The story of security men on road blocks using children to collect bribes from motorists sounds incredulous but AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE and JOY YESUFU (Abuja) report that this is the new tactic adopted by the officers on duty to avoid suspicious eyes
His name is Godwin Itodo, he hawks sweets, bitter kolas and other assorted items along the inter-state boundary check point connecting Ikole local government area and Ijumu LGA of Ekiti and Kogi States. Godwin is only 12 but he has been on that road since he was 10. He is well known to some of the drivers who regularly ply the road and even the soldiers posted there, he knows them by name and he sometimes runs ‘errands’ for them, he collects money from the drivers for the soldiers!
“That is what he does for the soldiers,” a commercial bus driver told one of his passengers who cast some questioning look at him after the driver handed some notes to Godwin who walked up to him at the checkpoint.
“He is their errand boy, that thing he is carrying is just a cover up.”
Godwin is not the only child exposed to this dangerous trend as LEADERSHIP Weekend findings reveal that for fear of being caught and punished, security men at different checkpoints now use small boys and girls supposedly hawking to collect money from drivers and deliver to them.
Our correspondent learnt that officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are also involved in this practice.
The children usually present as hawking such items as walnuts, groundnuts, sachet and bottle water and others for travellers, but are actually being used to collect bribes and extort drivers.
At the Ekiti-Kogi checkpoint end, most of the drivers appear to know the drill. After slowing down and going through the obstacles mounted by the military men, the children simply approach the driver as though they wanted to sell their wares only to collect between N100 and N1, 000 depending on the size of the vehicle and content.
It a seamless transaction between the drivers, mostly commercial ones, the teenagers and the soldiers who have found a perfect cover to keep their bribe collection unnoticed.
Many of the travellers who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend said this is a dangerous trend which will end up grooming the children for criminal activities in the future.
Bolanrinwa Adekunle, a businessman and regular traveller on the Osogbo-Lokoja-Abuja route told our correspondent who was shocked and wondered if that was the routine that the act by the military men has been going on for a long time.
“They take advantage of the regimental environment, knowing that no passenger will be able to question them and perhaps some of them think they are smart to hide under the children trading to collect bribes on the road. This is a national embarrassment and a disgrace to the military.
The theme of the 2018 Day of the African Child was: “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.” This theme obviously does not resonate in Nigeria. If it does, these children on the highway hawking items and being exposed to all sorts of criminal tendencies should have been in school. But they are not.
According to Adekunle, “in a civilized society, these kids are not supposed to be in this bush hawking items or on the highway for any reason. It is bad that they are on the highway, exposed to danger, it is even worse that they are now being exploited by these criminals. What kind of future are we building,” he asked with so much anger in his voice.
Gbenga Sulaiman, a civil servant said the security men have abandoned their core duty and are now after their pockets, extorting money from drivers.
“They have abandoned their core duty of stop and search to weed out any dangerous item from getting to the next location and saving lives, but have become notorious with extortions,” he added to the debate that ensued in the bus after passing the checkpoint.
“It is because we have no regard for our children anymore that is why parents allow their children to come to this lonely place to sell what? And now they are being exploited by the soldiers.”
Others who spoke expressed the fear that the use of the children for this kind of errand could portend danger for the nation in the furture.
Kabiru Alao said the children are being groomed to become armed robbers, kidnappers, hired killers, smugglers among others.
He added that by the time the checkpoints are eventually dismantled by the military, “what becomes of these children when they can no longer collect free monies from the drivers on behalf of the soldiers?” he wondered.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt the monies collected runs into thousands of naira daily and the children collectors are given a measly amount aside the meagre returns they make from hawking.
Reacting on the matter, the Ag. Director, Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the military authority is not aware of the development and that with this information, the attention of the Brigade Commander supervising that area will be drawn to find out if such is truly going on in those areas.
He maintained that the military will investigate the allegations and any culpable officer will be punished saying that soldiers who stand at road blocks are not there to get any form of return to their bosses.
“If anybody does that and we find out, the people will be punished,” Agim said, adding, “If it’s true that something like that is happening, all we need is to get in touch with the brigade in Akure, and let them know and they will set those people up and punish them.”
Meanwhile, it is not the military alone that are involved in the inglorious act. LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that some officers of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) stationed at the Jamata area around the Murtala Mohammed Bridge in Kogi local government area have been sighted deploying similar tactics in collecting bribes from motorists.
In the narration of Agada Usman, a passenger in one of the commercial vehicles: “In May this year, I think around 27th to be precise, I was travelling in a bus to Ayingba, Kogi State and the bus was arrested by officers of FRSC just before the Murtala Mohammed Bridge after Koton Karfe in Kogi LGA, around Jamata.
“The driver of the bus was accused by the FRSC officials of overloading and after some minutes of side talks, I saw the driver heading towards a teenage hawker and handed over N1, 000 note to her. At first a lot of us thought he wanted to buy what the little girl was selling until it downed on us that the teenager was being used to collect bribe for them.
“Many of the passengers were annoyed, but the driver said he is used to dealing with security agencies on the highways. The driver further said it is the latest innovation by the security men to avoid being seen collecting bribes on the road.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend was unable to get the reaction of Bisi Kazeem, the spokesperson for the FRSC as efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Many travellers who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend were of the view that more checkpoints operators are involved in this growing trend of using children as conduit pipe for bribe taking and extortions.
Reacting to the development, founder, El-meela Heritage Support Foundation (EL-MHSF) Jamila Eneika, said if the allegation of using children for bribe taking on highways by security agents is true, it is a grievous offence and all those involved should be court martialed by the authorities.
She said apart from the fact that hawking, petty trading exposes girl child to sexual violence, she is now being groomed for criminal activities.
President of Jose Foundation, Dr Martins Abhulimhen, said mere allowing children around checkpoints around the country is exploitation. He added that using them to collect bride is criminal and a gross violation of their rights as children.
He said all forms of child abuse is totally unacceptable. “Our government must do all it takes to stem the tides of using children to extort monies from travellers on our roads, this is unheard of and the allegation must be investigated thoroughly to avoid grooming children that will turn armed robbers tomorrow,” he said.
But will it be easy to stop the trend? Godwin says he makes N5,000 every day from running the errands and he sees nothing wrong with it.
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