By Braxton Ilobah. |.
It is no longer news that extortion by security agents on Nigeria’s highways has become legendary but the irritating manner it is carried out on Badagry Road to Seme Border – Nigeria’s boundary with the Republic of Benin mainly by the men of the Nigeria Police Force now calls for urgent attention from higher quarters.
Any regular traveller to Seme Border in contemporary times would readily attest to the fact that between Badagry Round About on the express to Seme Border, no fewer than 20 checkpoints manned by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force are in place on a distance of less than 30minutes drive. The distance from one check point to the other is less than a quarter of a kilometre.
Ordinarily, a first time visitor to the Border or travelling to any of the neighbouring West Africa countries through that route would be misled to believe that either there is harvest of kidnappers or terrorists on that route as to warrant heavy presence of police personnel besides the presence of customs and immigration officials.
At every checkpoint which is often barricaded with some empty 25 litres Jerry cans with long ropes tied to them, the mean looking rank and file wielding their guns, would audaciously ask any commercial driver to part with some money. Their concentration and eagerness in stretching their hand and asking for the money defies any preachment against extortion from higher quarters. Their audacious posturing as thin gods before any driver flagged down at the check point gives enormous impression that either they have the full backing of their bosses in higher quarters or they have on their own chosen to dare the devil.
On a visit to Seme on Wednesday for a conference with the Nigeria Customs, the situation was worse than ever as the commercial drivers that ply Mile 2 to Seme have increased the fare obviously due to the bad road and extortion by the security personnel especially the police.
Even though immigration and customs officials on same route are also involved, their own level of involvement is highly minimized as their checkpoints on the Badagry – Seme axis are nothing to compare with the police.
Some senior officials of Nigerian Immigration and Customs Services at Seme who agreed to speak on the matter anonymously disclosed that the matter had often been brought up at the Border inter-agency management meeting, but with no solution as the police operatives at the check points do not report directly to same unit head.
It was alleged that while some of them are directly under the Lagos State Police Command, with the Divisional Police Officer of the area as their Divional boss whom they report to, some are said to be operatives from the Zone Two Headquarters while others come from some special units.
According to a senior immigration source, such a scenario of various reporting lines makes it difficult to check mate the personnel. Some of the immigration and customs officials are worried that apart from the fight against smugglers, the battle against extortionist officers and men of the police or any of the agencies is one great challenge they have to contend with.
Matters are made worse by the fact that such unbecoming practice takes place on International route where non Nigerian travellers are similarly treated with impunity.