Criminals have continued to make a mockery of Nigeria’s security system. Apart from the increasing tempo in kidnapping, robbery and banditry in several parts of the country, criminals viciously attacked police stations in different states recently to advertise the country’s high level of insecurity. They gruesomely slaughtered at least six police officers in Bayelsa, Rivers and Edo states. They also looted firearms and ammunition. This is a vivid reminder of the need for the Federal Government and the police to halt the drift into anarchy.
Showing utter disdain for the symbols of state authority, gunmen invaded two police stations in Bayelsa and Imo states. They launched a midnight attack on the police station in Agudama, Yenagoa Local Government Area. The outcome was fatal: they led the Agudama Divisional Police Officer, Ola Rosanla, to the station’s armoury at gunpoint, looted it and shot the DPO dead while kneeling down. Unchallenged, the criminals ransacked the station room-by-room, slaughtering all the officers on duty that night. Among their victims was a pregnant officer. Four officers were killed in one night of horror. Predictably, the police mounted a response, but it was futile as the felons overwhelmed them. This goes beyond ordinary crime; this is savagery.
It was indeed a Black Monday for the police. A few hours after the heinous crime in Bayelsa, gunmen ran berserk in nearby Rivers State. In Port Harcourt, the state capital, the bandits shot dead two officers at a checkpoint in broad daylight. The deceased’s rifles were taken away. At about the same time, hoodlums attacked the Otoko Police Station in Obowo LGA of Imo State. Residents of the town reportedly fled to avoid reprisals.
Three days later, the rage against the police intensified in Benin, the Edo State capital. In an attempt to kidnap some Chinese expatriates, kidnappers shot their police detail dead. This is unpalatable. If police lives are being wasted so casually without a rapid-fire strategy to counteract the criminals, then ordinary citizens are not safe. This is an indisputable failure of the Nigerian system, in which bandits commit crime with impunity because state institutions are too feeble to bring them to justice. This makes nonsense of the social contract between the government and the people.
This pattern of attacks is, however, not new. In March, gunmen murdered four police officers in Afuze, Edo State, at the town’s police station. The victims included the station’s DPO, the divisional crime officer and a pregnant female officer. Last April, hoodlums in Ogoja, Cross River State, unleashed mayhem on a special detachment of officers assigned from Abuja as they investigated the case of a stolen vehicle, a Force Headquarters statement said. In March, hoodlums and commercial motorcycle riders nearly burnt down the Ejigbo Police Station in Lagos. They alleged that a police patrol van knocked down their colleague. On that pretext, they took the law into their own hands. Before they were repelled, they managed to vandalise vehicles parked in the station.
Unfortunately, some previous attacks were more vicious, the robbery incident in Offa, Kwara State, in April 2018, being one. There, the attackers first sacked the town’s police station, where they killed nine officers on duty and stole their weapons. From there, they looted six banks in the town. In all, about 29 people lost their lives. After a lengthy rigmarole, some of the suspects are facing prosecution.
Another brutal attack on the police occurred in 2013 in Alakyo, in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital. In an impudent ambush, the Ombatse religious cult massacred 60 police and about 10 State Security Service officers. Shockingly, the SSS leadership decided not to prosecute the attackers. Non-prosecution is a major attraction for criminals. Knowing that they will suffer little or no consequences for their action, they go on the rampage at will.
When security agents are serially murdered, what is the fate of ordinary citizens? It is a sign that the security system is too tenuous to cope with the level of sophistication crime has assumed. Not only are too many officers illegally deployed to protect VIPs, the few available officers are poorly equipped. Technology is lacking in police operations. Had the CCTV been in operation at the police stations in Bayelsa and Imo, it would have made the job easier for the investigators deployed after the incidents by the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Muhammed.
To make headway, the Federal Government must carry out a comprehensive reform of the police. The corrupt, incompetent and compromised officers should be weeded out. The IG should withdraw all the officers wrongly attached to VIPs and put them into proper policing. This is not a time to play politics: all those arrested for crime must be prosecuted to deter others.
Funding is critical, especially in the acquisition of the technological tools to aid operations. According to the British Home Office, the United Kingdom government had invested £1 billion in the country’s law enforcement digital programmes and initiatives in 2017. There, police forces have graduated from CCTV, body-worn cameras, DNA testing, forensics, radar equipment and computerised crime data banks to predictive crime mapping. The technology, already in use in the United States, allows the police forces to deploy their resources maximally to crime hotspots, after being alerted by the computer software. Nigeria should think of similar interventions for crime solutions.
Additionally, the Federal Government and the police authorities should give a timeline to mop up illegal arms in the hands of non-state actors. The arms proliferation is fuelling the insecurity. The government should build up the capacity of the Nigeria Immigration Service to police the borders. As of 2014, the NIS said there were 1,400 illegal border routes, 1,316 more than the approved 84 routes. This encourages arms proliferation.
This newspaper has argued consistently that a centralised policing system for this large federal polity breeds the current anarchy being witnessed across the country. Ultimately, the Muhammadu Buhari government should initiate a process of decentralising law enforcement.