On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Pulse put a phone call across to Iyare Motors for inquiries on the possibility of a trip to Benin from Lagos.
“Yes, we dey go…we dey run am,” said the gentleman on the other end of the line.
When we reminded this dude that we are in coronavirus-induced lockdown season and interstate travel is still banned as declared by President Muhammadu Buhari in March and reiterated in subsequent speeches, he let out a throaty laugh and said: “all man still dey travel jare. Forget that one. We dey find police something till we reach Benin. You know the levels nau? We no dey carry normal bus. We dey use car wey no get company name on top.”
“Ok, how much now from Lagos to Benin?”
“Oga na N10,000…”
A road trip to Benin from Lagos cost N4,000 before the pandemic.
Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu [Facebook/Nigeria Police Force]
On Thursday May 28, 2020, Pulse arrived the Fadeyi bus park of Iyare Motors for the trip to Benin.
After paying the agreed sum of N10,000 each, we took our seats in a nondescript Siena van and set out for Benin at exactly 7am.
Our driver took a detour around Ikeja and drove towards Ogba.
At Ogba, he parked the car and waited for a while.
Actually, the wait lasted for like five minutes. Three police officers approached the car and were handed N500 each.
“All the motor wey dey go Benin, dem go come here come drop money before dem proceed,” our driver explained to passengers who had complained when he killed the engine to wait for the officers to show up.
It turned out this was just the beginning. For the entire 314-kilometre trip to Benin, the driver was dispensing N500 at every police checkpoint. And there were quite a lot of them, we lost count.
COVID-19: Benin-Lagos transport operators defy interstate movement restriction. [pamelawatson]
There was a police barricade every kilometer, manned by officers who shamelessly stretched arms to drivers to receive a mass of crumpled dirty bank notes, before waving the driver on.
Even though it was during a period when travel across states had been banned (except for goods and essential travel) as one in a raft of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, there was heavy vehicular traffic after Sagamu until we arrived Benin.
The traffic was apparently caused by officers mounting roadblocks and slowing down speed of cars until their drivers had parted with some money.
It took 8hrs to arrive Benin on May 28.
The Benin-Ore expressway
When we made the return trip on Sunday, June 7, the same scenario of police officers receiving kickbacks at every cordon and waving drivers on during curfew season, was in full flow.
Most of the police officers also hid their name tags behind a vest for obvious reasons.
Officially, interstate travel remains prohibited according to recent pronouncements by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
The Presidential Task Force on Control of COVID-19 led by Boss Mustapha (2nd from left) and Ehanire (2nd from right) briefed President Buhari on Friday, April 10, 2020 (Twitter @Mbuhari)
Across Nigeria’s interstate roads however, the ban is flouted daily and police officers are smiling to the bank.
Commercial transporters have since hiked fares because they have to pass the bribe burden to the commuters.
“Na so we dey do am now o,” said the driver in charge of our Lagos-bound trip.
Frank Mba is Force Public Relations Officer [Vanguard]
Repeated phone calls to police spokesperson Frank Mba, have been ignored.
On June 8, Pulse sent a text message to Mba, detailing how police officers have been extorting commuters disobeying curfew protocol and how commercial transport companies are making so much money in COVID-19 season.
Mba is yet to respond.