zone, some of whom have described it as an embarrassment and an assault of the people of the zone.

Most embarrassing, according to them, is the situation where they are made to disembark from their vehicles at checkpoints mounted by soldiers and forced to walk across to wait for their vehicle. They are not even searched for any incriminating materials on them. Painfully, this is done under the rain or sun shine and not minding the condition of the occupants of the vehicles, whether they are old or ill; no exemption, even infants and pregnant women are also subjected to the humiliating task. This is notorious on the route between Okigwe and Enugu, on the Enugu-Port Harcourt express; at Ihiala on Onitsha-Owerri road.

S-East like warzone

Condemning the illegal activity, the Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. Dr Chibuzo Raphael Opoko, likened the humiliating treatment being meted out to commuters in South-East at military checkpoints to a warzone situation. He condemned the practice and called on the Presidency, the National Assembly and the military high commands to rise to the occasion.

“I watch with trepidation the manner the South- Easterners and all those travelling across their roads are humiliated, degraded and punished against their will at different checkpoints regardless of age, health, sex and status of the passengers, especially in commercial vehicles.

“Everyone is demanded to disembark and walk across the military checkpoints despite the weather conditions- storm, rain, or sunshine.

“These sad incidents are rife in about four checkpoints along the Aba – Enugu expressway; about three spots between Ugba Junction to Owerri; and at the boundary between Akwa Ibom and Abia states on the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene road.

“The aged, pregnant, and little children, among others, have been subjected to these inhuman treatments. This is condemnable. It is an atrocity to mankind and smacks of deprivation and subjugation of the fundamental rights of free movement and dignity of the human person.

“The continued recurrence of these acts raises questions: Are we in the same nation whose constitution guarantees the rights of free movement and dignity? Are we in a war zone situation? What has occasioned these inhumane treatments?

“We call on the leadership of the country to halt these degrading incidents. It gives a bad image to our nation and eats up the goodwill of hardworking Nigerians who ply these roads, while damaging the psyche of the peace-loving people of the South-East.

“We also call the attention of the Chief of Army Staff and members of the National Assembly to ensure the stoppage of this human degradation and abuse of the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Nigeria residing in the South Eastern part of this country”, the cleric fumed.

Ihiala-Owerri road is a POS to them

One of the most dreaded military checkpoints in the zone is the one at Ihiala along the Onitsha-Owerri road. In particular, the one located almost opposite Abbott Boys Secondary School, Ihiala, is a nightmare to those who use the road on daily basis. Sometimes the traffic gridlock caused by the soldiers there could stretch up to one kilometer on both sides.

A commercial driver and regular user of the road, Mr. Okwudili Okekeamadi said: “The soldiers there have a makeshift house where drivers or their conductors usually go to drop money, while their passengers are forced to disembark and walk to the other end with their hands raised. If the soldiers find out that any of the passengers grumbled, the vehicle conveying them would be delayed. During this delay, the soldiers would be insulting and abusing them and nobody dared to frown, otherwise the person would be asked to remain behind while others continue their journey.

“Another notorious military checkpoint is the one at Ugwuoba along Enugu-Onitsha expressway. Recently, one of the soldiers was boasting that he could kill anybody there and nothing would happen. What angered him was that a vehicle on one lane tried to pass, with the driver not knowing that he had to be told to do so even when there were no vehicles on the other end of the road.

“He asked all the drivers on queue to park and hand over their keys to him. With a gun on his hand, he narrated how he had killed hundreds of people in the course of his work in various parts of the country. Even when one woman begged him that they were rushing home because she just lost her husband, the soldier told her that was not his business. For over 30 minutes, the motorists were delayed, until they contributed N2000 each before they got their car keys back and permitted to go.“

A community leader in Ihiala, Chief Francis Obidile suggested that members of the National Assembly from the zone should take up the matter on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives immediately to prevail on the Federal Government to direct the military authorities to dismantle the humiliating checkpoints.

A leading rights group, Intersociety, lamented that “the most tortuous and shocking of it all is being forced to get down from their vehicles even if it is raining or under scorching sun. This is gross human rights abuse by the military personnel and they do it with impunity, without minding whether the victims are old or ill.

“Annoyingly, the soldiers are not interested in carrying out routine security checks but to punish and humiliate the victims.

“Some passengers using such routes late at night are also at high risk of abduction and permanent disappearance particularly those found wearing or holding any shirt or insignia with combined colours bearing black and red or with rising sun symbols,” Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, chairman of Intersociety said.

It’s height of humiliation, intimidation —Igwe Ukuta

Condemning the embarrassing practice, the traditional ruler of Iggah Ancient Kingdom in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igwe Herbert Ukuta called for a stop to it.

“When the military mount checkpoints, the idea is that they are protecting the people. It is unfair for the same people who are supposed to be protecting the people to turn around and intimidate and humiliate them. Asking road users to disembark from their vehicles and trek almost a kilometer at checkpoints is humiliating. The people who sent them out should review this strategy and come up with something that is not humiliating and intimidating.

“Again, if this is happening only in the South-East, it should be stopped. It is not wrong for military men to stop and search vehicles on the roads, but asking the occupants to disembark and trek across checkpoints is not fair”, he said.

Also, a resident of Enugu lamented that his people suffer a lot at Amaodu military checkpoint in Nkanu Council Area, alleging that the military men disembark road users from vehicles and equally extort private and commercial drivers.

Govs should rise to stop such humiliation—INC

The National President of Igbo National Congress, INC, Comrade Chilos Godsent, said the governors of South- East states should rise to stop the ugly act. He said the humiliation has lasted because the governors gave their nod to it. He reasoned that the security chiefs in the zone must have mooted the idea during security meetings and the governors gave their consent before the commencement of the action.

The INC leader described it as a form of torture on the residents of the zone, adding that the act is capable of generating hatred in the minds of the residents against the security agents. “The INC strongly condemns such humiliation and torture of South-East residents. It is happening because the governors gave their consent to it..” “The governors should rise and stop it. The people of the South-East should not be treated with such disdain. Yes, there had been cases of criminals attacking security agents at checkpoints, but this shouldn’t warrant such measure. It is capable of generating hatred in the minds of residents, thereby making them not to volunteer necessary intelligence needed to ensure effective security of the zone,” he said.

A professor of political science, Prof. Obasi Igwe condemned the humiliation of passengers by soldiers on the roads. He called on President Bola Tinubu to intervene and stop the atrocities.

“The humiliations on the highways, the illegal collections, extortions, outright open robberies are now perpetrated openly as of right. Igbo travellers and traders daily surrender millions of naira of their hard-earned monies to whet the appetites of uniformed men on the roads”, Igwe said.

Reacting, Sasa Ugwumba Kalu Nwoke popularly known as Corporal Nwafor due to his heroic role during the Nigeria/Biafra war, expressed fury over the dehumanization of passengers at military checkpoints in the zone, saying that even white man’s dogs are treated with more dignity. He said that such treatments meted out to commuters at military checkpoints in the South-East “are worse than slavery.

“This is worse than slavery that was abolished centuries ago. It doesn’t make any sense. You won the civil war; fair enough! So, this is the way you treat the vanquished? Each time I see it, I walk up to them and say: why do you treat a fellow man like this? If a white man will treat a black man like that, you cry apartheid!

“Why are you treating a fellow black man like this? You force men, women and children to alight at military checkpoints? What is the idea? What are you trying to prove? That you have a gun? Each time I see this, I feel like going back to war. This is worse than slavery. This is just madness. This is illiteracy! Because you carry gun made by the white man? You can’t even make guns.”

A legal practitioner, ChiefUkpai Ukiro,  also condemned the practice as dehumanization and gross abuse of human rights on the roads.

“It is a case of stereotyping the South-Easterners as if we are criminals. It’s also a dehumanization of the people for no purpose other than that they are South-Easterners. This is a torture and degrading treatment which is not permitted by the constitution. There is no support for it in our laws as any security strategy. When rich people’s cars drive across, they go without being checked. So, it is the masses that are bearing the brunt of the whole exercise”.

Chief Ukiro also challenged South-East leaders and human rights activists to rise to the occasion. “Governors and human rights lawyers should be at the forefront of saving their people from such dehumanization. Rights lawyers should rise to this”.

Contributing, former Deputy Chairman of Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Nzenwata Mbakwe, also condemned the act and called on the leaders to intervene. He said that the South-East should not be treated differently from other parts of the country.

Rights activist, Comrade Nnanna Nwafor, described the situation as infringement of people’s rights.

“The most notorious action is the inhumane treatment meted to motorists who tried to resist the action; they are subjected to torture and dehumanizing treatment. This is an act of wickedness and recklessness of the soldiers and other security agents at checkpoints and on the roads. This continuous abuse by the Army and Naval officers on South-East roads is getting very worrisome and need urgent attention”, FENRAD leader said.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *