The increasing resort to violence and extra-judicial killings by some unscrupulous officials of the nation’s security agencies requires immediate corrective measures. Discipline and professionalism amongst some of these security agents are fast deteriorating to the level of anarchy. Some of the security agencies are plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
Last Wednesday, a tanker driver was shot dead by a policeman in Apapa, Lagos, over a minor disagreement about parking too close to a bank, setting off a riot by outraged tanker drivers who then set two banks on fire. Last weekend, policemen who serve as private security officials to the Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly shot two officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). Both men are battling for their lives and needed surgeries last week to extract bullets from their bodies. They were reported to have attempted flagging down the Sports Utility Vehicle of the Speaker’s wife for seat belt violation by her security detail. Last month, some Nigerian Navy officials reportedly went to ‘war’ against a Police Division in Cross River State. Ten persons were killed in the incident, while the police station was burnt down, and its armoury destroyed. The crime of the policemen was that a traffic warden had attempted to stop a Nigerian Navy vehicle which had violated the traffic stop sign. In February, some operatives of the Department of State Services invaded the Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, with blazing guns, brutalising teachers and unleashing mayhem because a student of the school, who happened to have an aunt who is a DSS officer, was disciplined.
These incidents, which are now occurring at an embarrassing frequency, constitute a clear and present threat to the peace and security of the Nigerian populace. They are the results of gross abuse of power by some misguided members of our uniformed services. It is an acute social problem.
In the Abia State incident, a female Department of State Services (DSS) operative serving as a protection officer to the Abia State Speaker’s wife was stopped by road safety officials for failure to use a seat belt, as required by law, while sitting in the front seat of her principal’s car. Reports say she initiated the conflict when she ordered the SUV (which had already passed the checkpoint) to reverse, and began assaulting the road safety officers, before the Speaker’s wife, who was also in the car, called her husband who dispatched some policemen to the scene. These policemen allegedly conducted themselves in the fashion of thugs by shamelessly shooting the unarmed road safety officers, vandalising their patrol vehicle, and leaving them in a pool of blood. This is despicable.
We also view the Nigerian Naval officers’ assault on the Akim Police Station, Calabar, as a scandal which would never happen in a country governed according to the rule of law. Not only would all the officers and men who took part in that show of shame be arrested and charged with murder, the entire unit would be either disbanded or court –martialled and their leaders dismissed for bringing dishonor on the Navy. We note the government’s promise to set up a panel of enquiry to look into the incident. We are, however, not enthusiastic about this promise because similar panels set up to investigate such incidents in the past did not yield any positive results. The widespread perception in the country is that such panels are only set up to assuage public feelings. For instance, after the DSS invasion of FGGC, Calabar a similar probe was promised. Four months later, it is doubtful that the offenders have been brought to justice.
These incidents are a cause for worry because they can lead to social upheaval and mass violence. The essence of the expensive training given to our security officers is to imbue them with discipline, self-control and good judgment in the use of firearms. There may be accidents in the discharge of weapons. But, a situation where numerous incidents of abuse of power, misuse of weapons, gross indiscipline and reckless endangerment of lives occur virtually daily among our security officials can be regarded as institutional and deserving of attention at that level.
We urge the National Security Council to remind the heads of all the security agencies of their responsibilities in terms of maintenance of law and order. They also need to be made to know that any loss of life through the reckless use of firearms is a serious breach of the law that should be visited with severe sanctions. Above all, it is only when the full weight of the law is visited on offending security officials that the nation can reduce their penchant for violence and other extra-judicial activities.