By Emeka Nwosu, PhD
The people of South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria, for quite a long time, have been reeling under the pains and suffocation of countless checkpoints mounted in the area by different security outfits in the country, including the Army and Police. The argument is that the checkpoints are meant to enforce security and counter the activities of criminal elements. This sounds theoretically good. But the reality on ground shows that these checkpoints have not truly served that purpose.
The truth of the matter is that even with the ubiquitous presence of these checkpoints, many cases of kidnappings and killings by unknown gun men have continued to take place in several parts of the South East. Some of these incidents, often, happen close to the locations of the checkpoints, raising strong suspicions on the complicity of some of the men in uniform. The case of the former Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence Chukwuemeka Kanu Uche is still very fresh in our memory.
When he was kidnapped around a military checkpoint around Lokpanta on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway and forced to pay huge ransom, he pointedly accused some of the security formations on the road of complicity. His case is not an isolated incident. Several cases of abductions of innocent travelers have occurred on the Eastern highways even with the intimidating presence of these checkpoints. The question is: what is the essence of these checkpoints with the rising cases of kidnappings and robberies on the highways?
Can`t security agencies do their jobs without these numerous checkpoints that litter all the highways in the South East? In civilized climes, crimes are fought through intelligence. If we must tell ourselves the truth, these armada of checkpoints serve mainly as extortion points. Drivers, including commercial and private, who do not have money to part with are treated with disdain and often brutalized by the security men who see themselves as being above the law. It has become a harrowing experience travelling on Eastern roads with the suffocating presence of the checkpoints and brutal conducts of the unfriendly operatives that man them. The security agents, most of who are drawn from outside the South East, behave like occupation forces with no empathy for the locals.
The suffering and humiliations the people are subjected to on these roads are nothing to write home about. On some of the checkpoints that are manned by the military, motorists are forced to come down from their vehicles, irrespective of age, to walk across with hands raised up. I experienced this on a recent trip from Abuja to the East through Enugu Ezike and Nsukka in Enugu State. I don’t know any part of the country where citizens of Nigeria are subjected to such condescending treatment. I find it humiliating and discriminatory. I am yet to get any satisfactory explanation for this atrocious act by soldiers who are being sustained with the tax payers` money.
On that trip, I undertook a census of the checkpoints on the roads from Abuja to the border between Kogi State and Enugu. I also counted the checkpoints from the Enugu border to Umuahia, my destination point. The statistics that emerged showed that the South East is frighteningly under security siege. From the border town of Enugu Ezike in Enugu to Umuahia in Abia State, a distance of only 186 km, there were 46 checkpoints manned by the Army and Police. But from Gwagwalada in Abuja through Kogi to the Enugu border, a distance of 328 km, there were only 14 checkpoints.
A breakdown of these figures shows that from Abuja to Enugu border there is an average of one checkpoint after a 23 km distance. On the other hand, we have one checkpoint to a 4 km distance in the South East. In most cases, these checkpoints are closely arranged to each other, making traveling on those roads cumbersome and traumatizing. These figures speak to the mistreatment of the South East by the security authorities in Nigeria. This is unacceptable. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, should please intervene by ordering the Military High Command and the Police Headquarters to dismantle these checkpoints or reduce them to the barest minimum.
The picture of what is obtainable even on the international routes within the ECOWAS sub-region brings out forcefully to the public domain the level of oppression to which our people are being subjected to in their own country. For example, the data derived from ECOWAS shows that there are only 37 security checkpoints on the 1,122 km Abidjan-Ouagadougou Highway which is the longest regional corridor in West Africa. This comes to 1 checkpoint per 37 km distance or 3 checkpoints per 100 km distance. The second longest corridor which is Cotonou-Niamey Highway with a distance of 1,036 km has only 34 security road blocks which gives an equivalent of 3 checkpoints per 100 km distance like the Abidjan-Ouagadougou Highway. The Lagos-Abidjan route which is a distance of 992 km has 69 checkpoints which is the highest within the sub-region. Even with that, it comes to an average of 7 security road blocks per 100 km distance.
With the data that is before us, there is no argument that can be put forward to justify the anomalous situation in the South East. For lack of words, what is going on in the South East is physical and economic annihilation of the zone and its people. It will be difficult for any industrial enterprise to survive under this kind of suffocating environment. No serious investor, both local and foreign, would want to invest in the area because of the multiplicity of extortions that take place at the checkpoints.
One does not need to be an Economist to know that goods and services produced in such a besieged environment can never be competitive. This is partly one of the reasons why the economy of the South East has remained prostrate and faltering. Even in the Far North of Nigeria where we have rampaging insurgencies, the people there are not under such security siege. Why is the situation different in the South East? There is the urgent need for Members of the National Assembly from the South East and the Governors to take this matter up with President Tinubu and the relevant security authorities as urgently as possible, especially as we enter the festive season. If nothing is done, travellers to the South are going to have a rough time.
Those in positions of power who are causing pains to the citizenry should realize that sovereignty belongs to the people from which the state derives its legitimacy and authority. According to social contract philosophers like John Locke, Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, the people willingly surrendered their right to self-help to the state to act on their behalf by providing protection and welfare. The essence is to avoid anarchy which is the hallmark of the state of nature as noted by Hobbes. Oppressing the people, therefore, is not one of the functions of the state.
It is on the theory of the social contract that the modern state was constructed. Part of that theory as stated by John Locke is the concept of rebel. The people have the right under the social contract to rebel against the Leviathan (the state) when it fails in its obligations to the people. The anger and frustrations are building up. South East is not a vassal region in Nigeria. The Nigeria-Biafra war ended over 53 years ago with no victor no vanquished. It cannot continue to be an occupied territory like West Bank or Gaza. The siege should stop.
Dr Nwosu, a Political Economist, writes from Abuja
He can be reached on: email@example.com