By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
A few days ago, at my village entrance, there was a roadblock beside a military roadblock. Armed NDLEA staff in colourful purple and beige uniforms were interacting with motorists in the ‘wetin you carry’ mood.
Yes, National Drug Law Enforcement Agents. They don’t often mount such roadblocks in Lagos or Abuja, but somewhere before the Assumnpta entrance into Owerri, the Drug Agents who should operate under cover have entrenched themselves in the open. Anyone who travels around in Nigeria sees things.
In broad daylight, Drug agents were acting like vehicle inspection officers. It’s possible they were conducting an igboh (Indian Hemp)awareness campaign in the Igbo heartland. They could also be peering into cars and buses searching for nkpurummiri and cocaine. Who can tell? But the history of roadblocks in Nigeria is the history of corruption.
Once appointed, every new IG would redeclare roadblocks illegal and announce a plan to dismantle and banish, with immediate effect. Often sounding like a foreign police officer deployed to reform the police force in a west African country, the new police boss would espouse intelligence gathering and lampoon bad eggs who misused roadblocks to bring the force to disrepute. The police bosses know that no modernized police force needs roadblocks and that roadblocks don’t deter criminals. However, the roadblocks never go away.
But the lust for roadblocks is not an affliction that troubles only the soul of the police. Even the Civil Defense Corps now have the audacity to mount roadblocks. Somewhere around Avu on the outskirts of Owerri is where the Civil Defence men lie at night to wait for trucks laden with illegal crude and illicit diesel. The Civil Defence was established to protect national infrastructure. They would need drones to monitor pipelines and deter vandalization. But they will institute roadblocks to interact with successful criminals.
With every John and Johnny agency forming roadblocks one must sometimes feel for the police who invented the idea. All manner of agencies encroaching into the business jurisdiction of the regular police, reducing their source of salary augmentation. At the entrance into my village on Owerri-Orlu road, VIO officers in black and white dresses stand opposite the NDLEA agents hunting motorists down.
A foot away from them and providing general cover are Special Forces of the military, extorting tippers and buses. In the good old days, soldiers watched the road while the policemen collected the egunje. But things have changed. Special Forces boys now do it themselves.
Regulatory agencies know the utility of roadblocks. They create bottlenecks. Bottlenecks bring economic opportunities for the policing nad regulating agents. But these physical roadblocks are only the tip of the huge corruption iceberg. In all government offices, processes are made deliberately slow so that bribes become indispensable. When bribes become inevitable, they lose wrongfulness.
The Nigerian Immigration Service will never have enough booklets. These booklets are not subsidized. However, the perennial scarcity is not that inexplicable. The NIS bigwigs are not that inefficient. An artificial roadblock using logs of wood in excuses for scarcity leave many in five-month-long queues. So they naturally try to jump to the front by dipping their hands into their pockets. In the case of the immigration boys, almost everybody who needs a passport becomes their danfo and tipper who must drop something to get a booklet.
At the seaports, internal roadblocks are not made of logs of wood, drums and sticks. There are important signatures that can only be attracted by wetting the floor. That is why no honest man can be a clearing agent. But that interaction with the Customs and the navigation around the bottlenecks have become so cultural some clearing agents are bold to become pastors and imams.
The bribes are fees. The Customs big wigs know that full modernization will speed up the process, bring transparency but damage their private economies. At the prisons, there are roadblocks that must be surmounted before a visitor can see a prisoner. The fees for crossing the two to three useless roadblocks are well known, and sometimes they change with changing exchange rates.
If the roads blocks stopped with policing agencies, the judiciary might help. But at the courts, the roadblocks are more brazen. A friend was desperate to file an appeal. He felt justice had been miscarried at the lower court. To succeed and save himself from the embarrassment of the execution of the earlier judgment, he had to obtain and transmit the records of High Court to the Court of Appeal.
It should be a routine process. But in Nigeria, the court registries have unique ethics. To drive through the roadblocks to obtain justice, some extra fees must be paid. These intangible roadblocks are the most frustrating because the perpetrators often pretend not to be involved.
So unlike the policeman standing beside his roadblock collecting bribes and giving change, the court registrar pretends to aloofness as the court clerk conducts the orchestra. Technology can dismantle many of the roadblocks in the judiciary, but the judiciary needs to be faster to adopt modern technology.
But as harmful as all these roadblocks are, the most deleterious are the roadblocks set on the part of the recruitment of good leadership. The average candidate must secure the ticket of a major party. In some states, governors who control the parties sell tickets. In a certain state, in the south-south region, a current governor paid an ‘olympotic sum’ to the former governor to get the ticket of his party.
After buying over the governor, the candidate must pay a befitting honorarium to the delegates whom the governor controls otherwise, he might become an abandoned electoral project. Once the ticket is in his pocket, he must remain awake to ensure his name appears on INEC’s list. When the election approaches, he must find the funds to motivate electoral Officers and security agents.
He must offer them what they ‘eat’. Often the INEC folks and security agents collect dues from all the major candidates as if it’s their birthright. The ‘no-shishi’ principle won’t apply because saints send in advance thank-you gifts. That’s it. Independent candidacy and electronic voting will dismantle these roadblocks but while we hesitate, some guys will make their hay.
In 2015, a State Resident Electoral Commissioner walked into a bank to collect the sum of 200 million naira in cash. The money was stolen from the NNPC by the petroleum minister to settle election officers. That practice hasn’t been made obsolete by the system.
In Nigeria, roadblocks are part of the national economy. So in Nigeria, there are roadblocks everywhere.
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