The decision by the police authorities to stop mounting checkpoints throughout the nation must have been informed by the carnage caused on the roads in recent times by the checkpoints and public outcry against it.
The announcement by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, was contained in a police situation report (sitrep) sent to all formations at the weekend. To effectively carry out the directive of the police boss, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, ordered his men to dismantle all checkpoints in the state and return to routine police patrols to check the activities of criminal elements.
Information at our disposal also indicate that policemen in Lagos have heeded the directive of their boss as area commands in the state have directed their men to dismantle the checkpoints.
A survey conducted early yesterday revealed traffic duties are now being performed by men of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). This is a welcome development and we commend the police hierarchy for its decision.
But in removing the checkpoints from the roads, the police must also be cautious of the security implications of their absence. They must ensure that security of life and property on our roads are not jeopardised so the action does not amount to throwing away the baby with the bath water. They must patrol the neighbourhoods round the clock as it done in other countries. They must be proactive, which is what modern policing is all about, so that they could nip crimes in the bud before they are committed.
It is true that the checkpoints have been turned into avenues for extortion and death traps set by those charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. There is no better way to illustrate this than the tragic incident which occurred near the Otedola Estate along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway two weeks ago when vehicles rammed into one another as a result of a checkpoint mounted by policemen along the ever-busy road. At least 30 lives were lost in the incident while about 20 vehicles were burnt. Those who survived the incident are still counting their losses.
The Lagos incident was not the only accident caused by indiscriminate checkpoints by unscrupulous policemen who used them to extort money from motorists. Numerous accidents have been caused nationwide with many lives lost, as a result of policemen disregarding safety concerns and siting checkpoints in places that impede smooth flow of traffic.
Ordinarily, police checkpoints are routine police measures to maintain law and order in a sane society. Through them, fleeing and wanted criminals are arrested while illegal weapons, either hidden in the bowels of vehicles or bags are fished out. But in our own case, those charged with these responsibilities have ended up abusing them by turning into hell for motorists.
The noble aim has been so bastardised by our policemen that armed criminals now use the same approach to steal from innocent motorists. As much as we commend the police boss for acting promptly on the outcry against police checkpoints, we also implore him to adopt effective measures to check the activities of criminals who might want to seize the opportunity to unleash terror on members of the public. The law enforcement agents can also conduct stop-and-search operations on those they suspect of constituting a threat to the society.
The abolition of the checkpoints should not translate into the police abandoning their responsibilities to the populace. In fact, this is the time for them to rededicate themselves to providing effective security to the populace through conventional crime prevention and control measures. This is the time for the police to increase their presence in the neighbourhoods through foot and vehicular patrols. Again, we are calling on the authorities to equip the police for the effective performance of their duties.
Policing is a noble profession in other countries because the cops are well paid, properly equipped and made to have a sense of self-worth. They deserve the same treatment in our country for them to give their best. There are no two ways about it. And when the police are friendly with the people, they will receive support in terms of information confidentially about the activities of criminals in their neighbourhoods. But the misguided opportunists who tarnish the image of the force must be given the boot for the police of our dreams to metamorphose.