Audacious criminals are chipping away at the authority of the Nigerian state. These unrepentant bandits went on the rampage again on July 2 when they killed seven police officers who were on stop-and-search duties in Galadimawa Roundabout, Abuja. About 24 hours earlier, gunmen had murdered two officers at a checkpoint in Abaji, Abuja, and taken away their weapons. For ordinary citizens, this escalation of insecurity is scary. It demonstrates the collapse of the country’s security architecture.
Media reports stated that the bandits specifically targeted the police. In one unguarded moment, they succeeded in killing all the seven officers. A bystander, who was hit by a stray bullet, also died. The robbers stormed the scene in two cars, “carted away the guns from the policemen and sped off,” a witness said. On Sunday, four officers attached to the Sabongida-Ora Division were shot in cold-blood at a road inter-section between Oke-Ora and Avbiosi, Owan Local Government Area, Edo State. Their corpses were set ablaze in their patrol vehicle. This evokes palpable fear.
Fittingly, the killings have provoked uproar among the citizens, especially because the police are the first line of defence. They have attained a level of security training that is not commonly available to an average citizen. This group of state agents should not be taken down so easily by hoodlums. In other countries, hoodlums who attack state agents are quickly hunted down and brought to book.
In terms of response, the police high command has not moved with the speed and precision that these serial security breaches demand. Apart from the arrest of five suspects a few days after the attacks, it is obvious that the criminals are a step ahead of the police, who seem like sitting ducks waiting to be picked off in well-choreographed operations. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has pledged a reward of N5 million to anyone with useful information that can lead to the arrest of the criminals. These bandits seem intent on a forceful acquisition of weapons belonging to the police, which they deploy in furtherance of their heinous acts. Through intelligence gathering, the police should reverse this dastardly mission of the hoodlums.
Obviously, the two incidents in Abuja were not isolated, which is alarming. Around the country, criminals target the police, leading to needless deaths of officers. Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, who blames this on leadership failure, recalled that three weeks ago, three officers, who were guarding a Syrian, were shot dead by hoodlums in the state. Four other officers died in an ambush in Benue a few days after, the governor added. In December 2017, gunmen attacked police operatives at Ovia River Bridge on the Benin-Iguobazuwa Road, Edo State, killing one of them and injuring the others. Impudently, the bandits set the official patrol vehicle of the police on fire. In May, gunmen riding in a Sport Utility Vehicle killed two police officers at Obio Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. Reports said that they trailed the officers to the spot before callously shooting them dead.
Last April, robbers stormed the police station in Offa, Kwara State, and killed nine officers on duty. After sacking the station, they raided six banks in the town. In all, police said the robbers, some of whom have been arrested, slaughtered 30 persons. In February 2017, robbers invaded a new generation bank in Owerri, Imo State capital, killed two mobile police officers on duty. The third, a gallant officer, later died of his injuries. Although the police rounded up the suspects after a year, their trial is ponderous and compensation for the dead policemen’s dependants was mired in controversy. This is frustrating for these families, who probably had lost their breadwinners.
Claiming that their members were being killed without justification, the Ombatse cult laid in ambush for security agents in Alakyo, near Lafia, Nasarawa State in 2013. In one fell swoop, they killed 63 police officers. (The State Security Service lost about 11 officers in the incident.) It took the government two years to arraign four suspects for the mayhem.
Nevertheless, criminals should not be allowed to run riot without paying a hefty price for their villainy. Shortly after a callous terrorist attack on Lee Rigby, a British soldier, in May 2013, the police in London rounded up the suspected attackers. By that December, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who hacked the fusilier to death with knives and a cleaver, had been tried and convicted of their crimes. By employing this swift strategy – the determination and means to go all out after killers of police officers – criminals will consider the retribution their indiscretion will attract before committing heinous crime against the state.
In truth, the police have a lot going against them. Not being well-kitted, their appearance is often nothing to write home about. A high percentage of officers are deployed on guard duties with VIPs. Despite repeated promises, it is an illegality that successive Inspectors-General of Police – including the incumbent Idris – have condoned.
With their welfare not taken as a priority (the recent protest in Maiduguri, Borno State is a point of reference), extortion and bribery have become a common fare. The families of police officers who die on active duty undergo harrowing moments trying to claim their entitlements. In the Ombatse killings, the SSS authorities compensated the bereaved families of their officers much more than the police did for theirs.
This exigency demands a holistic response. The police should constantly redefine their operational strategies, especially at checkpoints. Training is essential; it has to be modernised and real time technology upgrade employed. Criminals kill with impunity because they have easy access to weapons. Therefore, it is critical that the police get serious about checking the proliferation of arms in the country. The United Nations says Nigeria has up to 350 million small and light weapons in circulation. That is about 70 per cent of the total arms in circulation in West Africa. With general election due in February, something strategic is imperative.
The police should deploy innovation, investigative skills and advanced technology to bring felons to swift justice. This will send a powerful message to criminals to stop attacking the police.