Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State yesterday allegedly caught some soldiers and policemen forcing travellers who did not have the national identity card to pay N1,000.
Zulum was on his way to Jakana, a village 45km from Maiduguri where terrorists launched an attack on Saturday.
While on the way, the governor met thousands of stranded commuters allegedly being extorted by security operatives at Jimtilo, a village in the outskirts of Maiduguri, along the Damaturu-Kano road.
Our correspondents report that for the past 10 years, nobody will access Maiduguri without being thoroughly checked by soldiers and policemen at Jimtilo, a heavily guarded checkpoint surrounded by a long trench that also encircles the state capital.
When he arrived the checkpoint on Monday which is few metres away from the Borno State University, the governor met a long stretch of vehicles and travellers stranded on both sides of the road.
Credible sources said the governor was earlier hinted that people including women and children had been trapped at the checkpoint for many hours.
As soon as he alighted from his vehicle, the governor said in anger: “This is unacceptable.
“How can you subject people to this kind of torture all in the name of National ID card? And you are all here collecting N500 and N1000 from poor travellers who don’t have national ID card.”
But one of the soldiers manning the checkpoint who tried to give a different perspective as to why they stopped the travellers met a brick wall as the governor was angry.
“No, this is not right,” the governor said. “The government has not created an enabling environment for our people to get their national ID cards and you are here collecting N500 and N1000 as fine for not having what the federal government has not provided for all,” he added.
Our correspondents recalled that the military had in September last year issued a statement that travellers going to some states in the North East, especially Borno, Yobe and Adamawa must show their ID card to prove their personalities as a way of curtailing free movement of terrorists.
Though the military high command simply said identification card, troops in the volatile region seized the opportunity to insist on National ID Card which many passengers do not possess.
In the process, the security operatives compelled commuters to pay money in order to be allowed to proceed on their journeys.
The governor, while at Jimtilo, said he had received several reports about the alleged extortion at the Maiduguri checkpoint.
He therefore asked one of his aides to call the Theatre Commander, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi.
“Theatre Commander where are you?” the governor asked soon after the phone call was placed.
“Right now I am at the checkpoint near state university and we have thousands of people stranded and your people are here collecting money from people because they don’t have National ID Card. Why?”
Nobody heard what the army general told the governor, but after discussing for some time, Zulum directed the security personnel to open the gates on both sides to allow all travellers to move.
The Theatre Commander later arrived at the check point.
On arrival, he told the governor that the hold-up was because of an attack that happened earlier in the day and assured that he will investigate the allegation levelled against his troops manning the checkpoint.
But the governor countered saying, “I saw them with my eyes, I spoke with people that were asked to give money.
“You must know that the government and people of Borno State are behind you and your men, but you must call your soldiers to order, you must check their excesses,” the governor said.
“What happened today is quite unusual because I came here (Jimtilo) around 10am and some people told me they were asked to park by the road side since around 8.40am,” said Bakura Baana, a commercial vehicle driver.
“We are taking a patient to UMTH but here we are…We know they normally close around 5.30pm or when there was an attack or there is fear of an impending attack. However, today they didn’t say anything,” he said.