Hakeem Odumosu demonstrated some familiarity with his new beat as Lagos State Police Commissioner when he announced the imminent deployment of 1,000 police officers to untangle the usually riotous traffic in the state. But unrestrained lawlessness on the highways is only a part of the general insecurity that has gripped the megacity: armed robbery, gang violence, brazen protection rackets run by gangsters doubling as road transport union leaders, police extortion, kidnapping and rape have spiked. For Odumosu to succeed, he should bring uncommon verve to bear to make the state safe.
As one of the seven CPs recently redeployed in state commands, Odumosu has no excuse to fail as some of his predecessors did. For one, he has in the course of his career, served in the coastal state, once heading the Western Port Area as commander and, more crucially, once as head of arguably the country’s premier state-level anti-crime team, the Rapid Response Squad. With this background as an “operations man”, and in familiar turf to boot, it can safely be assumed that the CP knows what to do. The critical question is whether he is determined to make a difference. He should.
Today, parts of the state and megacity are a security nightmare for its residents and visitors alike. Consistently, Lagos has led the rest of the country in reported crime incidences. Of the 134,663 crime incidents reported in 2017, says the National Bureau of Statistics, Lagos accounted for 53,641 or 37.9 per cent; the state accounted for 45,385 or 36.08 per cent of the total 125,790 incidents reported in 2016. These figures however do not tell the full story of the horrors Lagosians go through. Gang wars are frequent with rival groups engaging in hours-long, sometimes, days-long wars in broad daylight, freely brandishing weapons, with killings, beheadings, stabbings and arson. Innocent bystanders are killed or maimed, vehicles are vandalised or torched and entire neighbourhoods are locked down for hours or days. Worse is that only a few of the perpetrators are ever apprehended and fewer still prosecuted, leaving them free to strike repeatedly.
Armed robbery on the highways, especially during gridlock and at all hours, is rampant. Kidnapping is still an issue though other parts of the country have surpassed it and drug abuse is high, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Lagos is also a major base for scammers and internet fraudsters, while murder, rape, domestic violence and fake goods thrive.
The crime prevalence is often cited as an inevitable consequence of urbanisation, its large cosmopolitan population and position as the country’s and West Africa’s financial, industrial and maritime hub. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that urban areas face “violence enablers” with their higher levels of income inequality and opportunities for anonymity. Lagos presents a security challenge as 14 of its 20 local government areas form the Greater Lagos urban conurbation. The city also has an extensive coastline and a network of 9,100 roads. It hosts the major financial institutions and 65 per cent of the country’s industries.
Securing Lagos, therefore, is not a task for the fainthearted. But it can be done. The state has had successes with some past CPs and has what the UNODC identifies as “mitigators.” To succeed, Odumosu needs a personal conviction, commitment and resolve. He has to stamp out the pervasive corruption within the rank and file that promotes oppression and perpetual extortion by police officers on the field. There are too many rotten eggs in the force and the CP needs to be resolutely firm and demonstrate zero tolerance for corruption and extortion. His intention to deploy 1,000 officers for traffic duty does not reassure Lagosians; rather, it terrifies them, knowing that most cops will simply see this as licence to indulge in an orgy of extortion rather than ensure free flow of traffic. Their addiction to bribery has rendered the ban on commercial motorcycles on 475 roads ineffective as they collect money from motorists to ignore offenders.
Besides, police are often the worst traffic offenders or the first to drive against traffic. Under Marvel Akpoyibo as CP, area commanders and Divisional Police Officers were kept on their toes by constant monitoring even into the early hours of the day, while imposing effective punitive transfers on those whose areas recorded more than a handful of violent crimes in succession.
One strategy that has proved effective is the intelligent, strategic deployment of patrol teams all over the state that effectively deterred crime and enabled speedy response to distress calls. Odumosu needs to step up this tactic and ensure effective maintenance of vehicles. He needs also to work ever closely with other security agencies, especially the military, whose personnel, serving and past, are occasionally fingered in criminal activities. He should forge a rapport with the top commanders of military formations in the state to help rein in their personnel who break traffic rules, harass police and civilians alike and intervene in civil disputes that should be handled by the police.
Failure is not an option: the Lagos State Government has for years enabled the institutional capacity to fight crime, funding the RRS and other outfits and task forces, putting up some street lights and CCTV cameras; the Lagos State Security Trust Fund received N2.14 billion in cash and kind in 2017 and has provided vehicles and equipment to police and other agencies since its establishment in 2007. Odumosu should stop the wicked police harassment of innocent youths who are frivolously accused of being fraudsters for the sole purpose of extortion.
Ultimately, to make a definite change, the greatest enemy he needs to overcome is the indiscipline of his own men; as long as residents are subjected to the extortion, torture and oppression of police officers on the field and the stations, the slogan of “police is your friend” will remain hauntingly hollow.