A recent report about the killing with reckless abandon of police personnel while in the line of duty is a frightening development. One media tally put the figure at 101 with Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Kaduna and Taraba states leading in this infamous undertaking. The perpetrators are criminals comprising robbers, kidnappers, cultists and other gangsters, who always see police personnel as obstacles in their way.
In one of the most gruesome cases, gunmen invaded a police station in Agudama community in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State in June and killed four police personnel on duty, including the Divisional Police Officer and a pregnant cop. Their mission was not complete without carting away rifles, ammunition and police uniforms. A month after, a similar dare-devil operation occurred; two police officers escorting a bullion van at Mile Two, Diobu area of Port Harcourt, were killed. The assailants escaped with their victims’ service rifles and an unspecified amount of cash.
Incidents such as these are widespread across the country. When police officers are not killed in transit while escorting banks’ cash, they are mowed down during brazen raids on banks, during public protests, while responding to distress calls, in exchange of gunfire with robbers evading arrest, containing ethnic militias or in outright ambush by criminals.
It is not surprising that Rivers and Bayelsa states lead this ghoulish chart. Criminal gangs flourish in these areas with the proliferation of illegal oil bunkering, militancy and unrivalled use of thugs during elections by politicians. The height of the latter was expressed in the beheading of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Alkali Mohammed, and his orderly during a re-run election in Rivers in 2016. The gunmen that masterminded this dastardly act escaped with the police patrol van and weapons, while five officers were declared missing.
No doubt, the police put their lives on the line in the maintenance of law and order or public safety. The risk they face is global. In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics for 2017 put the number of officers that lost their lives at 106: while 55 were killed, 51 died accidently. But what differentiates the Nigerian scenario from those in the US and other jurisdictions is the ability of their governments to bring the criminals to justice.
Here, there is seemingly no consequence for such a heinous crime. For evidence, look no further than in the killing of an Assistant Commissioner of Police, 74 other officers and 10 State Security Service personnel by the Ombatse cult group in 2013. They were ambushed during an operation to quell communal disturbances in Lafia, Nasarawa State. The authorities promised to track down the killers; but what ultimately happened was evident in the statement credited to the then Director-General of the SSS, Ita Ekpenyong, that the murderers had been “forgiven.”
Such resignation to fate is an advertisement of government’s weakness or surrender to non-state actors. This is a perverse incentive to them to remain unstoppable in their assault against the police. Where the police are easily murdered without consequences, it speaks volumes about what hapless citizens pass through in the hands of these outlaws. Indeed, nobody is safe.
Therefore, it is incumbent on the police hierarchy and the Federal Government to reverse this ugly trend in order to give the public the confidence that the state is capable of protecting citizens’ lives as expressed in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution. It declares that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Governors should stop giving criminals the impression that governments are helpless by periodically giving them amnesty. In vogue now is the police, in liaison with state authorities, entering into peace deals with bandits in their hideouts. This was the case in Zamfara State last year, a glaring abuse of policing in the country. The message the bandits take away from this incongruity is that they are above the law.
The rampant killings of police personnel can only reduce or stop if the authorities take seriously the issue of mopping up the Small Arms and Light Weapons proliferating in the country. According to the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, Nigeria accounts for 70 per cent of estimated 500 million of such illegal weapons circulating in West Africa. The immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the incumbent, Mohammed Adamu, had at various times in 2018 and 2019 ordered an effect to be given to the Firearms Act 2004, which forbids the possession of certain categories of arms and ammunition by individuals or unlawful possession of any weapon.
The 6,527 and 3,130 illegal firearms recovered in the first and second phases of the campaign and the 14,809 and 12,185 rounds of ammunition retrieved to boot, are a far cry from the quantum of illicit arms in wrong hands. But amid this tokenism, pump action rifles, machine guns, bulletproof vests, military uniforms and shoes are frequently imported into the country under different guises. The way and manner investigations into the cases are carried out; and lack of enthusiasm in the trial and conviction of the suspects, robbers and kidnappers behind gratuitous murders of police personnel, promote, instead of reducing, the anomaly.
As agents of the state, the police should be better armed, well trained and their welfare taken care of, to restore their self-confidence, which they badly need to face the criminals squarely. This is a course the Federal Government should chart this year to save the lives of police officers and the citizens they are statutory charged to protect.