By Job Osazuwa
Mixed reactions have been trailing the heaving presence of security agents on the Lagos-Benin-Ore highway.
Commuters are lamenting that countless checkpoints on the expressway are affecting people’s businesses and other activities. Those complaining want the number of the checkpoints to be reduced, while channelling the efforts into intelligence gathering to combat crime on the route.
They are groaning daily saying that gridlock, robbers, kidnappers and other criminal elements still torment travellers on the axis despite the presence of security personnel. In their words, uniform military and paramilitary officers have laid siege to the roads in the guise of mounting security check points, but collecting bribe from motorists.
Those who can afford travelling by air have since abandoned the road for their peace of mind.
But other commuters and motorists are commending the security agents, saying that their heavy presence on the road has helped in no small way to ward off criminals from terrorising travellers. Though they stated that there were still many problems plaguing the expressway, describing it as a journey characterised with loads of distress, the motorists said the crisis would have been more without the security men.
The people are also expressing the fear that as the rainy season begins; many parts of the road are rapidly failing, while begging for government’s urgent attention. The various failed portions serve as opportunity for the raiders to descend on unsuspecting travellers. The rain and the attendant flood will certainly wash off some portions of the road and open up gapping craters here and there.
As gathered, commuters usually spend very long time at the same spot, trying to manoeuvre through the bad spots that are covered with flood. Those who are not familiar with the road spend longer time at every spot. One could be correct to say that plying some parts of the road is devoid of everything pleasurable. On a very bad day, it could pass for travelling in tears.
This worsening condition of the road is being aggravated by the pressure and presence of heavy duty trucks competing for right of way. Many of those trucks carry several tons of hard and soluble goods from the west to and fro the mid west and eastern parts of the country annually. This is a huge problem that ought to have been dealt with for long considering the economic importance of the road to the nation.
Lagos has other alternative exit routes to Ijebu-Ode in Ogun through Ikorodu and Epe, but motorists avoid them especially the Ikorodu axis, which is presently in poor condition as a result of government seeming negligence.
The reporter, who plied the road recently from Lagos to Benin, witnessed that many commuters are still grappling with loads of issues and uncertainties on the road which for long has continued to dominate the media space for the wrong reasons. He also had his good and bad experience while the journey lasted.
Ordinarily, Lagos to Benin City is a three-hour drive or less. But it could now take as much as six or more hours. The route is dotted with over 40 checkpoints. Despite that, according to a regular user of the road, the robbers have taken their time to master all the checkpoints and know exactly where and when to strike.
The journey from Berger to Shagamu was a smooth ride on that fateful Wednesday morning. There was light traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, caused by the construction works on the road.
“We left as early as 5am in a private car. Our projection was that, by 9am, we would be in Benin but we were wrong. We couldn’t get to our destination till about 11am. Other travellers we told congratulated us that the journey was fast.
“At some checkpoints, the officers would ask for vehicle particulars, while others would check the boots and the bags. There are some roadblocks, especially that of the soldiers, that are not mounted by anyone. But the vehicles, big or small have to slow down to climb the logs that serve as speed breakers. Some of the police officers would politely ask for a tip, given or not, they almost immediately allow us to continue the journey. It got to a point between Ondo and Edo states; I lost count of the number of checkpoints. But returning to Lagos was just about 15 or less road blocks from Benin.
“But there was no news of robbery or kidnapping to and fro. Some regular travellers also attested that they have not experienced any attack on the route in the last one month,” he said.
The chaotic part on the journey is virtually all the entire stretch of Ogun State. Many trailers, tankers and other articulated vehicles had on several occasions wobbled and tumbled spilling their contents on the road. The accidents often result to gridlock lasting a whole day.
The low question many have been asking for long is, ‘when will the road become 100 per cent pothole-free?
Many souls have been dispatched to their early graves, varying degree of injuries inflicted on the victims and precious property stolen on the road.
A young man, Osarobo Iyobosa, who resides in Spain, narrated how he missed his return flight to Europe having been stuck in gridlock for over nine hours.
“I can’t forget August 2019 when I missed my flight to Spain. The flight was for 8pm on that particular day. I left Benin before 8am believing that no matter the delay, I would be at the airport by 2pm. But I was wrong. Before we got Ijebu-Ode, there was an accident between two trailers that resulted in the vehicles falling on both sides of the road.
“We were all there and time appeared to become faster than normal. As if it was a scene in a movie, we were at a particular spot in the middle of a bush for more than five hours. It got to a point, I knew that it was all over.
“From that experience, I can never travel on that route on the same day that I have a flight to catch. It was not funny missing a flight and getting to book another one. Most of my goods, especially foodstuff got spoilt in the process. I believe that our government has a lot to do in making life more pleasurable for the citizens.
“The security men also collect bribe from motorists. Well, I don’t know the reason the drivers comply without arguing. The security men collect the money openly without any shame,” Iyobosa said.
On his part, a driver with one of the transport companies that ply Lagos-Benin route, Mr. Henry Jude, popularly known as Leopard, told Daily Sun that he has escaped death on countless times.
“How many of the ugly situations can I remember? There was a day that about 15 young men came out from the bush at Ofosu village, the boundary between Ondo and Edo states. I went straight into their midst and cleared as many as possible. Immediately they began to fire gunshots. I thought that was my end. If you ask me how I escaped, I can’t explain.
“When we got to Okada village, all the passengers alighted and began to praise God for rescuing us. One of the passengers gave me N5, 000 for what she called my bravery. But I think it was sheer luck that saved me, which has continued to save me on the route in the past 12 years that I have been driving on it.
“But a few of my colleagues have been lucky not to have encountered any major attack. The presence of soldiers and other security personnel on the road has helped us a great deal.
“But I will appeal that more armed personnel should be deployed to the Benin bypass. There is hardly a day that robbery and kidnapping does not take place on that axis. Many commercial drivers, including those going to the East now do everything possible to avoid the axis. They prefer to pass through Benin City despite the heavy traffic congestion within they town.
“All we want is for the road to be free for all of us. There is nothing like driving without any fear. It is the government that can help us to solve this problem,” Jude said.
Mr. Fabian Okechukwu, who hails from Delta State, but resides in Lagos, said: “I travelled to the village recently and my experience on that road was nothing but pain and anguish. The checkpoints are just too many for my liking. At a point, it became every minute stop. It is really frustrating; this should not be happening in this century.”
Many people have argued that although their presence gives a sense of security that every 200 meter you meet a checkpoint, it also creates a lot of apprehension and a sort of psychological trauma.