In this report, Deji Lambo investigates how corrupt security agents had been using illegal roadblocks to extort money from people in Lagos State
To any doubting Thomas, encountering over 100 roadblocks on the Lagos-Badagry-Seme Expressway in Lagos State is unbelievable.
However, our investigations reveal this to be the sad truth on the international expressway that leads to the Republic of Benin.
Under the guise of using the roadblocks and checkpoints to checkmate smuggling activities and providing security along the expressway and around the Seme border and its environs, security agents including officials of the Nigeria Customs and men of the Nigeria Police Force had been allegedly subjecting unsuspecting members of the public to traumatising experiences all in a bid to extort them of their hard-earned money.
“From Badagry to the Seme border alone, we have more than 50 roadblocks on the road and you will encounter close to 20 roadblocks returning to Badagry from Seme.
“Majority of these illegal roadblocks are police checkpoints. The NCS also have more than the required roadblocks on the expressway. Other security agents also have roadblocks there. All they do is harass and extort money from people; the situation is dangerous,” a community leader, Amusa Ayodele, said.
Checkpoints and smugglers
The conundrum of smuggling activities across routes leading inbound and outbound the border towns in Nigeria is said to be alarming.
To nip the situation in the bud, the Nigerian Customs Service was commissioned to, among other reasons, stop smuggling activities, arrest and prosecute smugglers.
But in the line of carrying out enforcement duties, the agency’s officials and smugglers engage in bloody clashes that often result in human deaths, arrests and prosecution of smugglers. Seizures of contraband items worth billions of naira were also recorded.
Despite relentless clampdown on smugglers that usually caused tension that sent shivers down the spines of people in communities across border towns in Nigeria, the criminal smuggling activities have continued to wax strong.
However, the NCS and other intervention forces approved by the government to carry out specific functions at its borders have remained resolute in the campaign against smugglers and their illegal activities.
In the resoluteness, the security agents devised contingency plans to outwit criminal elements desirous of profiting from the smuggling business in the country.
Along various expressways leading to the points where Nigeria shares land borders with the Republic of Benin, Chad and Cameroon, and the Republic of the Niger, checkpoints are common sight.
It is absolutely impossible to ply the routes without seeing NCS officials, among others, flagging down suspicious vehicles for thorough checks.
But people, particularly indigenes and residents living across border towns have argued that smugglers still have their way as they alleged culpability on the part of some corrupt security agents, including officials of the Nigeria Customs.
While lamenting over the avalanche of roadblocks along the international expressway, Ayodele said all the mobile patrols operating along the route have created roadblocks.
“This is the reason we have multiple checkpoints (roadblocks) despite the government approving only two checkpoints on this route. The two checkpoints are at Agbara and Gbaji along Lagos – Seme expressway,” he added.
As the situation persisted along the expressway, and on some other roads leading to and from the country’s border, extorted victims, including commercial motorists, motorcyclists, traders and residents, who were angered by the illicit practice, tendered tons of complaints to the government and its assigned regulators.
This was as experts also argued that the proliferation of unapproved checkpoints/roadblocks at the various international routes along the country’s border was a disturbing sight, describing the situation as unwelcoming to foreign investors and very important personalities of local and international repute.
A circular issued to that effect read in part, “For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby emphasised that check-points mounted outside 40 kilometres to the border are illegal, while information patrols outside this point should not last more than 24 hours at any given time.
“To further clarify these issues, it should be reminded strongly, that only two checkpoints situated at Agbara and Gbaji, along Lagos-Badagry-Seme road are statutorily approved.”
Despite the government directive, the creation of roadblocks witnessed an exponential increase along the Lagos-Badagry-Seme international expressway.
Compounding the problem
In November 2019, the Federal Government banned the supply of petroleum products to filling stations within a radius of at least 20km from all borders in the country.
However, while some border towns were granted waivers, others, including the Seme border in the Badagry West Local Council Development Area of the state were affected.
The President, Hengo Badagry Youth Association, Felix Godonu, who, among other stakeholders in the division, had robustly engaged our correspondent on the challenges posed by the illegal roadblocks along the Lagos-Badagry-Seme road, said the police extortion through illegal roadblocks along the route became more rampant after the Federal Government’s directive.
He said, “After the FG’s announcement, filling stations along the 20km mark, down to the Seme border area stopped receiving PMS. So, people usually come as far as Badagry roundabout, Oloko or Aradagun areas to buy fuel and take it back to their various homes along the Badagry-Seme expressway and the border area for their domestic use.
“Also, because of the border closure, traders no longer go to the Benin Republic to buy goods and some other food items. They go to Badagry Market, Trade Fair and Alaba Market, among others, to buy things. On their way back, they also get extorted at these roadblocks that are over 40 on the expressway to the Seme border.
“Customs roadblocks are at Asipa, Gbethromeh, Agonvi Sea Beach, Ganyingbo Sea Beach (Yard), Atindeka House by a small bridge, Celestial Church at Gbaji, the approved checkpoints at Gbaji for the Seme Command and FOU Ikeja, Oloko, Iya Yafin, among others. But the police checkpoints are over 40.
“The extortion has been going on for about four years and the amount of money generated from the illegal roadblocks would have run into billions of naira. To know the illegal checkpoints on the Lagos-Badagry-Seme expressway, when top government officials are passing, you won’t see them on the road.”
In the daytime and at night, under the guise of using the checkpoints/roadblocks to stop smuggling activities, security agents, in a manner described as condescending, subject commercial transporters, motorists, traders, residents, among others, to different forms of suffering to extort them.
Ayodele and Godonu, alongside other stakeholders consisting of transport workers, traders, residents and indigenes in the Badagry division, bitterly expressed worry about the challenges they experience daily on the international road.
However, to confirm the number of roadblocks and to subject the stakeholders’ claim of extortion to a litmus test, our correspondent embarked on an audacious expedition that exposed how corrupt security agents had been using illegal roadblocks to extort money from people in the division.
The discovery journey
The expedition happened on a bright Friday morning of August 12, 2022; traders, customers, passengers and passers-by, in a usual manner, clustered around the popular Agbara bus stop along the Lagos Badagry expressway.
They were busy doing their business as the day steadily went by. As street hawkers were seen marketing their goods to attract patronage, conductors while shouting at the top of their voices, called names of different bus stops to pick up passengers.
The Agbara area plays host to shops and complexes, companies and manufacturing plants, among other commercial-inclined businesses including a popular restaurant, the Palatable.
“Hello, please, where are you? I am already at Agbara, around Palatable,” our correspondent said during a telephone conversation with an indigene of Badagry, Akonasu Gbedozin.
Gbedozin later introduced our correspondent to a commercial cab driver, Ademola Ojewale, who parked his cab at the front of the popular restaurant.
Both of them were waiting at the restaurant after Godonu had assigned Gbedozin, who was abreast with the shenanigans of security agents at the illegal roadblocks on the Lagos-Badagry-Seme expressway, to accompany our correspondent in the expedition.
The plan was to be in control of the journey, hence the need for the cab driver, who had been briefed about the quest as our correspondent and Gbedozin posed as passengers during the journey.
Road to extortion
After briefly exchanging pleasantries, the journey from Agbara to the Seme border commenced.
Ojewale, with a firm grip on the steering, drove out of the restaurant to link the expressway.
Our correspondent sat at the passenger’s side, and Gbedozin sat in the back seat, behind the cab driver.
“I will have to pick up passengers on the road because if the car is not filled up with passengers, the policemen at the roadblocks would think I am not a commercial driver, and won’t demand a monetary settlement.
“As we commence this journey, the roadblocks we will encounter on our way to the Seme border will be close to 60. Out of the 60 roadblocks, the majority are created by policemen who usually demand N100, N200 and at times, N500 for no offence once you get to their spots,” the cab driver said.
According to the stakeholders, most of the policemen were from the police stations under the Area K Command, headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Jamilu, in Morogbo, Badagry Division.
The police stations under the Area K command include Ijanikin, Ilemba-Hausa, Ishashi, Morogbo, Badagry and Seme divisions.
Asides from other security agents, including the officials of the NCS, the concerned Badagry stakeholders fingered the last three police divisions to be responsible for their ordeals on the international expressway leading to the Seme border. They said policemen attached to the Olorunda Police Station were also involved.
Policemen of the IGP’s monitoring unit, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Southwest, the Zone 2 Command, the Lagos State Police Command, among other special police units, including the SWAT police, Joint Task Force, were also mentioned to be perpetrating the illegal practice at the unapproved roadblocks.
Also, officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Port Health Service, soldiers, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Border drill, Joint Border Patrol, and Quarantine, among others, were said to be extorting motorists at the roadblocks.
However, along the journey, our correspondent observed that some of these accused security agents used placeholders to carry out their despicable acts of extortion in a bid to distance themselves in case of any backlash.
Surging further, roadblocks were encountered around Odofa, Church gate, Ibiye areas and around the Area K division but the cab driver, despite being flagged down by policemen, zoomed off with the advantage created by vehicles ahead.
But when Ojewale drove to the Magbon, Araromi and Mosafejo areas, policemen were seen brazenly harassing and extorting motorists.
To capture these errant policemen in the act, our correspondent alighted from Ojewale’s cab at Araromi, close to Elijah bus stop, and filmed two policemen extorting drivers of their hard-earned money.
Afterwards, our correspondent joined Ojewale and Gbedozin in the Mosafejo area, where a similar pattern of extortion was seen.
Policemen and other security agents were also seen extorting commercial motorists at the roadblocks created around the Mowo bus stop, Limca bus stop, and Iyana Ajara Bridge, which was the first bridge encountered on the road that leads to the Seme border from the Badagry roundabout.
However, shortly after the bridge, the cab driver got to an area called Oloko, where over 17 roadblocks manned by policemen, customs officials, and soldiers, among others were seen.
These roadblocks were not far apart and the security agents can be seen demanding money or checking vehicles, slowing down vehicular movement in the process.
Our correspondent, who got down to secretly record video of the security agents engaging in the illicit act, observed that the roadblocks were mostly created with tyres, bamboo, yellow kegs, and iron with sharp edges.
Heavily armed security agents were sighted around the roadblocks. At one of the roadblocks around Oloko, a man dressed in casual wear, while acting on behalf of a policeman sitting at the front of a bamboo shade by the roadside, demanded money from Ojewale.
But the cab driver, who had been frustrated by the amount of money he had parted with at other roadblocks grudgingly said, “I have N200 but you will have to give me a balance of N100.”
The man, who covered half of his face to conceal his identity, upon collecting the N200, instructed the driver to go without returning his balance.
In protest of the action, the driver moved close to the policeman seated under the bamboo shade and appealed to him to instruct the placeholder to return his balance.
In a terse response, the policeman said, “Go back and carry some loads.”
Our correspondent gathered that the security agents believe commercial drivers should recover monetary losses incurred through extortion at the roadblocks from the amount they charge for conveying traders’ loads.
However, despite commercial motorists and passengers lamenting the extortion at the Oloko roadblocks, the situation worsened as our correspondent, while being conveyed from Oloko to the Seme border, encountered another 42 roadblocks.
16 of these roadblocks were located around the Gbaji area; 14 were encountered around the Sapo area; seven at the Gbethromeh area, just as the cab driver ran into another five roadblocks around the Seme area before getting to the border.
The investigation revealed that 80 per cent of the roadblocks were created by policemen who were observed to be more concerned about extorting money from commercial drivers, among others.
At one of the roadblocks in the Sapo area, immediately after the cab driver got to the spot, a uniformed policeman, Samuel Emmanuel, in a matter of seconds, stretched forth his hand for money.
Upon sighting the cab driver’s offered N100, he became annoyed and started ranting.
Emmanuel said, “Am I the one you are giving N100? No, give me N200. I don’t like this kind of thing. Give me N200 so you can go.”
Three policemen were seen sitting under a bamboo shade on the side of the road to monitor Emmanuel who later collected N100 from the cab driver.
The same form of extortion happened in Gbethromeh and around the Seme area along the international route.
At most of these roadblocks, Ojewale had to part with money before the barricades were lifted for him to continue the journey.
At a roadblock guarded by three policewomen close to the Seme area, one of them, while addressing the cab driver, said, “give me something, I don’t want to park you; give me anything. We do collect N200 but if you give me anything, I will collect it.”
After collecting the money, she went towards the bamboo shade by the roadside and handed the money over to a fair policewoman.
Extortion victims’ lament
However, immediately the cab driver got to the Seme border, he was making a U-turn to connect back to the road leading to Badagry when our correspondent got down from the vehicle.
The intention was to feel the pulse of people at the border regarding the brazen extortion on the expressway.
In a distressing tone, a commercial driver, Olanrewaju Muyideen, who conveys passengers to and fro Agbara and Seme border, lamented the number of roadblocks on the road.
Muyideen said, “The roadblocks we encounter from Agbara to Badagry, policemen, after collecting money from us, give us numbers to indicate that we have paid. But from Badagry to the Seme border, the roadblocks on the road are over 35.
“Each time we pass these roadblocks, policemen would demand money and after giving them money, they don’t give us any number to indicate that we have paid before.
“If we refuse to pay the money or plead with them, they will delay us on purpose. I carry each passenger for N300 from Badagry to Seme, but at each roadblock, policemen will collect N200. We hardly make profits.”
A businessman in the J5 Market, Seme border, Peter Joseph, complained bitterly about the gridlock caused by the activities around the illegal roadblocks on the road.
He added, “It is tough here in Seme for us to buy things at the normal rate. And when you ask why the cost is high, the traders will tell you it is due to roadblocks.
“They usually say the money the drivers spend to settle policemen and other security agents on the road is much and it usually leads to an increment in the amount the drivers charge them to convey their goods down to the Seme border.
“We are not saying there is no need for checkpoints but the policemen having about 50 roadblocks from Badagry roundabout to Seme is too much.”
Business activities paralysed
Ayodele said the ongoing extortion by security agents had crippled business activities along the axis.
He explained that from 6 pm to 7 pm, commercial drivers, tricycle operators or motorcyclists stopped conveying passengers to Seme.
“The officials will collect all their money. At Gbaji alone, there are over 20 roadblocks, so no transport workers will go because they will not make anything,” he added.
Sleeping at parks
A landlord in Seme, who gave his name simply as Salako for security reasons, said he, alongside other commuters, got stranded at the park because of the situation.
He said, “When I got to Badagry Park around 6 pm to board a bus to Seme, as usual, I saw a lot of stranded passengers. Most of us had to stay there till the next day because there was no bus. The only buses available were those driven by policemen who charged around N1,500 for a fare of N200 to N300.”
The Secretary to the Badagry West Local Council Development Area, Sovi Gusanu, said despite the three local government councils, consisting of Badagry LGA, Badagry West and Olorunda LCDAs, setting up a joint task force to eradicate the illegal checkpoints, the situation has worsened rather than improved.
He said, “Once the task force goes out on enforcement, we don’t know how they get to know, we won’t just see them on the road. But once the enforcement is done, they return to the road. So, we are tired.
“From Badagry down to the Seme Border, you can encounter about 60 roadblocks in the day, and in the night, it increases to about 100 roadblocks. You will be encountering roadblocks from pole to pole. Police have the highest number of roadblocks on the road followed by customs officials.
“The extortion has been going on for five years and the security agents make billions of naira through these mushroom roadblocks. In a day, these security agents that collect N200 from motorists, traders, among others, can go home with N100,000 and customs officials make up to N2m or N3m.”
In his reaction, the NCS spokesperson, Timi Bomodi, said aside from the agency’s officials at designated checkpoints, mobile units move around because the threat potential changes daily.
He said, “Seme is not just one spot, it traverses from Benin Republic, and to Owode and even across the water.
“But if your emphasis is on the main road, we have Federal Operations Officers; the Joint Border Patrol, among others that are intervention forces.
“These officers are strategically placed on that axis because we have multiple entrance points into Lagos. So, if you say you saw seven of them (at the roadblocks), I think strategically speaking, it will be adequate.
“But that is not even my point; the Nigeria Customs Service is the lead agency in terms of border management, and other people too are also involved in that process.
“You can have checkpoints and you can also have people on information patrol. But all these other people that you have mentioned to be there, what are they doing there?
“We have a reason to be there, we are for border management, but those other people that are there, what are they looking for there? Why 40 different units on that axis, what are they doing there, what is their job?”
The Force Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, when contacted, said, “We know that there are some points there, but the IGP has given a directive to the Commissioner of Police and the Area Commanders to always have approved checkpoints as we don’t encourage roadblocks. But we have checkpoints to aid our anti-crime strategies and deployment.
“We are not aware of that large number of checkpoints along that route but I know it is a very busy road as it is an international route. The IGP will get across relevant offices that have points there, particularly the CP in charge of Lagos State, to come up with a list of his approved checkpoints on the route. If it is in excess, we are going to cut them down. I can assure you that there will be sanity along the route as soon as possible.”