Between June and July, the Police lost over 10 officers to gunmen attacks, who often ambushed and killed policemen on routine patrol in parts of the country
Suddenly, police officers in Nigeria have become endangered species. The game has changed. Instead of the police going after bandits, it is the other way round; bandits are hunting down police officers, killing them in broad daylight and escaping.
The situation has raised a lot of questions among Nigerians, such as why police have suddenly become targets for elimination by gunmen and why such crimes have always been successful. Many other questions like these agitate the minds of Nigerians across all strata.
Between June and July 2018, the Nigeria Police Force has lost more than 10 of its officers to gunmen, who most often ambushed and killed officers on routine patrol in some parts of the country. Sometimes, the gunmen collected the officers’ weapons after killing them. At other times, they just killed them and disappeared into thin air, without taking anything from the victims. The bandits are so daring that they even attack police stations. For instance, in April, armed robbers attacked a police station at Gegu area of Kogi State and killed the two policemen on duty. They also ransacked the station’s amoury for guns and ammunition, even as they also made away with the slain officers’ guns.
On Saturday, July 14, four police officers were killed by suspected robbers in an ambush in Edo State, South-South Nigeria.
The policemen were on patrol at Uzebba-Aviosi junction along Ifon road, Sabongida-Ora, when the assailants attacked their patrol vehicle, killing them in the process.
According to reports, the four officers were later packed into their patrol vehicle and set ablaze by the bandits, who made away with their weapons.
The police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, who confirmed the incident, said the attack on the police patrol vehicle caused it to burst into flames, burning the officers to ashes.
He said the officers died in the blaze, adding that the inspector-general of police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, has ordered an investigation to unravel those behind the killings.
“The police have also pledged N5 million reward for anyone who could volunteer information that would lead to the arrest of the killers of the police officers.
“The IGP condoles and sympathises with the families of the slain policemen and has directed prompt processing and payment of their entitlements and a befitting burial for them,” Moshood said.
Touched by the development, the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, while condemning the killings, also placed a N10 million bounty on the killers. He pledged that the Edo State government would support the victims’ families.
Similarly, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, two policemen were killed in Ozuoba community, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, during a gun battle with hoodlums.
The gunmen engaged the policemen, who were patrolling the area, in a shootout, killing two cops in the process.
The Rivers State police public relations officer, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, who confirmed the attack in Port Harcourt, described it as unfortunate, even as he added that one of the bandits died during the gun battle.
Earlier in the month, in the early hours of Tuesday, July 3, 2018, gunmen attacked and killed seven policemen in Abuja.
The assailants, who were cruising in a vehicle, shot the officers in a surprise attack and zoomed off thereafter. The bodies of the slain cops were later evacuated from the scene in a police van.
On June 30, two policemen were equally killed in an ambush in Akwa Ibom State.
According to the police spokesperson in the state, Odiko MacDon, the cops were attacked by gunmen in the early hours of Saturday, June 30, along Iwukem Road, Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of the state, as they were driving to their base in Azumini, Abia State.
“There were three police officers inside the vehicle. They were returning from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, where they went for an official assignment.
“Two of them died instantly from gunshot wounds. The third officer, who was the leader of the team, survived the attack and is receiving treatment at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH).
“The Akwa Ibom State Police Command is on an intensive manhunt for the gunmen,” he said.
Lawmakers to the rescue
Angered by the frequency of attacks on policemen by gunmen and the ease with which they carry out such dastardly acts, the House of Representatives recently gave marching orders to the IGP to ensure that culprits in these heinous crimes were brought to book.
Expressing worry over the killing of policemen in some parts of the country, the lower legislative chambers, during plenary on Wednesday, July 18, charged Idris to immediately fish out those responsible for the killings and prosecute them accordingly. This followed the adoption of a motion by the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Pally Iriase, under “matters of urgent public importance,” on the killing and burning of four policemen on patrol in the Sabongida-Ora area of Edo State.
Since the Edo incident, which appeared to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back, Nigerians from all walks of life have been reacting to the ugly trend. The aggregate views of most Nigerians who expressed their thoughts on the development seem to suggest that policemen are poorly trained and, as a result, are not prepared to handle emergencies and eventualities.
Signs of insecurity
The second vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association and civil rights activist, Monday Ubani, described the situation as a clear sign of insecurity. He said that a situation where policemen, who are supposed to protect lives, are now becoming prey in the hands of criminals, simply means that the height of insecurity is unprecedented and it is something that the Nigeria Police needs to tackle very fast. He blamed the police for not being proactive in dealing with the growth of criminals across the country.
“There are a lot of criminal hideouts that are known to these policemen and they allow those
guys to fester and become very uncontrollable and vicious. There is no state where these criminal hideouts are located that the police do not know. But they allow them to fester and grow into a monster that is now haunting them. So, what they should do is be more proactive because, as long as they are not proactive, they will remain victims of these dastardly killings.
“The state of insecurity has become so high that the Nigeria Police ought to step up their game and ensure that they nip such acts of brigandage and criminality in the bud. It is not the unarmed that are victims here; it is the armed policemen that are victims. So, it shows that something is seriously wrong and we need to up our game,” he said.
On the dangers of this trend, where the slain policemen lose their guns to criminals, who eventually use the weapons to terrorise innocent Nigerians, he said: “It is very frightening. If guns are not supposed to be in the hands of people who are not licensed to carry them, then you can imagine what happens when guns are in the hands of such criminal elements; they will use them to unleash terror on the populace. And that is a very frightening aspect. I used to know that you don’t kill a policeman anywhere and go scot-free. It has happened under so many IGPs. Whenever a policeman is killed, there would be instructions that wherever the killers might be they should be fished out, prosecuted and sentenced to death, but, today, we now have a situation where policemen are becoming victims; they are being killed like chicken every day and we don’t even hear of any arrest about those criminals.”
He charged the IGP to step up his game because there are many things wrong with the police security system.
Expressing his worry over the ease with which gunmen engage the police in shootouts and overpower them most times, he said: “I am alarmed. The Nigerian state, the government, the President, the IGP and, in fact, every commissioner of police should be alarmed that now policemen have become victims in the hands of armed robbers. They kill them and take away their guns. If they should become easy prey in the hands of criminals, what would be the fate of other citizens who don’t have guns? So, I am alarmed that Nigerian policemen who are carrying guns have become victims in the hands of criminals.”
Asked if the development has anything to do with the police being ill-equipped to face the hoodlums, he disagreed and rather attributed it to lack of proper training.
He said: “It is not a question of not being well equipped. It has nothing to do with equipment because, most of the time, they have guns. I think it has to do with training. I see no reason why policemen should be relaxed at their duty post. If you see how they relax in carrying out this their stop-and-search operation, you will understand why the gunmen are always having the upper hand over them during any shootout. Sometimes, they are more interested in collecting money rather than protecting life and property.
“So, it is their level of preparedness that makes these guys to take them unawares and begin to unleash violence on them.”
He suggested that the policemen’s level of alertness should improve.
“Every policeman should be alert on duty at all times. You don’t just relax, while armed robbers come to take you like a chicken; it doesn’t speak well of the state of their readiness to tackle crime,” he submitted.
No synergy with DSS
For retired commissioner of police, Frank Odita, police don’t seem to be in charge of internal security anymore.
“One of the greatest problems we have now is that there is a shift in police operations. I cannot call it a paradigm shift but if people don’t do their job and they are not motivated to do it, then there is a problem. The police don’t seem to be in charge of internal security anymore. Insurgents are virtually everywhere doing police duties and so, it is not helping issues,” he said.
He also lamented that the failure of the Department of State Security (DSS) to cooperate with the police was also hampering the security system.
Odita said: “The state security service that is supposed to help the police with security information is operating on its own, and so there is no synergy among the security agencies.”
He stated that the large number of unemployed youths, coupled with the failure of government to bring to book those who are engaged in crime, has encouraged many jobless Nigerians to dabble into crime.
“When you have a country that has a lot of youths walking the streets without jobs, the tendency is that most of them who are misguided will turn to crime because some of them have tried crime and they succeeded. So, when they see people like Evans (the alleged kidnapper now on trial) enjoying life, living a good life, and they know what he does, they are likely to copy. Before now, the issue of kidnapping was not so common. Armed robbers no longer go to rob; they now prefer to kidnap people and ask for ransom. So, it is a crime that I call less fees and high yield,” he said.
Unlike Ubani, Odita believes that the fact that policemen are ill-motivated and ill-equipped is another factor that has aggravated the situation.
“So, what we need to do is to go back and restructure our security infrastructure and get people to do what they are meant to do and prepare them for such assignments. That is my candid opinion,” he said.
Odita also pointed out that it is easy for hoodlums to attack and kill policemen at checkpoints because they are collectively in one place. He argued that checkpoints are outdated and should be abolished.
He said: “If you are passing through police checkpoints, you will discover that it is either all of them are standing on the road or they are sitting down in their vehicles. The reason is because they lack manpower development. There shouldn’t be any checkpoint in the first instance because checkpoints have not been proven to be crime fighting apparatuses. What they should be doing is patrol and stop- and-search at strategic places, where they suspect any vehicle or person. The idea of mounting roadblock exposes the officers to attack because they are collectively in one place; they become targets of gunmen. And why do they do that? It is because they lack the capacity or training; so they put their lives at risk. Some of them may not appreciate that because they don’t seem to know. And knowledge is power. What you don’t know, you can’t give, just as you can’t give what you don’t have. So, what they are doing is that they are standing on the road psychologically and criminals who already have some training in crime and criminality and who are very well trained in the use of arms and are looking for easy arms to take, attack them at checkpoints and dispossess them of their guns because they are not vigilant enough to ward off any impending attack by any criminal.
“That is a very sad development and it only means that the security infrastructure of Nigeria needs to be looked into. Policemen need to go back to training schools and get prepared for various assignments because the issue of checkpoint is outdated. You don’t go to other climes and find checkpoints everywhere. It doesn’t give you any hope because at the end of the day, these checkpoints can be circumvented by criminals if they don’t want to attack the policemen. So, it is important for us to get our policemen back to school, train them, equip them and adequately motivate them to do their job.”
Reflection of insecurity level
President of Women Arise, Dr. Joe-Okei Odumakin, also agrees that what has happened to the four policemen in Edo recently and other places in Nigeria is a reflection of the level of insecurity in the country, and, fundamentally, the need for people’s policing: “It is sad that we have lost our service personnel to the activities of hoodlums in the course of active service. The time has come for us to encourage active citizen participation in policing, while ensuring that there is synergy that can guarantee information sharing and cooperation towards ensuring a secure society.”
Nigeria at a crossroads
Security expert, Dennis Amachree, thinks that the country is at a crossroads, where the police force is not able to handle criminal activities that are spiralling out of hand.
He argued that what is needed now is the creation of state police because, with state police, incidents like that of Sabongida-Ora in Edo State would hardly happen.
“Some people who are against the idea of state police can now see that the federal police are also being misused by the federal government. And in that process, there
are also the opposition people who might even be attacking the police. I believe that policemen are not sufficient to police the whole country and there should be a review of the police structure. In doing that, they can create state police or get more people into the police and get them to be more trained to handle the security problem in the country because, apparently, it appears the police are overwhelmed by the problem in the country,” he said.
Amachree also pointed out that what is happening could be another means through which terrorists are arming themselves to prosecute their deadly war against the Nigerian state.
“Another worrying situation is where the arms and ammunition that these policemen are carrying is being taken by the people killing them. Now, that also shows that it could be a terrorist means of collecting arms for their nefarious operations. So, I believe strongly that the police should be more trained in handling of their weapons or the system itself should be reviewed to have state police,” he said.
He also decried a situation where police have abandoned their normal duty so as to be able to guard the ‘rich’ in the society: “I believe that the police are no longer doing their normal police duty. They are now used to guard ‘big men’. The idea of real police work, where the police know how to protect their arms and use their arms is no more; the training for all that has been abandoned.
“So, you see policemen these days sitting under a tree relaxing or chatting. So, they are like the sitting ducks. They are just there for the taking. Even in Lagos where you have police patrol vans all over the place, check them and you see that they are not at alert. They just park their vehicle and sit away from it chatting or smoking. And any criminal who wants their guns can just come there, shoot them and collect their guns because they are not alert. The police are too lackadaisical about their job,” he said.