Lagos police fearful after killing army colonel: Karl Maier explains why the roadblocks dreaded by motorists in Nigeria's capital were halted this week

THIS time, the police might have gone too far. Extra-judicial killings by police officers at night- time checkpoints on Nigeria's roads are not new, but on Sunday night an army colonel was shot seven times and killed after an argument with a policeman in central Lagos. Since then, the myriad roadblocks routinely mounted by police after dark have virtually disappeared amid fears that soldiers will retaliate for the colonel's death. Anxious about trouble, senior police officers immediately ordered their men to abandon the checkpoints and return to their stations.

Night-time in Lagos brings an explosion of roadblocks, ostensibly to check for stolen cars, arms trafficking and the like. But often they serve to allow police officers to top up their meagre salaries by asking passing vehicles for a 'dash' - a tip or a bribe. The problem is, one never knows when a police checkpoint is legal and when it is fake.

For months the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Aliyu Attah, has been warning his men against setting up illegal checkpoints, but his threats of immediate dismissal for offenders seemed to have little effect until the colonel's death.

The police version is that the colonel emerged from his car carrying a gun, but other reports suggested he approached the police officers to inquire about the traffic jam which their checkpoint had caused.

Traffic jams, or 'go slows', are legendary in Lagos, a teeming city of 5 million people jammed with millions of vehicles running on the cheapest fuel in the world, about 2p per litre. But more often than not, the holdups are due to checkpoints, which usually feature wooden boards with huge nails sticking out of them stretched across the road. Any one of several different types of forces can man them, including soldiers, regular police, transit police (known as 'yellow fever' due to their yellowish-orange uniforms), and the mobile police (whose reputation for shooting first and asking questions later has earned them the popular nickname, 'kill and go').

It all makes driving in Lagos an addictive, total experience capable of generating in a few moments a whole range of emotions, from frustration and anger to hair-raising fear and eventually, hopefully, joy at having arrived.

As darkness falls, fear becomes the dominant emotion. That is when armed highwaymen emerge to hunt their favourite quarry, Peugeots, Nigeria's car of choice, and four-wheel-drive vehicles, especially ones with diplomatic or government plates which allow robbers to avoid police checkpoints.

One recent victim was Aram Husinec, a Yugoslav engineer who was in Lagos on a Unesco contract to help install a new computer system at the News Agency of Nigeria. He was gunned down last month near Embassy Row after two vehicles, one an ambulance, blocked the way to steal his car. There are reports of such thefts nearly every day. The Reuters news agency has lost two four-wheel-drive vehicles this year to gun-wielding thieves.

Despite the death penalty facing armed robbers, reports of holdups, car thefts, and break-ins have increased sharply in Lagos in the past several months. This probably reflects the worsening state of the economy - at least 40 per cent unemployment and 50 per cent inflation. Many observers believe at least some of the gunmen are former soldiers, left jobless in the demobilisation of 30,000 troops in the past year. But there is also a general feeling that the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida, scheduled to hand over power to civilians in January, is increasingly a lameduck administration.

All this, of course, means a booming business for companies and locksmiths specialising in vehicle security. Anyone seeking to make a car theft-proof can choose from a smorgasbord of devices, from switches to cut off fuel and electricity to special doorlocks, and charms known as 'juju'.

Doorlocks are not to be relied upon, though. One locksmith who specialises in installing locks on Peugeots was shocked recently when the Central Bank of Nigeria returned an entire fleet of vehicles after discovering that thieves could open the lock with a simple stiff blow delivered to the lower part of the door.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers