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Monday, December 17, 2012

From My Facebook Wall (7): Soldier Checkpoints de Kill Nigerians Here Plenti

Help! Help! Soldier Checkpoints Here De Kill Nigerians Plenti By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde Everyone saw it coming. Immediately the STF mounted a checkpoint at the bottom of Hawan Zakaliyo, the clock of the disaster started ticking in the minds o f the inhabitants of this mountain basin and those who frequent the Jos- Bauchi Highway. From the traffic history and nature of the mountain slope down the highway from Jos, we were certain that ghastly accidents would happen soon. At another checkpoint, in 2011, just kilometre away from the new one in the basin at the border with Bauchi State, scores of people were roasted alive as dozens of vehicles were unexpectedly caught in an inferno that was triggered when a fuel tanker lost its brakes and rammed its way through the long queue of vehicles waiting to be cleared at the border checkpoint. The soldiers and their MOPOL counterparts then disappeared immediately and the rioting civilians were left to handle the situation. Few days later, the checkpoint was back and is still there. That was not the last incident there. It continues to occur frequently. Even as I passed yesterday, I witnessed another trailer at the same border checkpoint avoided killing many motorists by swerving into the side drainage. Nobody was killed but the truck had to be cut into pieces. So mounting a checkpoint up the valley and closer to the bottom of the slope was surely a recipe for trouble in the estimation of any intelligent person. The prediction came to pass, sadly. Three days ago, a trailer run through the new checkpoint causing the destruction of four vehicles instantly. (See picture above). No civilian was killed, though few, including a boy hawking dates, were lightly hurt. However, a soldier at the checkpoint was killed instantly according to eyewitnesses and a MOPOL was taken to hospital in a very critical condition. You can imagine what the comments of Nigerians passing the checkpoint would be. When I arrived at the point on my way to Jos two days ago, I felt pity for the law enforcement agents that lost their lives to the unintelligent decision of locating the checkpoint there. But I pity more those that may lose their lives in the future. Though the STF dismantled the checkpoint immediately after the unfortunate incident and people were glad that it has gone for the good, my experience told me that it is returning soon. Experience is not useful in Nigeria. And it has. As I was driving into Jos yesterday, I saw labourers filling fresh sand bags for the reconstruction of the checkpoint. Huh. Our lives mean nothing. Do not forget that this checkpoint is just a kilometer away from another one at the border down the road and less than two kilometers from another one up the hill at “WELCOME TO JOS”, Home of peace and tourism ba! You may wonder why is the new checkpoint necessary. Soldier! Na dem sabi wo. I am raising my voice only because we civilians are the usual victims at these badly located and poorly mounted checkpoints. I narrowly escaped from death from two of them recently. One was just four days ago. As I stopped at the new checkpoint at Babale from Jos after overtaking a trailer way back on the slope, the truck lost its break from behind me and it had to shift, to the other lane which, thank God, was empty. It continued to move some meters before it could stop. If there were a vehicle coming, one could only imagine one result: a ghastly accident in which yours sincerely would have died. The other incident was when I ran into a poorly lit military checkpoint last August at the Bauchi-Gombe border. It was dark and rainy and a vehicle was passing in the opposite direction. I was driving in company of my two sons. All I knew was that one of them shouted “Baba” but before ‘Baba’ would inquire he was right there before the first column of sand. He dodged that one, but the second was too near for him to avoid. So crashed into the sand bags before the vehicle could stop. The soldiers immediately come over with their rifles trigger ready, thinking it was Boko Haram, not knowing that it was just an innocent citizen that has fallen victim to the legendary African’s lack of regard for human life. Fortunately, they did not shoot, but continued shouting at us: “No commot. No commot. If you commot I will shoot you.” Na nwa! We stayed put until they permitted us to leave the vehicle. Before then I asked my two sons if both of them were safe. They confirmed to me that they were okay. All of us were wearing our seat belts. It took me four days to extricate myself from the military boys at the roadblock. During those long days, I had a taste to the good and the bad of our military. In any case, I counted myself lucky, having left the scene with my limbs and children intact, though I had to reconstruct the sandbags and prepare to spend at least N350,000 to repair my vehicle. The soldiers were lucky too. If I had swerved the car to the right, definitely I would have jammed it into the hut some of them were relaxing. Those outside would have opened fire on us, believing that we were Boko Haram attackers. We for don become obituary be dat. We may not even have had the privilege of a decent burial. Before any investigation would commence, the JTF in Gombe would have issued a release that it has killed three Boko Haram members at the checkpoint last night. Our bodies would have been dumped in a mass grave. Even if the truth unveils itself later, the Defence Headquarters will simply deny any responsibility. End of discussion! It has happened to many. The case of the Apo Six in which the police killed six of our Igbo brothers some years ago is still under ‘investigation’. But before it even started, they were declared ‘armed robbers’. Nigeria! The military boys manning the checkpoint told us that two nights before, a vehicle crashed into the same sandbags. But it never occurred to them that it was their fault. Two weeks later, in September, as I was returning from Gombe around 9.00PM, I met a fresh accident at the same checkpoint involving two vehicles. It was ghastly and the vehicles were beyond repairs. I parked my car and looked around. Wallahi there was not a single flame signal at the checkpoint from both sides. The place was pitch-dark. Yet, we no fit talk. Na Soldier wo. So many Nigerians have died at these killer checkpoints. I think it is time for the Nigerian military authorities that have taken over the internal security of the country from the police to do something about it. They must ensure their safe location, unlike the one at Babale and Sabongari. It is high time they start showing regard for human life, at least of their own personnel. Once a position is not safe, let them please find a safe alternative means of policing that segment of the highway. The lives of their subordinates who man those dangerous roadblocks and indeed that of bloody civilians too deserve a better regard. Two. Every checkpoint must be properly lit with the proper traffic lights as required by law. How would Nigerian authorities – the VIO, Road Safety, Highway Patrol, etc – pressurize ordinary citizens to buy “triangle” when their soldiers are mounting pitch-dark checkpoints or poorly lit ones at best? Let that be reflected in the 2013 budget goldmine. Three. With the huge budget on security, it is time for our JTFs to graduate from crude tactics of checkpoints and develop more effective surveillance strategies. I hardly hear of any weapons intercepted at checkpoints when thousands are circulated across the country daily. Etc. I will also advice that when you are at these checkpoints, become alert. Fix your eyes on the traffic behind you and watch the one approaching as well. You never can tell. The clock may be ripe for the final tick. Finally, I will say that we are desperately soliciting for your prayers. Here in the Northeast we pass through these killer checkpoints daily. They have become part of our life and more of our nightmare. When we pass through them, let us do so safely. Help us. Biko. 14 December 2012

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