By Theodore Opara
Travelling in Nigeria, especially by road, can be quite challenging, if not traumatic. The challenges these days are many and travellers are always afraid of possible danger lurking on the road. Apart from challenges like bad roads which most often lead to accidents, there are other dangers like kidnapping and armed robbery on the highways. But there is another ugly hurdle that often confront travellers to the East at the Benin By-pass.
Before negotiating into the Benin By-pass from the Lagos end of the road, if you are used to this road, you would have been stopped by a group of fierce-looking young men with all manner of dangerous weapons who usually stop private car owners, demanding for radio and environment permits.
These youngmen are always ready to maim any traveller who dares challenge their authority or fail to settle them at this point.
Their mode of operation is that they flag down the driver while trying to negotiate into the Benin By-pass using planks spiked with nails and other sharp objects. The danger at this point is that if you refuse to stop, your tyres could get punctured and damaged by the sharp objects. And if you stop, these young men numbering over 20 would descend on you. They will start by introducing themselves as local government officials saddled with the responsibility of collecting revenue for the state. The said officials would then demand for your radio and environmental sanitation permit receipt which they say cost about N30,000 (thirty thousand naira).
One of their victims, a Lagos based Catholic Priest, shared his experience with Vanguard Motoring recently. The priest who would not like his name in print described his experience in the hands of the said Edo State local government revenue collectors’ at the By-pass sometime ago as traumatic.
Harassment and intimidation
He explained that they held him for over two hours, insisting that he must pay for the two permits. The worst thing about his experience, according to him, was that while he was harassed and intimidated, different teams of police men drove past in their patrol vehicles and never cared about what was going on, preferring to look the other way.
He, therefore, asked why a state government would allow its officials to harass travellers for not carrying radio permit receipts. According to him, even if their demand was genuine, would they expect travellers to carry such a receipt on them while travelling. When has that become part of vehicle requirement for drivers?” he queried. “I drove past Lagos, Ogun, Ondo before getting to Edo State and would still drive past Anambra and Delta states before arriving my state Imo, if I had to pay N30,000 in each of these states before arriving my destination, only God knows how much I would have paid,” he noted.
He therefore, called on the Edo State governor to check the menace of these hoodlums who are parading themselves as local government revenue collectors before they dent the image of the state. Continuing the priest asked how the state expected travellers to carry a huge sum of money in a country that is preaching cashless economy.
Another traveller who shared his experience with Vanguard Motoring, Mr. Tony Uwadiegwu said that he was almost beaten by these hoodlums who threatened to deal with him if he dared challenge them. According to him: “I was travelling to the East for the memorial service of my late brother when these hoodlums stopped and demanded N30,000 for radio permit. His aged mother who was travelling with him and the rest of his family too did not find the experience palatable when these fierce looking hoodlums threatened to kill and dump him in the bush if he refused to pay. He ended up parting with N20,000 without a receipt after all. Many travellers to the Eastern parts of the country suffer similar fate on this road.
Beating a retreat
Even reporter had a similar experience at the beginning of the year at this notorious spot. Not even my identify card as a pressman could save me from these hoodlums as the plea from my aged mother in-law who was going home for the memorial service of her son fell on deaf ears. Not even the cry of my under-aged son and daughter could move them. But my contact with a colleague on phone who spoke to them, threatening to send police after them if they refused to let me off the hook was the saving grace as they handed the phone back to me and beat a retreat.
But the question most people who spoke to Vanguard Motoring asked was whether these hoodlums were robbers or local government officials? This could best be answered by the Edo State Government whose domain is being used to perpetrate this dastardly act. Another question that is still begging for answer is why didn’t the revenue collectors demand for house rents receipt, PHCN bills, water bills, etc.
Many observers are of the view that this harassment seem targeted against people from a certain part of the country, arguing that should not be the case.