Criminals now have a field day operating unchallenged as the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, which was hijacked by hoodlums, where at least 22 police officers were killed, some injured and 54 police stations burnt across the country, has kept the security agents, especially police operatives, off the streets.
Part of the ugly outcome of the hijacked protest is the release of over 120 condemned criminals from Benin prisons, Edo State, which has become a disaster and compounded the security challenges in the country. The hoodlums have regrouped, formed more formidable gangs and have started terrorising Nigerians, especially the South-West and South-East geopolitical zones.
From North to West, South to East, it is the same story of apathy from the police, who have refused vehemently to obey the order of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, directing them to go back to duty and reclaim public spaces.
The question being asked is, are the police on strike?
Cops on strike
In Benin, police armouries were looted, thereby arming the criminals heavily and they now either operate as robbers or cult groups. Last Friday, an assistant commissioner of police and two of his subordinates were shot by gunmen believed to be cultists in Benin.
Reports said two policemen were killed, as conflicting accounts trailed attacks on police stations in Edo. In an attack on Igueben Police Station, two policemen, an Inspector and Constable, were allegedly killed. An unspecified number of policemen were said to have been injured in the attack, which reportedly occurred around 8pm, Monday night.
The attackers were said to have thrown dynamite into the station before gaining access into the armoury and allegedly carted away arms and ammunition.
However, an official statement by Edo State police public relations officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, said: “On November 9, at about 7.30pm, hoodlums suspected to be armed robbers invaded the police station at Igueben. Immediately, the police personnel mobilised to repel them.”
Last Friday, many travellers on their way to the South-East were hijacked by hoodlums, who blocked the Benin Bypass, and robbed them of their belongings. A victim, Mike Ude, told Daily Sun that he expected such an attack. He said: “As I was driving from Lagos to Benin, my heart was racing because there was no presence of security agents, especially the police. When I got to Benin bypass, I saw a road block in a bad potion and I was very happy that, at least, either the army or the police were on the road, but what I saw was a gang of robbers robbing motorists. The robbers ransacked all vehicles and their passengers. The worst of it all was that the robbers were not in a hurry as they took their time and robbed passengers. The robbers were about 15 in number and armed with sophisticated weapons. They even used POS to transfer money from passengers’ accounts to their accounts. I was robbed of my personal effects and N120,000. They took my car, which they later dropped near Benin Expressway. When I called my friend, who is a policeman, he told me that he was handicapped as no policeman would be willing to risk his life this period of hatred for the police by civilians. I really had the premonition that I might be attacked.”
A retired police officer, Dan Ndukwe, who lives at the Sangotedo area of Ajah, Lagos, told Daily Sun that residents of Ajah and Lekki areas of the state are sleeping with only one eye closed. Ndukwe said: “Robbers are many now at Sangotedo, Ajah and Lekki as they rob people recklessly. Please, take the following precautions: Don’t leave very early to work, if possible. Vehicles were robbed early morning last Monday and Tuesday at Shoprite Junction, they mounted roadblock. At least, wait till 6.30am before you leave home. Don’t close late and do not come home late to Ajah area and Sangotedo-Lakowe Road, if possible. Since Wednesday last week, there have been serious of robberies and killings. At Ajah, General Paint, Sangotedo and Awoyaya, it is like a war zone. A female vendor was killed at Alpha bus stop at about 9pm on Wednesday night. The killers were on a bike. They collected her bag and other belongings before she was shot. The other day, robbers intercepted a bullion van along Addo Road, Ajah, close to Blenco Supermarket. So many gunshots were fired, leaving dead a delivery motorcyclist. If you work late at night, please, watch out for thieves on bikes. Don’t withdraw money from ATM in a lonely place, in the day or night. Do not walk alone at night and early hours of the morning. Watch before you enter a bus at night and daytime, especially early hours of the day. Finally, be prayerful: pray for protection every day because we are on our own.”
Tales of sorrow
Also at the Abaranje area of Ikotun, a suburb of Lagos State, robbers have been raiding from house to house and street to street unchallenged.
According to a resident, Uche Okolagwu, who visited The Sun’s corporate office in Ikeja, “We have not been sleeping since the #EndSARS protest ended. Robbers in large numbers engage us every night. The robbers come with POS, which they use in transferring money to their accounts. The worst is that the hoodlums do not care whether they visited the previous night as they may come back the following day. I don’t know whether they are members of one gang or different gangs. I cannot comprehend why they will return the following day to a home attacked the previous night.”
According to Eustace Njoku, president, Prince Decson Savechild Life Foundation, Orile community is now like a war zone. He said: “We thank God each day we wake up. We have lost five persons to armed robbers, who have been terrorising us since the #EndSARS protest ended. We have many groups, who announced their names during house-to-house raids. They give their names as Alagba Boy, Doyin Boys, Memudu/Savage Boys, Amu and Alice Tinubu Boys. They were not disturbing the community so much before the #EndSARS protest. But since they looted the Orile Police Station’s armoury before burning it down and acquired enough arms and ammunition, they have made the area uncomfortable for residents. They rob in the day and at night. They do not spare anyone. We have called the police, but they have insisted they are not interested. One of the police officers said the problem is that there is nowhere to keep the suspects if they arrest them. We ran to the military, OP Mesa, who have been keeping vigil in the area. But we are still worried because the military will soon leave.”
In Ajegunle, Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State, it is the same story of robbers taking over the community.
A resident, Nwafor Diebele, said: “We no longer live our normal life in Ajegunle. After the #EndSARS protest, it has been house-to-house raiding by robbers since there are no security agencies to confront them. We are living at the mercy of robbers because anything can happen at any given time. We need the presence of the police in Ajeromi Ifelodun LGA.”
Panic in the land
Investigation by Daily Sun showed that there is fear and apprehension everywhere, especially on the highways. Many people who have events in other states, especially in the South-East are watching the reaction of the police. Some have cancelled their trips.
A journalist and popular blogger, Mr. Joshua Oloko, was among the travellers that suffered in the hands of robbers at Okene, while going to Abuja, recently.
Oloko said: “On November 6, we were travelling from Lagos to Abuja when we met a roadblock. We thought that they were security agents. But we were shocked to meet face-to-face with armed robbers. The robbers, who spoke polished English, kept warning and reminding us to cooperate as we were on our own as no security agent would come to our rescue. They robbed me of my money and travelling bags containing working tools and other personal effects. I had to beg for money to buy new clothes and return to Lagos. I am appealing to the police and sister agencies to return to duty, as not all civilians hate them.
“The Inspector-General of Police, governors and well-meaning Nigerians have pleaded enough for forgiveness. The police should understand that not all Nigerians supported the attacks on them. We had genuine #EndSARS protesters before the hoodlums or criminals hijacked the peaceful protest. Have the police also forgotten that they also have parents, relatives that will go down if they refuse to go back to duty? We are all victims,” he argued.
A senior police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “I have seen that most policemen have returned to their duty posts. But we cannot completely rule out the fear, anxiety and the apprehension caused by the trauma of the bitter experience. Imagine you witnessed or watched video clips of how your colleagues were being brutally murdered. It will certainly take some time to forget totally what happened. Gradually, things will become normal.”
Security experts and well-meaning Nigerians have appealed to the police to resume duty and push what transpired during the mayhem behind them. Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, was forced to read the riot act to policemen to go back to duty or be declared deserters.
Odumosu noted that, after the #EndSARS violence that wrecked havoc on the state, some policemen have refused to go back to duty or are not doing their duty as expected even after words of encouragement and appeals by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, and the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
He, therefore, ordered the policemen to go back to duty or risk his wrath.
Odumosu gave the warning during a general security meeting with his management team, area commanders, divisional police officers and heads of departments at the state command headquarters, Ikeja.
In a statement, the Lagos State police public relations officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said the police boss noted that there was no reason or excuse for any policeman to be absent or indolent on duty despite encouragement, solidarity and support from well-meaning Nigerians.
Stakeholders in security have said that the outcome of the #EndSARS protest was a win-win situation for the police and civilians. According to them, everyone should move forward in life because there was neither victor nor vanquished. The stakeholders at the security workshop, which included the armed forces, police, paramilitary and traffic control agencies, civilians and others, want the police to, as a matter of urgency, return to duty.
At the workshop, organised by the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF) in Lagos, they agreed that enough was enough, as everyone was hurt during the #EndSARS protest. Chief executive officer of Zoom Lens Security Ltd, Mr. Dennis Amachree, called for synergy between security agencies. According to him, there is no way the country would move forward without synergy and sharing of intelligence among the security agencies.
He said: “It is a very big challenge. When the Department of State Security gets information, it hides it from the police. When you gather information without sharing it, the information is useless. Security agencies and the government should tap into the advantage of the social media, where raw intelligence is gathered, and utilize it.
“It is a new normal that you cannot do without. There are too many firearms in the society today. Security agencies should do something about the influx of arms in the society. There are too many drugs in the hands of hoodlums. There is no data because the hoodlums are homeless. The police and sister agencies should be thinking of what to do about the challenges and go back to duty, to reclaim the public spaces.”
Assistant secretary, International Women’s Society, Sarwi Rahaman, acknowledged that it was true that 22 policemen were killed and many police stations burnt during the #EndSARS protest but also noted that over 300 civilians were allegedly murdered by trigger-happy SARS operatives.
She said: “The police should also understand that the protesters also burnt private and corporate infrastructures.
“So, when you evaluate the ratio, you can see that the civilians were more hurt. I want to advice that you should stop shooting our youths. I am not talking to the police alone, but the soldiers and other armed security agencies. Our security agencies should go back to duty.”
The Police Service Commissionalso told the police to go back to duty warning those who are inciting the police to ‘deal with civilians’ to desist from doing so. The commission also advised the police not to be incited against civilians.
In a statement by PSC’s head of media and publicity, Mr. Ikechukwu Ani, the commission said: “The attention of PSC has been drawn to a social media message inciting officers and men of the Nigerian Police to go outside its rules of engagement in dealing with the civilian public.
“The commission feels that this moment does not call for incitement. But for a complete renewal of faith in the Nigerian project. The police are expected to conduct themselves with the highest degree of patriotism and in obedience to its rules of engagement.
“The commission is doing its best to see that the welfare of the officers and men are enhanced and worthy of their sacrifice to the Nigerian nation. The commission is also seeking a complete and comprehensive overhaul of its logistics so that it will be equipped to discharge its constitutional responsibilities.
“The policemen are enjoined to note that they are required to play a leading role in the search for peace and progress in the country.”
Security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, suggested that the police should call for the assistance of the military to take over the streets for some weeks to enable them put their house in order, as it would not augur well to leave the roads without any security presence.
He said: “The IGP had many times ordered the police to reclaim the public spaces but the police have remained adamant even after the IGP’s visits to some police commands, especially Lagos State Police Command.”
A rights activist, Johnmark Okolie, appealed to the IGP to take control of the police force under his watch.
Okolie said: “These ‘ember months’ are a very challenging period for the IGP. Many people will be travelling home and it will not be good if the police and other sister agencies should abandon the public at the mercy of criminals. If the IGP feels the situation cannot be handled by the police, he should call for the assistance of the military.”
He also appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces to do something urgently on the refusal of the police to reclaim the public spaces.
“The security challenges in the country, especially in Edo and Lagos states, should give him concern. Let him declare state of emergency on the roads and deploy the military for some time to enable the police recover from their losses,” he said.