For almost four successive days, travellers on the ever-busy Zaria-Kano highway were subjected to a traumatic experience when protesting drivers of articulated trucks blocked the road over the alleged killing of one of their colleagues by a soldier. The action of the drivers led to a thick traffic gridlock on the road from Wednesday January 11 to Saturday January 14, 2023.
The unfortunate incident happened at Tashar Yari in Makarfi LGA of Kaduna State, when the victim, who was driving a cement truck, had an altercation with a soldier attached to a construction company on the road. Following an argument between the duo, which led to the shooting by the soldier that claimed the driver’s life, drivers of articulated trucks in protest blocked the road completely. Motorists caught up in the gridlock spent long hours on the highway as they couldn’t make a u-turn or take another route. Commercial drivers familiar with the geography of the area navigated through nearby villages into Makarfi township to escape from the heavy traffic holdup.
Aside from their insistence that the suspect must be punished, the truck drivers, it was gathered, blocked the highway in order to express their displeasure with the way security agencies treat them on Nigerian highways. This explains why all frantic efforts immediately made by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and representatives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to persuade the protesting drivers to reopen the road failed.
Granted that the extra-judicial killing of the unarmed truck driver by a soldier over an imprecise matter is unwarranted and deserve all condemnations in the strongest of terms, the road blockade by enraged drivers was a reaction taken too far. The decision of the truck drivers to use the blockade to demand the arrest of the suspect and justice for the victim was, indeed, an over-reaction.
The Tashar Yari incident was not the first either in Kaduna State or in other parts of the country. Security agencies have, in the past, been accused of shooting at or harassing truck drivers and other road users; exposing them to untold experiences on Nigerian highways. While the Police Public Relations Officer, Kaduna State Command, DSP Mohammed Jalige, confirmed the Tashar Yari incident and said the Commissioner of Police, Yekini Ayoku, had ordered an investigation into the matter; it is also in order that the suspected soldier involved in the killing of the driver is in military custody.
It would be recalled that in 2020, a bus driver was killed by a security agent along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, near Tafa town; a reason that prompted tanker drivers to block the road. A similar incident also happened about a year ago along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Bypass, near Amingo Junction, in Kaduna, when some security personnel chased a truck driver and shot at the vehicle’s tyre, leading to another blockage of the busy road. The road was reopened only after the tyre was paid for. In December 2022, a security agent shot at the tyre of a truck carrying cement at Tureta village, about 50km from Sokoto town where other truck drivers, in solidarity again, blocked the highway and re-opened it only after the tyre was paid for.
While drivers of articulated trucks have since become notorious for blocking highways, students and labour unions sometimes also resort to the same mechanism to push for their demands. Road blockade as a means of protest is bad for the country’s economy. Apart from the hardship, which many innocent travellers are subjected to each time the free flow of traffic on the highways is obstructed by protesting groups, including students and labour unions, many perishable goods worth millions of naira are destroyed during the hours or days of traffic blockade. Persons who need to use the road to access emergency medical attention at such times are at the risk of passing on. Travellers caught in the traffic gridlock are at a high risk of being attacked by criminal elements.
In place of road blockade, aggrieved road users should approach relevant law enforcement agencies or the courts to seek redress. It makes more sense for maltreated truck drivers to stop loading goods for a defined period in order, perhaps, to attract attention to their plight. While it is a right for a citizen to protest, it’s also his responsibility not to infringe upon other citizens’ rights. Traffic obstruction for whatever reason on the highways is equal in effect to taking laws into one’s hands.
Security personnel involved in extra-judicial killings should be tried and if convicted, punished according to provisions of the law. Owners of articulated trucks used in blocking the highways should be fined heavily. Drivers of such vehicles should be denied the right to renew their driving licences at the expiration of the existing one. Unions that block highways should be de-registered.
Security personnel should know their bounds while on duty, and must therefore, desist from shooting at users of Nigerian highways. Most of the security agents who pulled the trigger at the slightest provocation lacked adequate training. The leadership of the police and military should train and educate their personnel on how to engage persons on the highways.