Motorists, commuters and residents along the Onitsha-Owerri Road, have accused some naval ratings of using teenagers to extort money for them at the checkpoints they mounted at the Enamel axis, near the Upper Iweka area of the ever-busy federal road.
A correspondent on a visit to the area on Wednesday observed about two young boys, aged between 18 and 20 years, collecting money ranging from N200 to N500 from commercial drivers and tricycle operators before they were allowed to cross the barrier placed by the security operatives at that section of the road.
The correspondent also observed that their activities caused a heavy gridlock, as motorists and travellers were stranded for several hours along the road, while the naval ratings watched proceedings, even as a signboard displaying “Say no to extortions” was mounted in the middle of the road.
The gridlock stretched from the Mgbaemene axis of the road to Enamel for commuters coming from Upper Iweka, while it also stretched from the Amanator axis to Enamel for commuters coming from the Oba area of the road.
The situation was made worse for road users because the naval ratings totally blocked the lane going to Upper Iweka while a small space was left on the Oba lane where commuters struggled to squeeze through.
It was also observed that apart from drivers and motorists who are at the receiving end of the heat in the hands of the naval ratings, pedestrians were not left out as they were prevented from making use of the road. People who wanted to cross the checkpoints were seen trekking along the bush paths to access their various destinations.
Speaking in separate interviews with our correspondent, some commercial drivers alleged that the naval ratings deliberately left a “small portion” for road users to make it convenient for them to collect money from them.
One of the drivers, who identified himself as the Welfare Officer of Anambra Drivers Union, Okereke Monday, lamented the hardship the “extortions” on Onitsha-Owerri Road had been causing travellers, including the “decrepit state” of the road.
Monday said, “We spend several hours for a journey of 30 minutes, because of the money the Navy officers collect from us. We are begging the government and all those concerned to come to our rescue. That is why transportation fares are always on the increase because they collect money from us on every trip.”
Another commuter and a resident of the area, Joy Okoro, said, “As I speak to you now (Wednesday), the traffic is getting worse on a daily basis on the Onitsha-Owerri road. Even some of the community roads we used to ply from Awada to Upper Iweka to beat the traffic caused by the Navy and bad roads have also been blocked.
“We are suffering unnecessarily as a result of the activities of the naval ratings at the Enamel area of that road. We are not against the security operatives mounting checkpoints, it is for security and surveillance. But using it to extort money from motorists is a big concern, which the authorities have to look into. It is becoming embarrassing and painful.
“There used to be over 10 security officers in uniforms, who always gathered around the area, supervising and monitoring the boys who collect money for them from the drivers, while they abandoned the security work they are meant to do. It is sickening that this has been allowed to happen over a long time without the authorities doing anything.”
One of the passengers in a vehicle, who alighted to beat the gridlock, Mrs Ruth Dibia, lamented that the vehicle she was travelling with remained in the same spot for several hours.
Dibia said, “I am travelling to Owerri from Upper Iweka and for over two hours, our vehicle had been on the same spot. When I alighted, I discovered the gridlock was coming from the checkpoint. It is not fair at all what these people are making us pass through in the midst of the bad road.”
Another driver, Johnson Ibe, said, “This is how the Navy people disturb us daily. They make life very uncomfortable for us and the passengers. Here we pay N500 for crossing the checkpoints every time, at the end of the day, we pay close to N5,000 or even more per vehicle daily.
“It depends on the kind of bus you are driving. For me, I drive a shuttle bus, so the money I will pay may differ from what all those big lorries pay. They keep sending all these boys to collect money from us because they don’t want people to see them collecting the money in uniforms.
“I ply Upper Iweka to Nnewi. The Navy, Army, and police have their boys who collect the money for them. This is one of the major reasons why we decided to add money on transportation because aside from the fact that the price of fuel has increased, we also have to settle all these agencies on the road and sometimes, it becomes unbearable.
A tricycle operator, Joshua Ugo, said, “This thing is not a new thing. It is something they have been doing since. They call it “ego Navy,” which means money for Navy officers. They don’t want people to see them taking money from us on the road, but they are by the side supervising the collection. They do it every day.
“Even when new officers are brought, they still do the same thing. It has become a recurring decimal. The government should please help us stop this, it is killing us because they are eating out of our daily income and it is not fair.”
One of the elders in Awada community, near the Onitsha-Owerri Road, Obiora Uko, said, “The action of these security officers does not go down well with us. We always hear gunshots at that point and it puts the community in panic.
“The youths, tricycle operators have threatened to protest on several occasions but we have been calming them down. I don’t know how long this will continue.”
All efforts to get the reaction of the Anambra State Naval commander proved abortive as his phone rang out several times and messages sent were yet to be responded to as at the time of filing this report.
When contacted, the state police spokesman, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, simply said, “Thank you for this information, I will escalate it to the authorities in Onitsha.”