TOO MANY CHECKPOINTS
Recently, the chairman of the Kaduna State Council of Emirs and Chiefs called on the Kaduna State government to do away with checkpoints. Emir of Zaria Alhaji Shehu Idris decried the increasing reports of harassment of innocent people and the time-consuming rigours of searching experienced at the checkpoints.
Needless to say, the view of the traditional ruler reflects the view of most Nigerians on this matter. There is need for caution in reviewing the counter-threat measures. In the first place, how did we get to this point? There are two fundamental problems: the action of terrorists and other criminal elements who are threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria and the reaction of the government whose main responsibility is to ensure the survival of the country. The two positions are diametrically opposed to each other, and at the centre are the people at the receiving end. In the last three years, Boko Haram has unleashed terror on parts of Nigeria. Some states like Borno and Yobe are more or less war zones; thousands of people have been killed. Nowhere is safe: churches, mosques, government offices, schools and military formations have been attacked. The callous attack on churches in Jaji military cantonment is enough evidence that nowhere is safe. Thousands of people have fled these 'war zones' and the instruments of governance are collapsing. In states like Yobe and Borno, economic activities are grounded and people are going through severe hardship.
It appears the federal government's response to these threats has not been effective. Because of the deployment of soldiers, we are gradually witnessing the militarisation of these zones. There are too many checkpoints and barricades. Between Zaria and Kaduna, for instance, there are more than six checkpoints; a journey of 45 minutes now takes close to 2 hours. In Bauchi, the military authorities are constructing permanent barricades on the highway in front of their barracks, while the police have completely shut down the highway in front of their formations. Some roads and streets in Abuja are permanently closed. Damaturu and Maiduguri are ghost towns especially at night. Everything is at a standstill. In spite of all these, the terrorist threat is still with us. It means the military strategy is simply not working; it is therefore time to review it. The threat is real, but the greatest danger is in the fear and contempt brewing in people's hearts: our collective defeat or otherwise lies there. It either consumes us in the seeming incapacitation of the government or we let it galvanise us into collective action as a people.
We lend our voice to the call by the Emir of Zaria. The main checkpoints are still relevant but all barricades around barracks, offices and residential areas should go. The war against terrorism is still on but we should not allow the terrorists to push us into a corner by taking extreme defensive posture. The government should change strategy. It could be on the offensive but the freedom and liberty of the people should no longer be compromised in the process.