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‘How police, military extort at COVID-19 checkpoints’

The police and other security agencies have been accused of profiteering from the lockdown put in place to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Some residents in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Umuahia, Jalingo and other major towns told The Guardian yesterday that rather than enforce the restriction, the operatives, including military and immigration personnel, were helping themselves to pecuniary gains.

The border closure in Oyo and Osun States might not achieve the intended desire as police and immigration officers along the Ibadan-Ife Expressway turned the exercise to a moneymaking venture.

At the checkpoints in Olukeye, Iyana Water, and Asejire, a border village between Oyo and Osun States, motorists were allowed free passage after parting with between N200 and N2000.

The spokesman for the Oyo State Police Command, Olugbenga Fadeyi, however maintained that the officers “are supposed to enforce. Anybody who does that (extort) does so at his or her peril. They will be dealt with. Though we want the people to comply,we are not really interested in arresting. The issue of arrest, now, doesn’t really matter so much because of COVID-19.We are even decongesting the police station now. We want people to obey and comply, so that this pandemic will stop spreading.”

In Owerri, Imo State, one driver, Chinedu Manu, said: “The security men at various roadblocks collect N100 before they allow you to proceed. If you resist, they would charge you for not observing social distancing. They will also threaten to take you to their station.”

But Police Public Relations Officer Godson Orlando Ikeokwu told The Guardian: “I have not heard such information; I am receiving such from you for the first time.”

Some motorists on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road admitted they could still move passengers from Enugu to Abia State, despite the inter-state restriction to movement.

Enugu, which shares borders with Benue, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia States, had last week barred motorists from conveying passengers in and out of the state, exempting only persons on essential duties.

To beat the roadblocks mounted by security agents, commercial vehicle operators would drop passengers at the borders and then transfer them into vehicles on the other side, or give money to the security officials to turn a blind eye.

At the Gariki Park in Enugu, operators still carry passengers travelling to Okigwe in Imo State. Posing as a passenger, the reporter told the driver that he was travelling to Aba in Abia State and not Okigwe.

“It is easy. I will drop you at Okigwe Park and hand you over to a driver going to Aba. That one is not a problem at all,” the driver said. Asked how he would beat the checkpoints manned by soldiers and other securitymen, the driver replied: “Leave that to me. We know them and they know us.What I owe you is to ensure that you get to your destination in peace. Just go inside and pay.”

Enugu State police spokesman, Daniel Ndukwe, could not be reached for reactions as at the time of filing this report.Driving an ash-coloured Lexus Jeep at Alifekede, Delta State, on his way to Edo State, one Mr. Chidi said: “I hit the road when my friend gave me a hint that with cash in hand, I could make it. It turned out to be true. From the bridge head to Agbro, I spent close to N10,000 settling the ‘men in black’. They have really been nice all through.”

Another motorist, who gave his name as Ejiro, at the Koko border town, refused to say how much he parted with but admitted: “Nothing goes for nothing. These people have just made my day, as I have to dash to see my children and sick mum in Sapele.”

One respondent who pleaded anonymity said: “This is surely a naira rain for the police. In every situation, you should trust our people. What I do not understand is the brashness with which they ask for the money.”

Police spokesperson, Onome Onovwakpoyeya, said the command was probing allegations of extortion against officers deployed to ensure compliance with the 14-day lockdown.

“We are having a lot of challenges with containing motorists. This is because some people are exempted and markets have been opened in strategic locations. Before you know it, you have a lot of people moving around and making excuses. Even when they are held, they have one or two persons they would call to intervene.

“This is making the whole exercise difficult for officers and men. But even at that we are trying our best. But that doesn’t give them (officers) the right to collect money from motorists and commuters, because anyone caught would be dealt with decisively.

“But we cannot be everywhere at the same time, even as we are monitoring. We appeal to residents to call in whenever they encounter such illegal activities, so we can take necessary actions.”

In Abia State, Police Commissioner Ene Okon absolved members of the force over the allegation of bribe taking or compromise at the borders. Instead, he blamed members of the state’s task force and other uniformed personnel.

“These task force members and others deployed to implement the lockdown measure have, rather than enforced it, turned it into a money making opportunity. The police cannot and should not be held responsible for this,” he said.

Similarly, when told that some officers had converted the highways into tollgates, the police spokesman in Kaduna State, Mohammad Jalige, said: “I have not received any case of such in Kaduna Command.

“I am monitoring the situation on ground and we have been patrolling the highways, to monitor our men’s activities. In case there is any policeman caught collecting money on the Kaduna highways, please, kindly inform us.”

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