BusinessDay

Stakeholders seek end to extortion, harassment on Nigeria roads

...as YSAD, stakeholders mark "International Day of Tolerance" in Aba

Incessant extortion of motorists and harassment of other road users in Nigeria, especially in the Southeast region of the country, by the police and other security agencies have been hinged on the impatience and inability of citizens to pursue their constitutional rights.

Also, security operatives’ quest to amass wealth illegally, is another reason the anomaly is going on unabated, stakeholders observed.

The stakeholders were drawn from the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Road Safety Commission, National Orientation Agency (NOA), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), transport union, civil society groups, youth corps members, and students, affirmed these, Tuesday in Aba, Abia State at a youth summit on extortion, brutality and human rights.

The event organised by the Youths and Students Advocacy for Development Initiative (YSAD), a non-governmental organisation with support from Voice and other stakeholders, was convened to commemorate this (2021) year’s ” International Day of Tolerance”.

Jaja Martins, founder of the Ikemmeri Movement, in a keynote address at the conference, condemned and rejected police continued extortion of road users, especially in the southern part of Nigeria, where the corrupt practice is prevalent.

According to him the plight of motorists is one ugly story that ought not to be told. Commercial and private road users have become prey for financial crimes by law enforcement agents on the road.

“Roadblocks are mounted in worrisome numbers on our roads, not necessarily to combat crimes, but for extorting money from road users through intimidation, brutality and detention.

He commended YSAD, for deciding to raise the consciousness of Nigerian road users, through a multi-stakeholder approach, a development he described, as necessary, considering the increasing cases of a face-off between uniform men at checkpoints and road users, resulting from roadside bribes and extortionist practices.

He stated that a recent report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law accused Nigerian security and law enforcement agencies of pocketing as much as N100 billion in roadside bribery and extortion in the South-eastern part of the country alone between 2015 and 2018.

The report was titled: “Welcome to Southeast region: Nigeria’s headquarters of official highway robbery”.

Read also: Insecurity, poor policy implementation key challenges to Nigeria’s growth – ICSAN

According to the report “At N40,000 per day, the 700 police roadblocks in Abia State must have unlawfully earned N28 million per day, N840 million per month”.

He said that the culture of checkpoint corruption has been a recurring feature amongst Nigerian security and law enforcement agencies, stressing that the naira note benchmark used as ‘toll fee’ a few years ago was N20 denomination as against today’s N100 and N200 notes as the case may be.

“Countless ordinary Nigerians attempting to make precarious ends meet as taxi drivers, market traders, and shop keepers are accosted daily by armed police officers, who demand bribes and commit human right abuses against them as a means of extorting money.

“Those who fail to pay are frequently threatened with arrest and physical harm. Far too often these threats are carried out. Regrettably, 91 years after establishing the Nigerian Police Force, members of the force are viewed more as predators than protectors and the Police has become a symbol of unfettered corruption, mismanagement, and abuse”, he stated.

Obinna Nwagbara, chief executive officer, YSAD, observed that these evident acts of impunity have persisted because while many complain and denounce them, especially the brazen, barefaced corruption that sees police, army, and other personnel openly demanding and receiving bribes from road users, few have been willing to lift a finger to bring an end to this terrible system.

He explained that the zeal to do something beyond just sitting down to whine and protest compelled YSAD and its partners to step into the ring to battle a monster we believe should be defeated.

He noted that with support from its sponsors, Voice, that they have elected to take the bull by the horn in leading the campaign.

“We are simply saying enough: enough to extort motorists, enough to harassment and enough to all forms of brutality.

“This day, November 16, is significant for this project because it is also celebrated globally as the international day of tolerance.

“The virtue of tolerance is quite significant to our campaign because as a body, we understand that much of the problems that give birth to recklessness on our roads, especially road rage, comes from a culture of intolerance; that unwillingness to exercise patience, restrain or understanding with fellow road users.

“We have maintained that if we are to make progress in this endeavour, everyone including security agents, road users, law enforcement officials, and just about everyone else must play their part very well”, he stated.

He continued, “Drivers must understand that the security and law enforcement agents have a job to do, not to collect bribes.

“Passengers must refrain from hurrying drivers or persuading them to give bribes or do anything that would put undue pressure on the drivers, while drivers must also tolerate passengers even when they (passengers) seem irrational.

“Tolerance for us is a virtue that enables every party to accommodate and understand each other”, he stated.

However, Godswill Agbagwa, a Catholic priest and founder, Centre for Social Awareness Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE), accused motorists of sustaining extortion on the highways, by continually giving bribes to these security agents at the different checkpoint, even when they did not contravene traffic rules, noting that the culture will stop when they refuse to part with money at checkpoints,

According to Agbagwa, who was a panelist at the forum, if a commercial driver refuses to give a bribe at a checkpoint and park his vehicle in protest, another comes and parks, by the so many vehicles park and form a long queue at the checkpoint and their passengers join them in the protest, the police personnel or any other security outfit at that checkpoint would be forced out of the place.

“These security operatives are humans, they’re not spirits. We cannot continue to wait for the government. The people can force security operatives to do the right thing”, he observed.

One of the highlights of the event was a roadshow undertaking to create awareness on the ” No dey give, obey traffic rules campaign”, an initiative of YSAD.

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