Offa robbery carnage – Punch

Just like many other communities across Nigeria, Offa, Kwara State’s second largest town, is in deep mourning. It is in bereavement after a dastardly robbery attack on its police station and banks claimed scores of lives. The victims included police officers, bank officials and those who went to the banks to transact business. Many others were injured in the attacks. As usual, the response of the police and the Federal Government has been too little, too late. Their lethargy returns the eroded value of human life in Nigeria to the fore.

At the beginning of the operation, the robbers invaded the Offa Divisional Police Station, killing the officers and detainees in sight. They reportedly took away their arms. A police station is seen as a sanctuary, but in Offa – and Nigeria at large – it is not. After immobilising the police, they headed for the banks, where they massacred bank officials and customers. This left 17 people dead, according to the Kwara State Police Command, comprising nine policemen and eight civilians. Other independent reports gave a higher figure of around 50 dead. It is a sign of the failure of Nigeria’s security apparatus that robbers will sack a police station and operate for an hour in the daytime without being challenged.

This is a devious operation like no other. It cuts a picture of terrorism and armed robbery fusing into a deadly arrow. The attack is a setback for the town, socially and economically, as the commercial banks in Offa had been operating skeletal services since 2013, when they suffered heavy losses in a major robbery incident. In a safety conscious environment, the police would have proactively secured the banks and their station in anticipation of any possible invasion.

Despite the unusually high casualty figures, the Offa attack was however not the first of its kind in the country by hardened criminals. The robbery of a cluster of banks in Ikare, a commercial town in Ondo State, on January 13, 2015, was of the same gory pattern. By the time the robbery that lasted for about three hours ended, families in the town were left to mourn about 15 people, a figure that, in the days that followed, rose to 20, according to reports quoting the monarch of the town. While some of the wounded were said to have later given up the ghost, the sporadic gunshots in some other villages as the robbers retreated helped to shoot up the casualty figure. In fact, the 2015 attack was not the first in the town, which had earlier witnessed a similar incident on May 1, 2012.

In what is gradually becoming commonplace, the rustic town of Ifon, Ondo State, was hit in October last year. The attack, which claimed the lives of the two policemen on duty at a bank, also witnessed the use of dynamite to blow up the bulletproof doors before access could be gained into the vaults. In a similar incident in Lapai, Niger State, two old generation banks were attacked in November last year in which, along with their booty, a bank manager was abducted. In March 2015, the robbers had also attacked banks in Lekki area of Lagos after they had sacked a police station, scaring away the police to ensure their operation went on unhindered. In the Lagos robbery, dynamite was also used to break through the doors.

The uptick in violent crime on President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch is worrying. As usual, his response has been aloof, unfeeling and decidedly un-presidential. Instead of his immediate, personal intervention, Nigerians have once more been treated to statements issued days later by spokesmen on behalf of the Presidency. Our leaders fail to understand that though often and inevitably conflating, there is a difference between the President and the Presidency: the one is the father of the nation personified; the other is a bureaucracy, an impersonal institution. In times of national emergency or tragedy, the President should be the chief mourner and sympathiser-in-chief to the afflicted and the bereaved. Leaders visit sites of tragedies, touch, hug and offer personal condolences and encouragement to victims and survivors. Buhari has, however, jetted out to the United Kingdom, a week ahead of a Commonwealth summit, without visiting the victims’ families and survivors. Buhari has carried on his Presidency as if he is dispensing a favour to Nigerians. He is wrong.

Elsewhere, the vehicle ramming incident in Munster, Germany, on April 7 that killed three persons attracted immediate personal response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who offered comfort to bereaved families and appreciation to law enforcement and emergency responders. The whole world rose to join President Francois Hollande as he mourned 12 persons killed in a terrorist outrage in Paris, France in 2015. Donald Trump and his wife made repeated visits to Texas and other American states hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 that eventually killed over 80 persons. In Nigeria, hundreds would die and our presidents will jump on the next available flight for lightweight diplomatic engagements. While the then Chinese President, Hu Jintao, abruptly left a G-8/Emerging Developing Countries meeting in Italy to return home in response to a fresh outbreak of communal violence and deaths in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 2009, in July 2016, the then President Barrack Obama, midway into a four-day trip to Europe, returned to the US to show up in Dallas, Texas, where five policemen had been murdered. Our leaders should be more responsible and responsive too.

The police must provide better ways to prevent violent crimes and to deal with those who commit them. Beyond the usual belated drafting of reinforcements to Offa, police should apprehend the killer-robbers very quickly and prosecute them speedily. The state commissioner of police should deliver or be relieved of his job. In line with global best practices, there should be a thorough investigation into the matter to identify the security lapses and probe the response and performance of security personnel in Offa and Kwara State.

We re-affirm our stance that the current national security system has failed and Nigerians are paying a high price in lives and property. As chief security officers of their states, governors should set up and fund vigilance outfits under strict supervision and in compliance with the law to complement the overwhelmed Nigeria Police. The ongoing mop-up of illicit weapons should not render lawfully established vigilantes helpless.

Governors and lawmakers at state and federal levels should press for an urgent constitution amendment to dismantle the obnoxious monopoly of the centre and allow for state, local and city police agencies, the natural order in every federal system and an innovative model even in unitary states.

The Nigeria Police is inefficient and corrupt. It should be urgently and thoroughly reformed for efficiency and integrity.

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