WAR ZONE? In South-East, Army is forcing travellers to come down from vehicles at checkpoints
SOLDIERS of the Nigerian Army, deployed under ‘Operation Udoka’, are forcing travellers in the South-East to disembark from vehicles at numerous checkpoints that litter the region, checks by The ICIR have shown.
On getting to any of the checkpoints manned by heavily armed soldiers on major highways in the region, vehicles – both commercial and private – would stop to discharge passengers. The passengers, mostly travellers, will then trek across the checkpoint. On getting to a considerable distance beyond the checkpoint, they will stop and wait for the vehicle that was conveying them.
The driver will then move the vehicle past the checkpoint to meet the waiting passengers, who will subsequently return to their seats in the car.
The journey will continue until the vehicle gets to the next checkpoint, where the process will be repeated.
The ICIR’s correspondent, who experienced the situation while travelling across the South-East states, noted that the development frustrated motorists and travellers in the region.
During a trip from Enugu to Umuahia, Abia State capital, on Friday, July 21, the commercial bus boarded by The ICIR correspondent was made to stop and discharge passengers at eight different checkpoints.
At each of these checkpoints, passengers – both young and old, male and female – had to come down and trek to the other side to wait for the vehicle.
Interestingly, vehicles and passengers are not searched at the checkpoints. But The ICIR correspondent observed that the heavily armed soldiers were alert as they watched the passengers walking past the checkpoints.
During the morning period, when a lot of people are travelling, the checkpoints are usually crowded with so many passengers who disembarked from several vehicles. The vehicles, mostly buses, which had discharged the passengers, will also queue up. They wait until the passengers have walked past the checkpoints before driving through, one after the other, to pick up their passengers.
The ICIR correspondent observed that when the volume of traffic at the checkpoints is high, some passengers have difficulty identifying the particular vehicle they boarded.
However, The ICIR further noted that motorists, especially commercial transit bus drivers, and travellers, are not happy with the development.
The repeated disembarkation at numerous checkpoints is not only stressful, it also wastes time, making the journey last much longer than it should.
The journey from Enugu to Umuahia, which ordinarily should be less than one hour, lasted more than two hours.
“Is this a war zone? It is only in war zones that you can witness this,” an aggrieved passenger muttered as travellers waited for their vehicle to move past the checkpoint and pick them, to continue the journey.
Many passengers expressed anger at the situation. A passenger, who said she has gotten used to the situation, being a regular traveller on the route, explained that she starts her journeys two or three hours earlier than usual in order to meet up with appointments. “If not, you will not arrive on time. You have to add extra one or two hours in order to meet up,” the woman told other travellers.
An old woman, who complained of arthritis, could barely walk across one of the checkpoints and had to be supported by sympathetic co-travellers.
Insecurity in South-East: Operation Udoka the solution?
A report published by The ICIR in January ahead of the 2023 general elections highlighted the high level of insecurity in the South-East.
The situation stabilised a bit during and immediately after the elections, but insecurity in the region again escalated after an Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) faction led by Simon Ekpa ordered and enforced a one-week sit-at-home, from July 3 to July 10, to demand the release of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu.
In many towns and communities, individuals who ventured out to attend to business or other engagements were attacked. Lives were lost, and properties were destroyed