Motorists and residents plying the Onitsha-Owerri road have lamented the alleged extortion by the military as they set up checkpoints at Enamel junction and Obosi Bypass axis.
Enamel Junction is in Ogbaru Local Government Area, while Obosi Bypass is in Idemili North Local Government Area, a few kilometers away.
The Onitsha-Owerri road, which links motorists from the Upper Iweka axis to other communities in Anambra State, has been in a poor condition for years, causing gridlock on a daily basis.
Due to the curfew imposed by the state government from 6am to 6pm in some local government areas including Ogbaru LGA, the military has resorted to extortion of motorists plying the stretch of the road before 6pm, commuters have alleged.
Some motorists who spoke to reporters on Monday alleged that military checkpoints, particularly the Esmalte junction, had become “detention camps” where motorists were detained and sometimes subjected to a variety of punishments, from frog jumping to sitting on the empty ground.
Our correspondent said that as a result of the cap, tricycle operators pay N200, shuttle bus operators pay N500, and heavy vehicles N1,000 at upstream checkpoints depending on the loads they carry.
A resident of Awada in Idemili North LGA, identified as Catherine Osondu, who said she plies the road to her residence daily, lamented that she and other commuters were arrested by soldiers at Enamel junction on Sunday for running into the military. they were looking for change (balance) for the tricycle operator carrying them.
Osondu said: “At around 18:47 on Sunday afternoon, when the Keke that took us arrived in Esmalt, the rider of the Keke gave N500 to the military, and as they were looking for change, they ordered us to get off by force. Pilot Keke was then given N300 change and told to move while we were told to stay on the side of the road.
“Looking at our faces they started asking that they were looking for changes for the Keke rider. We were detained for more than an hour.
“Other victims who tried to resist were also forced to jump in front of us. It was a funny experience that evening. I didn’t know it was now a crime to look at soldiers’ faces.’
The leader of the Tricycle Association in the area, Jude Eche, appealed to the state government to cancel the limit imposed since June so that the military would not have a reason to extort motorcyclists.
He said: “We are in the hands of soldiers at the Esmalte and Obosi Bypass checkpoints every evening. On Sunday night, there were complaints that some people were arrested and others forced to frog jump by the soldiers for flimsy reasons.
“Their activities at the checkpoint in the name of imposing the cut always cause pain to the road users, whereas after every payment they will be looking for change to give to the bus operators. This always results in a very long stretch in the evening.
“Driving from this axis has become a nightmare. We can ask the state government to cancel the limit imposed since June, so that these people do not have a reason to continue extorting motorists.’
When contacted, the president of Awada Central Community Development Association, Gabriel Nkasi, stated that the communities around the area were dismayed by the “negative” attitude of the soldiers during the checks.
According to Nkasi, despite their presence as a means of scaring hoodlums and thieves off the road, extorting motorists has not been part of their job, adding that they have turned checkpoints into business hubs.
He said: “We are not against putting up a road block. But it should be for surveillance and to improve safety by reducing crime on the road. It is unacceptable to extort different amounts of money from motorists in the name of restricting the movement, and we ask the authorities to alert them.
“Together with the bad roads, the nuisance caused by their activities is always frightening and has caused countless difficulties for road users. We ask the Government to also examine the closure that has been in place since June and see how they will remove it.”
The state police spokesperson Tochukwu Ikenga said the state police commissioner frowned on such activities by security operatives and urged citizens who have been victims of such to make official complaints through the police public complaint.
“The leadership of the command frowns upon such (activities) or any other related vices. The police commissioner, on hearing about it, has since ordered the X-squad and the CP’s tracking unit to be on the lookout for such corrupt officers.
“He has also encouraged the public to make use of the control number 07039194332 and the command’s control unit number 08039334002,” Ikenga added.
At the time of filing this report, Christian Aburime Chukwuma Soludo Governor’s press secretary did not respond to his phone calls or messages sent to him.