The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution calling on the federal government to consider the use of explosives detection mechanisms at the various security checkpoints that dot Nigerian highways. This followed the adoption of a motion on the matter introduced by Emmanuel Jime (APC, Benue) expressing concern over the cumbersome and time-consuming method of stop-and-check that often causes serious traffic congestion, especially on the major highways.
The manual process of conducting such checks on vehicles constitutes a serious security threat, Mr Jime argued, because of the massive build-up of traffic that results at checkpoints.
Arguing that section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of government, Jime noted that the checkpoints erected on the highways do not have devices that can detect explosives and protect the public. Security agents at the checkpoints only vet and search vehicles manually, which he said is clearly inadequate to cope with contemporary security challenges.
The House, which unanimously endorsed the motion, mandated its committees overseeing security agencies to meet with security chiefs with a view to forging better appreciation of what was needed to modernize the checkpoints in terms of security threat detectors and communication gadgets.
Explosives detection techniques are in several categories, the most common two being bulk detection and trace (or vapour) detection. While bulk detection aims at detecting large quantities of explosives, vapour detectors search for very tiny quantities, often less than a microgram.
The need for explosives detectors has increased in recent years, not only in Nigeria but generally around the world because explosives-related terrorism or insurgency has grown phenomenally. Improvised explosive devices (IED) have become commonplace because they are simple to make, easy to deploy, and can cause considerable damage.
Because the spread of insurgency has assumed an alarming proportion in different parts of the world, including Nigeria, research efforts are being made to make technologies to address the challenges and better promote the protection of lives and property. Among these advanced technologies are micro-sensors that can do the work of many soldiers deployed to manual checks at any given time.
Several advanced detection tools can be used to determine whether or not a vehicle or a container is carrying prohibited material. Specially trained sniffer dogs, for example, can also be used to detect explosives.
In addition to acquiring explosives detectors, checkpoints should also be provided with bomb coordinates jamming systems, metal detectors, surveillance cameras, automatic number plate recognition devices, and ground penetrating radars.
The modernization of checkpoints with explosives detectors will reduce traffic build-up that is characteristic of the current method of checking of vehicles, which is labour-intensive. Trucks fully loaded with items considered to be harmless may not be required to be emptied in the search by security agents for explosives, where detection tools or devices are provided at checkpoints.
Although the checkpoints as presently constituted are a recent development because of the atrocities and alarm that the insurgency has caused, making them user-friendly will improve surveillance and ease the work of the security agencies. The installation of explosives detectors should not however lead to the total removal of checkpoints from roads and major highways in the country, though temporary everyone would hope they are.