South East: Ohanaeze Kicks Over Military Siege
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, residents of South East and groups in the area have condemned the heavy presence of the military and personnel of other security agencies on South East roads.
They lamented that the numerous tortuous and vicious illegal checkpoints on the dilapidated roads had made life unbearable for their people.
Saturday Sun learnt that the issue would be slated for discussion on May 5, as the Imeobi Ohanaeze deliberates on the 2023 Presidency and the security situation in the South East.
A report released by a rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) alleged that a whopping sum of N306bn had been paid at gunpoint in the past 50 months covering August 2015 and October 2019 by citizens of Eastern Nigeria to estimated 600 military and 6,300 police roadblocks in the South East and South-South regions.
A 2018 report by the group said the security agencies made over N100billion in three years by extorting road users in those Southeast checkpoints.
Disturbed by the ugly trend, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, George Obiozor, recently hosted the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division, Maj-Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, at the National Secretariat of the body.
During their meeting, Ohanaeze Ndigbo explained to the Commandant the inhuman treatments the civilians undergo under the very armed forces whose primary duty was to protect them.
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Obiozor lamented various forms of indignities that the people of South East encounter in the hands of the security operatives and demanded from the GOC, a security network that conformed to the best global practices. National Publicity Secretary of the group, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, yesterday, said the situation appeared to have further aggravated with checkpoints seen in every two kilometres in the region.
According to him, this was at variance with what was obtainable in other parts of the country. Ogbonnia gave instance of Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership’s recent visit to Abeokuta, Ogun State to celebrate with former President Olusegun Obasanjo at his 85th birthday.
He said: “We travelled by road from Lagos to Abeokuta, Ogun State, to celebrate Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at 85. To my chagrin, there was no single roadblock from Lagos to Abeokuta. In contra-distinction, every two kilometers in the South East has a roadblock. You would see an army roadblock, police roadblock, Federal Road Safety Corps roadblock, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) roadblock, NDLEA roadblock or a combination of all, etc. Most disturbingly, each of the checkpoints extorts money, openly and shamelessly, from the road users.”
Saturday Sun gathered that highly placed Nigerians had, on various occasions, drawn the attention of the GOC and the Commissioners of Police in the South East to the illicit activities of soldiers and policemen, whom they said had turned the highways and rural roads into a cash cow by extorting heavy fees from motorists passing through the roads.
Several Igbo leaders who passed through the road to Igboukwu in Aguata L.G.A, Anambra State, for the burial of former Governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife’s wife, Njideka, recently, had unpalatable stories to tell.
An elder statesman who attended a programme from Owerri, Imo State, recounted how they stood in traffic for more than one hour at a checkpoint in Ihiala, on the Onitsha/Owerri Expressway. “The traffic ground to a complete halt as there was no movement from Owerri to the Onitsha end. All the vehicles going to Owerri from Onitsha and verse versa all had their engines switched off. When a driver asked one of the hawkers selling water and snacks what caused the gridlock she said that it had been shut down till 8pm because the military men at the checkpoint had gone to pray and to break their fast. Therefore, the road had to be shut down. She said it was normal.”
Another told the story of how he spent about four hours on his way to a burial at Oba. “When we eventually got to the checkpoint after the road was opened I noticed that the military men were collecting N100 from every bus. The collection went on boldly without shame or care. The traffic jam stretched for over five kilometres either way. Governors Uzodimma and Soludo should intervene on this matter. This is unacceptable.” In their reaction, Ohanaeze further stated that one of the worst things that can happen to any country is the populace, including children to watch the security operatives openly and shamelessly collect bribes from or rob motorists with arrogance and bravado.
The recurring confusion, it said, is how to draw a distinction between the notorious armed robbers with unlicensed guns and the government security operatives with licensed guns. The apex Igbo body said the illicit toll gate phenomenon has brought excruciating pains as a journey of less than an hour now takes over two hours because of gridlock mostly occasioned by these roadblocks and checkpoints.
Two other groups, the Igbo National Council (INC) and the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), have joined the call for the immediate dismantling of the various military checkpoints in the zone. Reacting to the development, the groups in their separate statements frowned at the alleged extra-judicial killings of youths in the zone as well as extortion by the military.
President General of INC, Chilos Godsent accused the security agents of criminal extortion of motorists on checkpoints, maltreatment of travellers, adding that the joint military task force had on many occasions been procured and used illegally by civilians as debts collectors and tools to intimidate the people. President General of COSEYL, Goodluck Ibem, noted that the militarisation of the South-East is a further confirmation of the fact that Nigeria is a failed state.
Godsent mentioned the military checkpoints at Ukwu Orji in Mbaitoli L.G.A, Akachi Junction along Aba Road in Naze, Imo State and Ihiala axis in Anambra State as the most notorious when it comes to the issue of extortion.
According to him, the military personnel at these locations act with reckless impunity in maltreatment of travellers. Ibem declared: “We view the militarization of the South East as an insult and an affront on the sensibility and integrity of the people of the South-East and we vehemently condemn it and call for immediate dismantling of all military and police checkpoints because they have out-served their purposes.”