Exclusive: Next Edition Report: Nigerian Army, Benue, Taraba Govts, take action against extortion on highways
Buratai, Samuel Ortom, Diarus Ishaku

The Nigerian military and the governments of Taraba and Benue States have initiated action to tackle the multi-billion naira extortion rings operating along federal highways in the two states.

Already, 76 persons have been arrested in Benue for creating illegal checkpoints in the state.

Out of the number, 60 have been prosecuted while 16 are still under investigation.

The action followed the public outrage generated by the undercover report published by The NEXT EDITION newspaper, which exposed the high-wired corruption and extortion of motorists.

In a two-part report, this newspaper obtained first-hand evidence on the shocking scale of corruption and extortion by the nation’s security forces and gangs on federal and state roads.

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It was found that over N5.8 billion is extorted annually from traders conveying livestock from the far North to the country’s South-South and South-East states.

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With a minimum of 400 truckloads of cattle leaving the North to the 11 South-South and South-East states weekly, traders pay a minimum of N300, 000 per truck in illegal levies, fees and taxes.

In a month, no fewer than 1,600 truckloads of cattle are transported to the two regions and more than 19, 200 truckloads in a year.

The report had also shown how the criminal extortion has significantly turned up the cost of food and goods, leaving average Nigerians to pay dearly for them.

This newspaper carried out the investigation with support from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and the Ford Foundation.

It would be recalled that shortly after this newspaper and its collaborators published the second part of the report detailing the atrocities of armed security operatives and gangs on the highways, the Nigerian Police issued a code of conduct on checkpoints.

Insert the report on the code of conduct on checkpoints here

However, the Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Sagir Musa, in an exclusive interview with our correspondent, confirmed the Army is tackling the menace.

This was further confirmed by the National Chairman, Livestock Transporters and Welfare Association, Simeon Iliyasu, in separate interviews with this newspaper.

Mr. Musa, a Colonel, said the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Burutai ordered the setting up of a task force to ensure that every form of extortion on the nation’s highways is brought to an end.

“I am aware of the activities of the task force and it has been on-going. For too long the extortion had continued,” he began.

“But the Chief of Army Staff had a meeting with the livestock dealers association after they wrote and drew his attention to the cases of extortion on the highways.

“He, therefore, set up the task force to ensure that the thing is brought to an end. I can assure you that within the next few months every form of extortion will come to an end.”

On his part, Mr. Iliyasu said both the Benue and Taraba state governments have taken stands against the continued extortion of livestock and foodstuff dealers along the routes and thanked The NEXT EDITION for its undercover report.

“We are so grateful to your newspaper for taking the pains to bring what has been happening to our members to the whole world.

“We have had meetings with officials of Benue and Taraba State Governments and they have also set up task forces to rid the highways of criminals who extort from our members.

“I was in a meeting in Benue where we met with officials of the Board of Internal Revenue and they have promised to stop all illegal checkpoints within the state.

“After the meeting, I joined the military task force and they have cleared the roads in Benue and from here, we are heading to Cross River to ensure that every illegal checkpoint is cleared and those involved arrested.

“We are so grateful that The NEXT EDITION did that report and we hope that the commitment made by the governments in Benue and Taraba will be kept. We will meet with the officials of the Cross River State Government soon,” he said.

Our correspondent in Makurdi quoted the Chairman of the state Internal Revenue Service (BIRS), Terzungwe Atser, as saying that politicians and traditional rulers are behind illegal checkpoints in the state.

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Mr Atser stated this while briefing newsmen on measures being taken by his office to stop the menace of illegal collections and roadblocks in the state.

He said some criminally-minded individuals have created and maintained a system of illegal taxation they are unwilling to let go.

“These cut across political, traditional and community leaders. They invent all manner of taxes and levies and recruit young men in various communities to mount illegal roadblocks where they extort money from traders and transporters by use of force.

He warned those mounting illegal roadblocks in the state to desist from doing so or face the wrath of the law.

A similar meeting was held in Jalingo, Taraba State, on April 22 between the leadership of the Amalgamated Unions of Cattle and Foodstuff Dealer, North-East Zone and top officials of the Board of Internal Revenue.

The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Nigerian Police and the State Security Service (SSS).

A communique issued at the end of the gathering, which took place at the Jalingo Motel acknowledged the report published by The NEXT EDITION newspaper exposing the extortion of traders passing through the state.

It, therefore, called on the state government to dismantle all illegal checkpoints and streamline valid taxes to be collected by accredited revenue officials.

The Chairman, Amalgamated Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (ACDAN), Adamawa State chapter, Inua Abubakar, said a total of 30 fake revenue receipts were identified in Taraba .