Security agencies should work within the rules of engagement
The recent killing of four persons, including a mother and her six-month-old baby in Oluasiri, Nembe Local Government of Bayelsa State, reportedly by soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Delta Safe (OpDS) is another sad reminder of the prevalence of extra-judicial killings in the country. According to available reports, the tragic end for the victims came as soldiers shot indiscriminately while purportedly searching for suspected militants.
While there has been no reaction from the authorities, what particularly rankles is that the Olusari tragedy was not the first, and may not be the last of such unfortunate killing of innocent citizens. The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has rightly expressed anger over the killings, maintaining that “the victims were evidence of constant harassment of innocent Ijaw people and communities by the JTF”. The IYC added that the frequent attacks in the Niger Delta were designed to ensure increased security budget and that “violence against the Ijaw people was being deliberately promoted to de-market us for economic reasons.”
While we would not in any way oppose the mission and mandate of the JTF and similar interventionist security bodies, we however hasten to admonish them to execute their operations with utmost circumspection. It is particularly sad that even military checkpoints across the country have become centres of coercion where soldiers brazenly extort motorists. One of such notorious checkpoints is in Umudike-Umuahia, Abia State. We therefore call on the military authorities to insist that their men adhere to rules of engagement and introduce fool-proof checks and balances to contain the excesses of those on special operations across the country.
Meanwhile there are reports that most of the attacks by the military are reprisals for earlier attacks on their men. While an attack on any military or security personnel saddled with the arduous task of defending our nation and ensuring our common safety must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, the shooting of innocent civilians by security agencies is unacceptable and must never be tolerated. A security outfit that embarks on indiscriminate use of force, after an attack on its personnel cannot be said to have achieved an enviable level of professionalism and discipline which is the hallmark of such institutions in other climes, where similar security challenges are being tackled effectively.
Instructively, one of the major challenges facing Nigerian security agencies, including JTF, is the lack of public trust. This has led to a situation in which Nigerians who live in the affected communities refuse to volunteer information to the various security agencies, thereby denying them vital intelligence needed to effectively carry out their mandate of ridding our society of violent criminals. JTF and the various security agencies can therefore not be said to be oblivious to the importance of the support of the society in their operational areas.
Therefore, by resorting to indiscriminate shooting of people, JTF may have substantially destroyed the trust it had laboured to build and further alienated itself from the people whose support is vital to its success. Besides, embarking on such brutal reprisal attack is not only capable of destroying any crime scene evidence, it can only help draw support for the criminals who are clever at exploiting public emotions that usually follow such tragedies.
While the battle against the criminal elements in the Niger Delta and indeed all forces of disintegration in the country is a war which the Nigerian state must win, the military authorities must be well aware that such a victory cannot be achieved with a reckless display of brutality.