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[Investigation] There’s a checkpoint every few minutes on Agbara-Seme highway — and policemen collecting illegal tolls before letting taxis through

Stills from reporter’s smartphone showing a policemen and a ‘camp boy’ collecting money from a cab driver on the Badagry-Seme highway.

For commercial vehicle drivers plying the Agbara-Badagry-Seme highway, their situation can be likened to the late Fela’s popular song titled “suffering and smiling”. That’s because apart from having to travel the deathly 26km distance on very rough roads, they also have to bear the pressure of multiple federal military and para-military law enforcement officials extorting them daily.

To experience the drivers’ torment first-hand, The Daily Report sent Medinat Kanabe to travel as a passenger on that route. What follows is her report, made possible with the support of Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund (JERF)

I walked into the Agbara car park at 7am on a Tuesday last month and paid for a seat on a cab headed to Badagry, on the western tip of Lagos. While I waited for other passengers to arrive and fill up the car, I struck up a conversation with one of the drivers: first, I asked him about the state of the road, trying to get a feel for whether he would be in the mood for small talk. He was and I dug in a little bit deeper, asking him about the different checkpoints on the road we were to travel shortly.

Unholy alliance

“Yes o,” he answered his tone of voice unmistakably despondent. “The police checkpoints are up to 10 here and before we get to Seme (Border town with Benin Republic), you would have counted 28.”

I pushed my luck a bit further, asking if the officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) collect money from commercial vehicle drivers.

“Road Safety officials are wicked than police on this road,” he said. “The second most wicked is the Area K Police Station. The Customs collect the highest money from us.”

I asked him to tell me the different federal law enforcement agencies they encounter on the route. His response was immediate: “NDLEA, Police, Federal Road Safety, Customs, Immigration, LASTMA, Mobile Police and Army.”

The driver of the cab I would soon be travelling in heard our chitchat. Thinking I was already discouraged, he told me our journey won’t be unduly delayed as he is the son of a policeman. For that reason alone, nobody – he bragged — dared to collect money from him. I was glad to be in a car driven by a ‘staff’, the son of policeman. And right on the windshield was a sticker of the institution.

Soon we got on our way to the Badagry Roundabout. True to his word, almost all the uniformed officers at the checkpoints we drove through hailed the young driver; he was waved on without the usual demand for ‘settlement’. They didn’t even check his boot, a standard practice.

A beer will do

At a checkpoint controlled by the Nigeria Immigration Service, an official approached me and demanded to see my ID, after asking to know which state I am from. I obliged. Moments later, the driver shared a story about immigration officials on that stretch of road arresting people and collecting bail money from them before letting them go.

Closer to Badagry, he told me that he drives policemen all the way to Seme to buy rice and chicken and nobody stops them. If I wanted to go that far, he added, I should be ready to meet about 20 checkpoints.

A still from reporter’s smartphone video captures a police officer (Surname Lawal) at one of the checkpoints and a bill exchanging hands between driver and the law

At the Badagry Roundabout, I paid for a taxi to take me to Seme. We were only minutes into the journey when we were stopped by a policeman whom the driver called “Oga Monday”. He handed the officer a N500 note, asked for change but was given. Shortly, we were stopped by another policeman whom the driver had to give N400.

At the third checkpoint, we saw a driver in front of us who didn’t have money to ‘settle’ the officials give bottles of Goldberg instead. It was good enough for the boys – they let him through.

A lanky customs officer called Oga Ali was in charge of the next checkpoint. He collected his toll so fast I didn’t see how much; the driver told me it was N500. We also met a certain Oga Ahmed, a police officer, who collected N200; roughly 10 metres away, we drove through two checkpoints mounted by policemen and the driver parted with N400 for both roadblocks.

Pay or park

Some 80 metres ahead, we met another checkpoint where an Army officer was in charge. He took his own share likewise. In less than 30 minutes, the driver had doled out cash in excess of N1500, all to personnel of the federal government and all of that into private pockets at the end of the day.   

The driver told me it was impossible to know the exact number of checkpoint from Badagry roundabout to Seme.

“If you try to count it becomes confusing,” he told me, in a not-so-keen a voice. “It became worse after the [Covid-19] lockdown, and since then it has been like this. If we carry two passengers in the back they will still collect money. So we carry three passengers. Before the lockdown, we carry four.”

The driver explained that whenever the officers are not on duty they use their cars as taxis, and must pay the same amount as the average commercial transporter.

50/50

He also mentioned that the uniform men assist foreigners to enter the country after the latter must have paid an undisclosed amount. According to him, some of the officers only use their vehicles to bring in foreigners.

“They don’t do any other transport business,” he said.

We soon arrived at another checkpoint.  “Number 8,” the driver said to the army officer. It was a mutually understood code that meant he had been given the number on his previous commute. 

Just in front of the Seme Border Police Station, policemen stationed there also demanded for the driver to park while they looked around to get change for the N500 bill he had given to them. We waited for some seven minutes.

On our way to Seme, the driver had explained to me that whatever they collect as transport fare from passengers on the first leg of the journey belongs to the men in uniform; whatever they get on the return trip is theirs – well, until we got to a Custom point where a camp boy (boys who collect money for the Custom) came to harass the driver and insisted on collecting N500.

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