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
Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home