Checkpoints and rights of citizens

Ralph Egbu

Let me start with a disclosure: this is not what I wanted to talk about this week. In fact two issues were on my mind. The first was to continue with the work of last week entitled, Cultural Revolution, and my intention was to argue my thinking that our country has no unemployment challenge but poor mental attitude problem. It is a clear absurdity to talk about unemployment within our level of development, with so much yet undone. We have inhibitions in this regard due to cultural inheritances, misdirected development strategy which make us see development in terms of replicating what the white man has done in his place.

If we have taken time to redefine development and to accept the philosophy that pure development should be human centred, perhaps we would have done things differently and this would have included the institutions we put in place and what they are set up to achieve. Today for instance, our educational institutions are multiplying at geometric rate but in real substance there is nothing to it. Many of the graduates major in literary studies, something that was good for the colonial masters who needed personnel who could read and write.

Some would say we have engineering, science and technology departments but the hollowness about it all is that we have them and yet foreign companies undertake our major construction works, even the Arabs have become our teachers in this regard.

I had also wanted to talk about politics and the superficial posturing I see all over the place, but like I said I changed my mind to the work you are reading because of some critical observations I made during this festive season just ending. In the last 30 years I have kept a steady relationship with the rural folks but I must confess I have never gone so deep like I did between November 2018 and first 10 days of January 2019. This time I stayed with them for very long hours. I ate and had very intimate moments with the young, old, men and women and one critical thing I discovered is that hunger and disease are making life very uncomfortable for many citizens of this supposed rich nation. The level of ignorance is also very high, all of these factors have combined to weaken the people and leave them very vulnerable and highly subject to manipulation. We need to do something about that.

Now to the main issue for the day and that is about checkpoints, our security and the citizens’ rights and I have in mind here his freedom to unimpeded movement. The crux of democracy is about freedom. Every true democracy would seek to expand the freedom available to the citizens and not to restrict it. In our case this has not been the practice. There has always been these temptations or urgings to limit the scope of freedom available to the citizens. Our law enforcement tactics is mainly adversarial; our law enforcement agents hardly correct, they want to arrest for every offence and to detain. Recent infringements have come in the form of security checkpoints and they have had worst effects in the South East and South-South geopolitical zones of our country. Those who read this column regularly would attest that we made the issue frontline matter for this page for many weeks especially between November and early December. We were therefore happy when before the middle of December the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, issued a directive ordering police formations across the country to dismantle the checkpoints; shortly after, the Army followed by removing their own checkpoints. I can confirm it was a happy moment for nearly all of us in the South East. It is not clear how the decision to do away with the checkpoints came about, whether a political or a product of the thinking of the security heads, whatever is the case it was a master stroke decision and for me it has won some accolades for Ibrahim Idris and Major General Tukur Buratai. Democracy requires us to be critical of policies, the same way it expects us to be appreciative and full of commendation when public officers and government do what is right. By January 10, the checkpoints were not in place but the signs were clear that the field officers were eager to restore them. These officers have returned to the roads and to the nasty acts of stopping every car and provoking very long queues and in the process subject innocent Nigerians, children inclusive, to unimaginable kind of stress and hardship under the scorching tropical sun. I have made a few comments about checkpoints and I want to restate them in this essay. When a nation is not at war, checkpoints are anathema and the reason is because it not only narrows the space of freedom available to citizens, it impinges on their comfort and right to decent existence. Where there are no very serious security challenge and you see checkpoints, what it means is that a war of vendetta is being staged against a particular people.

If anyone reading this is has been privileged to read the book, “Topography of Terror” one would see how Adolf Hitler of Germany used it to hunt down the Jews and to keep his hold on some European nations conquered by the German army during the Second World War. One will also see how the Russian Army used it against the Germans when they succeeded in halting and reversing the madness of Adolf Hitler. It can devastate the economy of a place and that is the tactics the Israeli nation has employed against the Palestinians to severe effect. I have heard people say the checkpoints in the South East are as a result of the activities of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). Nothing for now can justify this move. It is wrong to punish the whole people for the supposed “sin” of a few. It amounts to cruelty when it is known that mere intelligence gathering can offer better solutions than the checkpoints.

Let the checkpoints go permanently. This is a task for Igbo governors and political leaders. It is time we begin to expand the amount of freedom available to citizens. This is the right way to go.

 

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