For decades, one thing has continued to amaze me whenever I travel from Lagos to the South-East: Why do all the paramilitary agencies line up on the way to the South-East/South-South Lagos? From Lagos to Onitsha, I see different teams of police officers, mobile police officers, customs officers, road safety officers, at different intervals, stopping vehicles and looking for one thing or the other, but on the way from Onitsha to Lagos, I do not see even one team of these paramilitary bodies.
It always makes me to wonder if the police and mobile police teams stop only those travelling towards Benin/Onitsha because only they have the capacity to commit crimes or have expired vehicle documents, but when such people are returning to Lagos, they lose their capacity to commit crimes or their vehicle documents miraculously become in order. For the road safety officers, one wonders if people only speed or use expired tyres and expired driving licences when they are moving towards the South-East but become all good when returning to Lagos.
But while discussing the issue with some friends, they noted that money is the issue. The argument is that those travelling towards Benin/Onitsha are believed to be “loaded” (with cash) and eager to pass through the Niger Bridge in time to beat the traffic jam, but those returning to Lagos are believed to have spent all their money and not in a happy mood and are therefore seen as “bad market.”
I have lived in Lagos for over two decades. I have never seen customs officers on any highway in Lagos, checking vehicles. I recently travelled by road from Lagos to Osun State as well as Kwara State. I saw no customs officers on the road checking vehicles. I have not travelled recently to the far North by road, but those who have done so say they do not see customs officers on the road. But from Lagos to Onitsha, one sees customs officers in Ogun State, Ondo State, Edo State, and Delta State, stopping and checking vehicles. One wonders if all the fairly used cars that come into Nigeria naturally move to the South-East. If that were so, then the South-East’s economy should by far be higher than the economy of Lagos and the rest of Nigeria! During this Christmas season, there were allegations that the customs officers on the way to the South-East even seized bags of foreign rice seen in the car boots of those travelling home on the premise that foreign rice had been banned in Nigeria.
Who allowed these cars and rice to pass through the borders into the country? Who collected the bribes and looked the other way for these cars and rice to come in? Should customs officers be at the borders doing their work or staying on the highways to harass and extort money from motorists who went to the market to buy cars or rice?
These actions raise issues in a country that is talking about integration. Why should there be different treatments for different parts? When people from the South-East complain that they are marginalised and treated differently by the Nigerian system, many see such as unfounded and try to shout them down. But such people do not have any cogent explanation for issues like this.
It was the same issue that came to the fore when the soldiers were deployed at the South-East last month in what the Nigerian Army called “Operation Python Dance” at a time there was peace in the area but killings by Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna and other places as well as bomb explosions by the Boko Haram in Borno State were taking place. The Nigerian government did not give any cogent reason for such deployment of the military at peace time to a part of the country.
When citizens get harassed and intimidated by the military, police and other paramilitary agencies and they know that their compatriots from other parts of the country do not get the same treatment, they feel that the state is deliberately picking on them because of who they are. They feel unwanted. Such actions work against national integration and patriotism.
Human beings have the same desires. The Igbo are not different. The Igbo want to be treated like other Nigerians in all things: they do not want any special favours but they do not want any special encumbrances. They do not want to be treated like second-class citizens and they do not want to be treated like special-class citizens ahead of other citizens.
This is the same reason why the quota system is repulsive. This is the same reason why it is repulsive when a President decides to appoint his kinsmen as heads of virtually all the key agencies in Nigeria that directly affect the lives of all citizens. Such heads of agencies can choose to come up with policies and directives that will work against other ethnic groups. For example, how does a child of 12 years old feel when she scores 135 out of 200 but cannot be admitted into the Unity School because of the high cut-off mark given to her state of origin, but another child from her school scores 20 but gains admission into the same Unity School because of the low cut-off mark of her state of origin? That is the basic definition of injustice: treating equals unequally.
If the Federal Government of Nigeria wants customs officers to check the papers of fairly used vehicles and foreign rice on our highways, there is no problem about that. Let them stand on Ikorodu Road in Lagos, Lagos-Abeokuta Road, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Road and all other highways in Nigeria. Let them also stay on both sides of the road to catch those going on both directions. The same thing applies to police checkpoints as well as the checkpoints mounted by mobile police, Federal Road Safety Corps and other agencies. If a checkpoint is meant to be mounted every 10 kilometres, such should be applied across the federation except in cases where there are clear high incidences of crime or infractions.
States can have different policies but the nation must have a uniform policy for its citizens. That is how to build a nation. You do not build a nation by making it clear to some people that they are presumed guilty until proved innocent, while you let others know that they are presumed innocent until proved guilty. You do not get patriotic citizens that way, neither do you get a peaceful and harmonious nation that way.
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