The bad condition of the Lagos-Badagry express road, multiple checkpoints/kickbacks along the Nigeria-Benin Republic corridor have made nonsense of the free movement and economic integration being championed by ECOWAS member states. Daily Trust on Sunday undertook a trip to Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic recently and now reports.
President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State came under some brickbat on October 23, 2018 in Lagos when they both flew on choppers to Badagry for the commissioning of the Seme-Krake joint border post. The action was aimed at strengthening border surveillance between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.
Many Lagosians living and working on that axis were miffed that the president and the governor deliberately avoided the highway and decided to go on choppers because they were conscious of the deplorable state of the road.
The Lagos-Badagry expressway is the Nigerian section of the Trans-West African coastal highway, which has been under a terrible condition from Mile 2, up to Badagry for many years, with motorists, pedestrians and people living around the area languishing in daily traffic jam.
The traffic snarl has, however, been compounded by multiple patrols by various arms of security in the country. The development has seen road users grumbling on a daily basis.
It was a cold morning at the Mile 2 international park where our correspondent boarded a car going to Cotonou. On arrival at the park, a small Mitsubishi car was already loading and one of the arguments that ensued was about a passenger challenging the fare from Mile 2 to Cotonou, which was fixed at N6,000. Other passengers also challenged the driver for charging such a huge amount per passenger to Cotonou.
“The last time I travelled to Cotonou was two years ago and it was N4,000. I wonder why the fare has gone up by 50 per cent,” the passenger, a female and trader said.
The driver, a middle-aged Igbo man, simply said, “It is not our fault. It is the change that you people brought to us.”
After about two hours at the park, waiting for the last passenger to fill the car, the journey commenced from Mile 2, straight to Cotonou at 10 am. Ordinarily, in distance, Mile 2 to Cotonou is less than travelling from Lagos to Ibadan, which is just N1,000 for buses and about N1,500 for small cars, yet passengers are charged N6,000 for a trip of about 100 kilometers.
As the journey progressed, passengers were subjected to untold suffering, occasioned by bad portions of the expressway, including the section being constructed by the Lagos State Government, different patrols and checkpoints mounted by the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). At virtually every kilometer, the vehicle was stopped, either by the Police or Immigration.
The Nigeria Immigration Service is responsible for border surveillance and control of movement of people moving out or coming into the country. So it was discernible that they would be heavily present on the expressway to check irregular migration and protect the country from external aggression. But some immigration officers have turned the Lagos-Badagry expressway to a money making area, through multiple checks despite the ease of doing business policy of the Federal Government.
In the course of the journey, no fewer than 10 patrol teams were encountered on the road. Three of the patrol teams were from the Nigerian police while the remaining ones were mounted by Immigration. Our correspondent observed that at all the patrol points, the driver handed between N1,000 and N1,500 to the immigration officers.
Surprisingly, only one of the patrol teams, located around Ar-Rakhab Beach Holiday, which was the eighth team encountered on the expressway, demanded relevant travelling documents from the four passengers in the vehicle. For others, the driver would simply squeeze the naira notes in their hands and proceed on the trip.
There was drama at the 10th Immigration checkpoint, close to Seme police station, when one of the passengers was said to be carrying fake travelling documents. There was argument between the driver and the officers for almost 30 minutes. He had to part with N1,500 to leave the area. And that was the last checkpoint/patrol as we were already at Seme border. The thought among passengers was that the drama and trauma was over; but certainly, it was not over yet.
On getting to Seme border, the driver told the passengers that they needed to pay N5,000 to stamp their passports. As a correspondent who had the privilege of travelling outside the country on several occasions, it was a strange request, which would have triggered curiosity in any person to ask what the fee was meant for.
The driver became furious when our correspondent insisted on not paying the N5,000, demanding to know what it was meant for. He angrily said that anybody who was not ready to pay to stamp their passports should take a bike to the Immigration post to do the stamping on their own.
Our correspondent gladly took the offer as he was curious to know what the N5,000 fee was meant for. But getting to the Immigration post, it was a different story. On
presenting the passport, the officer, an elderly man, said it was N1,000 because it was the first time the passport would be stamped by them.
When they discovered that the person standing before them was a journalist, they quickly changed the narrative. In fact, the officer who initially demanded N1,000 did not speak again as our correspondent was quickly attended to.
But the other three passengers in the car had to pay N5,000 directly to the driver to do the stamping. One of the passengers who deals in fairly used cloths, popularly known as ‘okrika’ said, “That is how we have been paying to enter Benin Republic. We are told the money is meant for Nigeria and Benin Immigrations.”
Inside the Seme end of the Republic of Benin, there was only one checkpoint by the Benin Republic border police. On sighting the driver, they told him to proceed.
Though it was not clear whether the driver paid the N5,000 collected as stamping fee from four passengers, he said that was how they have been paying it. It was, however, learnt that the stamping fee has been turned to a racket of sorts between drivers and some police officers at the border.
Despite government’s ease of doing business process, passengers who spoke with our correspondent said the multiple checkpoints had become an impediment to businesses. Others who spoke at the Seme border said that virtually all the security officials saw the Lagos-Badagry expressway as an avenue to get rich.
Returning to Nigeria after two days, it was the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officials that took over the expressway. There were over 10 customs patrol teams on the road doing the same thing. However, none of them solicited for anything from the driver though each of them would open the trunk of the car, ostensibly to check if some undeclared or banned products were being smuggled.
According to the driver, who simply identified himself as Chris, the customs patrol teams are more than 15, from Seme to the popular Iba junction. “All of them are only doing the same thing. We are the ones plying this road every day and we are not happy with the situation of the road. Also, the multiple checkpoints mounted by the Police, Customs, Immigration are giving us sleepless nights.”
Coming from Seme to Lagos, our correspondent observed that the road was worse than going to Cotonou. Some of the worse portions of the road are Oko-Afor side, Elijah Community, Agbara, among others. A resident of Badagry said the road was worse from Badagry to Agbara.
Alhaji Yusuf Sanni, the Yoruba community leader in Seme and secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Seme branch, lamented the deplorable state of the road, as well as the multiple checkpoints created by security agencies on the expressway.
He said, “This road is an eyesore, even a blind man can see that the Lagos-Badagry express road is not motorable. Badagry to Lagos is not supposed to be more than 45 minutes, but you can be on this road for the next five hours. This is as a result of all the potholes and other bad things on the road. We have called on the Federal Government, Lagos State Government and stakeholders to do something about the state of the road, but nothing has been done. They are giving us a series of excuses. And this is the only road that links Nigeria to other West African countries.”
He said it was a show of insensitivity for the president and the governor to come to Seme on choppers. “If they wanted to taste the bitterness of the road they shouldn’t have come on choppers. One of the highest revenues being generated by Customs is from Seme border here. We even have more revenues here than Tin Can Island and other ports. Unfortunately, with all they have generated from here, nothing was done. We know full well that the road has been awarded by ECOWAS as has been done to other countries, but mismanagement is one of the problems we have.”
On the multiple checkpoints, he said, “Compared to what you see in other parts of the country, is that how you have checkpoints along the road? Most of them are not supposed to even be on the road. They only come to Badagry express road to make their daily bread. The Inspector General of Police is aware of this, but nothing is done. They are not here to arrest but to open their own tollgates as others have been doing.”
But respite may soon come to the motorists following the recent award of the contract for the repair of the road from Agbara to Seme, which is about 46 kilometers. This would complement the section along Okokomaiko, being carried out by the state government.
Speaking on the multiple checkpoints, the public relations officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Joseph Attah, said the Service had collapsed its checkpoints into two, in line with the ease of doing business policy of the government. According to him, the patrol teams on the Lagos-Badagry expressway cannot be categorised as checkpoints. He said some of the patrol teams moved from one point to another in a bid to outsmart smugglers.