Kaduna residents in northern Nigeria have mixed feelings about security checkpoints being dismantled in the city after years of operation. The army said the move mainly affects the snap checkpoints, not the permanent ones, and reflects improving security as the military makes gains against the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
It is evening rush hour and traffic eases through the city center. On the roadside, there are scattered and abandoned sacks filled with soil.
They are the remains of what motorists say was a former military checkpoint – one of many used to conduct spot security checks in the six-year fight against Boko Haram militants.
Residents here say about half of the 10 checkpoints are gone.
James Itodo said this development makes his commute quicker, but he wonders if the move was premature. “Sometimes when you see them on the road you feel comforting, you feel the strength; you feel the presence of security. But when they are not there, you know you are on your own. But if they are somewhere close to the road not really on the road is better for us,” he said.
The last time Boko Haram carried out a deadly attack in Kaduna city was in July, 2014. More than 80 people were killed in two suicide bombings - one targeting President Muhammadu Buhari while he was campaigning for this year’s elections.
Military officials told VOA every army command has to adjust to the security reality on the ground and snap security checks can be carried out as needed.
Barrister Lawrence Igimdiya said the government had to re-examine the need for so many random and permanent roadblocks with a relative improvement in security. “The fear of bomb blasts and the fear of terrorism activities in Kaduna has reduced to a larger extent. That’s why the government has deemed fit to reduce the number of checkpoints in Kaduna so as to reduce the untold hardship,” he stated.
Some motorists have complained not only of long delays at checkpoints but that some security officials manning them pose their own threats to city residents.
Nigerian media reported on Monday a solider shot a truck driver for allegedly refusing to pay a $3 bribe.
Angry drivers blocked the road for hours in protests and swarmed checkpoints on the Kaduna and Zaria highway. When VOA visited the scene there were abandoned sacks on the roadside and no presence of the army.
Checks & balances
Motorist Itodo said he thinks, in general, soldiers have been better behaved than police when operating security checks. “The military, to be very frank with you, they are a disciplined set of people and you find them doing what they are supposed to do: they check your car. But police, they are different in what they are looking for and it's wrong. The military are straight forward,” he said. “They go straight to the point and do their duties and nothing more.”
Idris Inuwa of Social Reformers of Nigeria said they have many checkpoints because security agencies have failed. “The security are not doing their work properly in Nigeria that’s why we have checkpoints everywhere,” Inuwa explained. “If the security of this country will be putting their ears, their legs everywhere I think we will have less crime.”
Kaduna might not have witnessed deadly attacks recently, but Boko Haram still carries out bomb and gun attacks in northeast Nigeria.
President Buhari has been meeting security agencies and leaders of neighboring countries to show a united front in the fight against the militant group.
Addressing the African Union Summit in South Africa earlier this month, Buhari warned the continent was under siege from terrorists like Boko Haram and al-Shabab and from youth unemployment and poverty.