The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase, has ordered Police Commissioners to dismantle roadblocks set up by local government officials for collection of revenue on the nation’s highways. The directive, which followed a similar order for the removal of military checkpoints by President Muhammadu Buhari, was announced via a statement by Force Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Ojukwu. The roadblocks, he said, were banned because they disrupt the free flow of traffic. They are also used to harass and extort money from motorists.
This order is a welcome relief for many motorists who have fallen victim of these illegal contraptions on our highways, and we hope that it will be enforced immediately. With the new directives on the removal of military and local council roadblocks on the nation’s highways, the responsibility for security on these roads will now largely be that of the police. This will confer more responsibility on the force and we hope its officers will rise to the occasion.
We call for strict enforcement of the bans. With the exception of the states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and any other states that may be identified to have peculiar security challenges that make military checkpoints necessary, our roads should be free of unnecessary bottlenecks that these roadblocks constitute. That these local government officials could operate and constitute themselves into a nuisance on federal roads is an indictment of the police. The police, before this order, usually looked the other way while local government officials operated unhindered. What had then appeared to be police acquiescence on the matter had fuelled speculations of an illegal collaboration between them and the LG extortionists.
It must, however, be noted that this is not the first time this directive has been issued in the country. Edo State in particular had, sometime ago, ordered local government revenue officials off its highways.
We applaud the IGP for this ban. What is required now is the strong will to enforce it. Only a proper and sustained enforcement of the directives will convince the local councils about the IGP’s seriousness on this matter. All those caught contravening the new directive should be dealt with decisively to serve as a deterrent to others who may want to test the will of the police.
The need to improve the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of local governments and states cannot be wished away. But, sending council officials on expressways to demand receipts of spurious levies from motorists who are just travelling through their states is not the way to do this. These officials are quick to resort to acts of intimidation and violence in their desperation to extort instant fines from motorists. They have been known to damage vehicles and assault travellers in this process.
This illegality must not be allowed to go on, as it is targeted at travellers who are not familiar with the various levies they are asked to pay or the receipts they are asked to produce. Even then, how can the usually thuggish and amorphous council officials be trusted to remit whatever they collect in the name of revenue generation to the appropriate authorities?
These revenues are better collected and accounted for, off the roads. Proven sources of such revenues at the local government level include market fees, rents from lock-up shops, tenement rates, utility bills, levies and surcharges on local roads, parks, halls and the rest. In all these cases, because the people who are paying are mostly resident in those areas, the accounting and auditing processes are much easier to carry out and sustain. How easy is it for councils to track such payments from non-residents who may never have cause to visit the areas again?
There is also the security risk involved in such ubiquitous council roadblocks. Many motorists have been victims of armed robbery gangs when they stopped at such roadblocks believing they were dealing with legitimate government officials. The trauma and losses suffered from such encounters are better imagined.
On the whole, whether this new directive works or not will depend on the police, who are widely believed to have been complicit in sustaining the questionable tradition in recent years. There can only be a difference now if the IGP and state police commissioners are seen to be strongly resolved to enforce the directive.
Let the Police boss match his words with action, and be ready to go the whole hog. He should enjoin his commissioners to punish any police officer found collaborating with council officials in this regard, until the message fully percolates down the ranks. So far, he has been responsive to the demands of the times. He should continue along this path until the desired change in police orientation and effectiveness is attained.