Lagos-Benin Expressway: Still a traveller’s nightmare
SORDID TALES ON THE LAGOS-BENIN EXPRESSWAY
By Anthony Opara
i cannot count how many times i have plied the Lagos-Benin Expressway. I come from Imo state but live and have lived in lagos for many years. I came to Lagos for the first time in 1973 on long holiday whilst in primary school. As a student up to the University level I spent my vacations in lagos and after my NYSC I decided to settle down in Lagos. I also married in Lagos and we had all our three children in Lagos. You can imagine how many times I have been on the Lagos Benin Expressway road from 1973 until this recent trip where I travelled for the burial of my mother’s remaining brother.
Deliberately I travelled on a Sunday as I have come to realize that trips on Sundays are less stressful and the traffic is usually very light. on this particular trip the road was free of traffic but the ever very terrible bad spots on some portions of the road was not even the issue. What I noticed was the presence of all manner of security men on the roads doing what cannot be explained. A big example is the heavy presence of men of the Customs and Excise. Before now one sees them just a bit after the old toll gate at Sagamu where they sought for customs papers from some type of cars and in some cases seize cars that cannot explain what happened to the customs papers of the cars. On one occasion, I was so asked to present the papers for the vehicle that my uncle’s daughter bought for her parents and shipped to me from London. All the papers were intact and I was allowed to proceed on my journey. I have heard tales of cars seized at that point and forfeited by their owners for not presenting genuine customs papers.
The issue which the department of Customs and Excise have failed to answer is -why should the Customs allow the vehicles be cleared from the ports or be smuggled from the neighboring countries and then chase the owners on the streets of cities. It would make sense if smuggled goods were the issue here but that is not the case. Now i counted over five places where men of Customs block the road and demand for custom duties and in some cases seize bags of rice on the excuse that rice is contraband in Nigeria,
Besides the men of the Customs Department, you find the ubiquitous policemen on the roads. You will think they are there to deter armed robbery on the highways but you find them checking for rice and when they find a bag they seize same except in cases when the drivers prove that their bosses own such bags of rice in which case you hear those words: ‘carry on!’ The driver that conveyed me to Owerri informed me that the owner of his transport company settles from the top and so the poor policemen on the road dare not disturb his buses or what they carry. The aggression of this policemen is something else especially when the bus has no such insurance cover of settling from the top. In one instance the policeman cocked his gun and threatened to shoot if our driver didn’t stop to be searched for rice! To prevent accidental discharge, passengers screamed at the driver to stop and let the gun wielding security men do their wish and search rather than give them an excuse to shoot innocent travelers.
I also saw at some spot the men of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency NDLEA and asked the driver what they were doing on the road. he said they look for drugs among the passengers. This is a total waste of manpower if you ask me. Why would the NDLEA leave the seaports and airports which are the natural habitat of drug smugglers and waste man power on the highways looking for drugs and why choose the highways of the South East when its known that drug use is ravaging the northern part of the country. The South especially the Eastern heartland appear to be occupied territory as all kinds of security personnel are deployed to make travel a living hell for road users.
The Government should concentrate on fixing the roads that leads to the Eastern heartland rather then the deployment of all kinds of security personnel on the roads. Now that Python Dance has returned as an issue once again in the East, I wonder how the roads look like now.