Immediately after the Force Headquarters’ bombing, the security agencies reacted by deploying soldiers to mount check points at strategic locations, especially all entry points to the nation’s capital, in response to the threat of the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram.
As part of the security measures, the FCTA also impsed a curfew on night clubs, beer parlours and other relaxation spots in Abuja. In some churches, women are not allowed to come to church with their hand bags. However, rather than restore confidence, FCT residents say the security measures have made life hellish for them. Michael Oche writes
Simon Ode is an employee of a private firm. He almost lost his job last monday for arriving late to the office. He had left home as early as 7am, hoping to get to the office before his resumption time of 8:am. Ode stays in Nyanya which is just a 15- minute drive from the city centre. However, due to the traffic congestion caused by the check point mounted by soldiers, Ode spent more than five hours in the traffic gridlock.
“I was lucky because I could have lost my job last Monday. My boss would not hear any explanation; he was breathing fire. Luckily the news was on TV and that was how I manage to keep my job,” he said.
For Tunde who is an unemployed graduate, he was not as lucky as Ode. He was supposed to have a job interview by 9:am on Monday morning but missed out on the opportunity because he could not beat the traffic.
He said, “I have been applying for jobs for the past two years. Now I had an opportunity andIlost it. The interview was for 9am, and by 10am, I was still stranded in the traffic. By the time I got there, they were through.”
Abuja has been under siege in the last two weeks. Residents say life is becoming unbearable. Most residents say they don’t know who really has made life more difficult for them - the Boko Haram sect or the military personnel deployed to the streets of Abuja.
Vehicular traffic into Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, through the Nasarawa State axis which is usually characterised by a three-hour gridlock on normal work days, took a turn for the worse since Sunday as the military intensified their manhunt for members of the dreaded Boko Haram.
Stern-looking, gun-totting armed soldiers who mounted road blocks on the Nyanya-Mararaba highway, a major gateway into Abuja, conducted comprehensive search on virtually every vehicle heading into the nation’s capital. The highway links Abuja with neighbouring Nasarawa, Plateau and other parts of the far North, including Borno State, considered the hub of the sect.
However, workers who ply the roads have nothing but tales of woe as they go through the mill every morning from 6am to 10am. Motorists coming into the city centre from Keffi road – including residents of Nyanya, Karu and Jikwoyi in the FCT, and Mararaba and beyond - all the way to Keffi in Nasarawa State – say life has been hellish for the past two weeks because of roadblocks mounted by soldiers hunting.
Many motorists who could not bear the chaotic traffic situation simply turn back and go home. Several vehicles also give up and break down on the stretch, and several commuters had to trek several kilometres into the capital city in a bid to get to their respective destinations. In the process many said they lost man-hours.
The road block by the security men which was earlier mounted at Nyanya in front of the NNPC Mega station was relocated to the Kugbo area of Mararaba/Nyanya road to ensure that no vehicle coming into Abuja escapes their scrutiny.
It was a load of relief for many FCT residents when the government decided to embark on a project to expand all the major roads in the FCT. They became an ambitious expansion project with some of the road lanes being increased to between seven and 10 lanes. To many of the residents, this was a welcome development since, in their view, the road expansion would considerably reduce the heavy traffic situation in most of these roads. However, in the last two weeks, residents have been forced back to the bad days of long traffic congestion along major entry points to the city centre.
The road users lamented the psychological trauma, stress and frustration which they often suffered daily as they set out to work. According to them, there is no way the residents who suffer this excruciating traffic hold up every day could give their best in their places of work.
The heightened security measures left thousands of workers stranded, as they desperately tried to reach their offices and places of business.
Joy Iwuese, a civil servant, recounted how the road block caused her to be two hours late for work.
“My bus normally drops me just outside the secretariat,” she said. “Instead, what happened is that they drove only as far as Setraco, then turned back. By the time I even got to work, half of my colleagues were not there.”
A security source told leadership Sunday that the situation did not end there.
“It unfortunately does not end here. Things may never fully return to normal because of what transpired on October 1. Already, if you go to the airport now, all cars entering are being searched. This will also be introduced in strategic places across the FCT. The stringent checks are not a welcome development for the increasingly frustrated Abuja residents. Taofik Adejuwon, another civil servant, compared the recent conditions to being in a militarised state.
“Of course, one can never be too safe,” Mr. Adejuwon said. “But at what cost? It is as if we are living in a militarilised zone. You see police, traffic wardens, VIO, civil defence everywhere. It is very uncomfortable for those of us who are used to more freedom,” he said.
A commuter, Tunde, who said he was into contracts, lamented that since the road blocks started, he had found it difficult to meet up with appointments as he would always get there late due to long hours on the roads. He called on government to intervene before the residents would break down under the burden of the ugly traffic situation
“Anytime after 6.30am, the traffic hold -up begins and one is forced to remain on the road for several hours while going to work. This has made life terribly unbearable for most people.
“I am not government but I pray that this government will do something about this checkpoints. It is not giving the FCT a good name. In fact, people are beginning to say that the government is making life more difficult than the Boko Haram,” Tunde told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY.
Another resident reacted by saying, “Haba policemen, soldiers! Now they are trying to show their muscles long after the damage has been done. What if there was a car in the hold-up rigged with explosives, would the measure taken by the police have averted it?”
But in contrast to the lamentations of other residents, Joe a business man said, “I’d rather endure the so-called inconvenience than another Boko Haram-inspired bomb blasts. For those complaining of inconvenience, please visit families of those who suddenly died in the police headquarters incident and hear whether their preference would have been the loss of a loved one, or inconvenience. Please let them continue as long as it brings me safety!”
“People,” he went on, “should stop complaining about inconveniences. This threat is to every single Nigerian. You, your family member, relatives, loved ones or friends could be victims of these blasts. It’s better to ask the culprits to look for a better way to press home their grievances, than to send innocent people to early graves.”
The FCT authorities have promised to ease the situation.
Assuaging angry residents who were trapped in the traffic for several hours, the Federal Capital Territory Administration assured that it would find a long-lasting solution to the perennial long traffic squeeze along Nyanya/Mararaba axis occasioned by the military checkpoint.
After assessing the situation, Navy Captain Olubolade promised to liaise with the military high command to review the operations and reduce the inconveniences to residents. He acknowledged that the present exercise had visited avoidable inconveniences to the residents, and assured that the operations would be reviewed to reduce the suffering on the people.
“There is need to look at the road blocks, and know the appropriate place where check points should be mounted. A situation where people will not be able to come to work or get late to work must be avoided.
“One of the security measures we have to take is to look at how we can strategically position the checkpoints so that it will not adversely affect the free flow of traffic, so that people will be able to go to work. There is need to strike a balance and if we see that it is really becoming a hardship, then the adjustment becomes paramount,” he stated.
The Minister of State also stated that he would confer with security chiefs to examine ways of improving on the security checks.
“From this point on, I will move to talk with the brigade commander and look at how we can adjust it. What is important is to ensure that people can go to work without so much hardship, by waiting for hours. What we need is an improved situation.”
The minister, Mohammed, said that his government had recognised the hardships faced by motorists on the route and would address the issue holistically. However, the best way out is to creat several bypass routes to the city centre because most of those who work in the FCT live outside the city centre, in the outskirts, because of the unreasonably high rents in town.
By last Thursday, the traffic had reduced and the roadblock had been moved back to its initial location at NNPC Mega in Nyanya.