BY BONIFACE NWUFOR
Over the last two years or more, the activities of armed robbers on Nigeria’s highways were greatly curtailed. It can be said that the presence of soldiers on the highways helped to checkmate terrorists, kidnappers and armed robbers.
With the recent recall of soldiers to the barracks by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, armed robbers have once more started unleashing violence on luxury bus passengers, mostly along the Okene – Abaji highway.
It, therefore, calls to question the desirability or otherwise of total withdrawal of military men from the highways. While the intention of the Federal Government in withdrawing soldiers from the highways and various checkpoints across the country is to restrict them to their conventional duty of securing the territorial integrity of Nigeria, it is important for the government to devise other ways to guarantee the security of lives and property of citizens on the highways.
With the reported cases of armed robbery attacks on luxury bus passengers over the last two weeks, it is crystal clear that the men of the underworld are now capitalizing on the recent withdrawal of soldiers from the checkpoints to have a field day. Therefore, in order to sustain the safety which Nigerians have hitherto enjoyed on the highways during day and night travels, there is the need to quickly put measures in place to arrest the situation before it deteriorates.
It is, indeed, remarkable that President Muhammadu Buhari has undertaken to guarantee the security of lives and property of all Nigerians. One way of achieving this noble objective is to ensure that night marauders are not allowed to take over the nation’s highways. The Police have a great role to play in this regard. They need to redouble their efforts at restoring security at the major flashpoints where armed robbers operate on the highways.
Already, the Luxury Bus Operators Association of Nigeria has raised the alarm at the high rate of armed robbery attacks on their vehicles and passengers, especially during night trips. Obviously, this ugly trend cannot be allowed to continue as it portends great danger to the avowed commitment of the Buhari administration to strengthening the capacity of our security apparatus towards delivery of valuable services to the citizenry. It is too early in the day to allow these undesirable elements to become a cog in the wheel of progress in the area of security.
It can be recalled that a few years ago, the activities of these hoodlums was on the upsurge until police and military checkpoints were put in place at some strategic points. This measure greatly helped to ensure that men of the underworld did not have a field day on our highways. The present challenge demands even tougher measures to nip the ignoble activities of these hoodlums in the bud.
It is apparent that there has been a resurgence of criminal activities along the nation’s highways since the dismantling of army road blocks. For example, the recent blockade of Okene highway by armed robbers led to the collision of a luxury bus and a trailer. At least 12 people, including children, lost their lives in the incident.
Similarly, on a daily basis, we are inundated with reports of armed robbery attacks on luxury buses along Okene, Ife and Owo federal highways. It will, therefore, amount to insensitivity on the part of government if appropriate measures are not put in place immediately to restore sanity on these highways.
It has even come to the knowledge of all and sundry that the President’s directive to the security services was to remove checkpoints in non-essential areas of the country. In other words, the security services ought not to have contemplated removing checkpoints in areas that pose high security risk to the people.
In truth, what is the rationale in suddenly withdrawing soldiers from all the nation’s checkpoints at this period in our history when criminality is assuming alarming proportions? Even in the case of combating armed robbery attacks on our highways, common sense demands that the only way to achieve it is by restoring checkpoints, especially at some designated highways.
The Nigerian Police and other security outfits should be in a position to determine the essential areas where these roadblocks must be. The military checkpoints must be reinstated in these places as a matter of urgency to restore safety of lives and property on the highways.
Additionally, there ought to be a communication channel established between the security services and community leaders along these highways to share information that will help check, if not totally eliminate the activities of these hoodlums. This approach has become necessary as the hoodlums live among the people and community involvement in fighting crime has become the norm worldwide. Its impact cannot be underestimated. Therefore, it is expected that the security services concerned will do the needful, and ensure that the good intentions of the Buhari administration are not jeopardized in any way.
The abrupt removal of military roadblocks cannot serve any good purpose for Nigerians. They should not only be restored, their number should be increased to let armed robbers know that there is no room for them on Nigeria’s highways.
There is no arguing the fact that Nigeria is under siege of criminal elements on the highways. Apart from frequent armed robbery incidents, passengers are sometimes kidnapped during trips. As things stand now, our people repose more confidence in the military than the police in terms of ability to combat these hoodlums.
As Nigerians await the “change” which the APC administration has promised, there is the need for the “change” to reflect in the security of lives and property of the people, which is also the primary responsibility of government. Many Nigerians consider the police incapable of checkmating night marauders. Since the latest attacks appear as if armed robbers have declared war on the people, government owes it a duty to deploy soldiers to fight the battle headlong. Currently, it seems the worst affected areas are the Owo, Akure, Ife, Okene axis, as well as areas where there are thick forests.
Lamenting the ugly trend, former spokesman of Luxury Bus Owners Association of Nigeria (LUBOAN), Chief Eugene Ojukwu, described the total withdrawal of soldiers from the highways as a move that will undermine the peace that had hitherto existed on our highways. In his view, it is possible that Mr. President’s directive on removal of army roadblocks was misinterpreted.