A deep look at the travails of the Nigeria Police within the context of general insecurity

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Nigerian Police

Nigerian Police

Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, takes a deep look at the travails of the Nigeria Police within the context of general insecurity in the land, concluding that the force is already being seen as the problem rather than purveyor of solutions.

THE forced retirement of Mr Hafiz Ringim as the Inspector-General of Police on Wednesday did not jolt the nation. It was expected although it came at a time Nigerians had given up on his retirement before the normal time, which is just two months away. Not quite a few Nigerians had expected Ringim to tender his retirement, with the spate of bombings and violent crisis that permeated the polity, particularly the bombing of the Louis Edet House, the Force Headquarters last year.

Police is your friend.’ That is the bold print you see on the wall of most police stations around the country. The second most popular slogan is ‘Bail is free.’

But, to most Nigerians, the two statements are manifestly false as far as police operations are concerned. Indeed, in the years past, while many Nigerians readily offered policemen rides in their cars at bus stops, only a few do so these days. The confidence in the force has not only nosedived, it is almost nonexistent these days. In fact, if a compilation of police infractions in Nigeria is to be put together, the author is sure of producing voluminous editions that cannot be rivalled by several volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The misdeeds of policemen date back to the earliest years of formation, but the inadequacies have grown in size over the years. Some Nigerians tended to locate the problem in the dark colours of the uniform of policemen, and that often informed the change of colours on some occasions.

But each time the colour of the uniform is changed, the public can hardly notice any change for the better in terms of behaviour of policemen on the streets and in handling investigations. Thinking members of the public easily concluded that the negative trends associated with the men and officers of the force appeared inherent in their individual systems and that, perhaps, one that no one could heal the congenital problems. The offences that helped in consistently lowering the estimation of the Nigeria Police among Nigerians include illegal arrests, summary executions, raids for wandering, killings at checkpoints, bribery and dumping of suspects in prisons without valid documents, leading to the disappearance of many citizens without trace. There have also been shoddy investigations of high profile murder cases and the notorious incidence of accidental discharge.

The announcement of the disappearance of the prime suspect in the Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Chuirch, Madalla, Niger state, Kabiru Umar (a.k.a Kabiru Sokoto)  from the hands of the police last week has only further reinforced the failings of the police force and the belief in many circles that the ills rocking the police cannot be healed.

Sokoto, who had been trailed to the High brow Asokoro area by a special unit of the police equipped with tracking systems, was arrested in the Borno Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro. He was handed over to former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim, who later handed the man over to Zakari Biu, his course mate, who has a dreadful history in the force. Biu had been retired by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, following his notorious popularity with cases of bomb blasts during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.  He was then the head of Anti-terrorism squad set up by Abacha to hunt perceived enemies, especially members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and he was right on the spot, with insightful details any time a bomb exploded in those days. But he was readmitted into the force during the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua after he had petitioned the Police Service Commission (PSC).

What became known is that after Ringim had mandated his man to take charge of the investigation of Sokoto, he (Biu) constituted an investigation team, which took the suspect to Abaji, on the borders between the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Kogi State.  It was there that the team displayed some presumably untoward professional conduct, leaving the suspect to escape from their hands.

Biu was first suspended and later detained, following the heat turned on the IGP by the Federal Government. But those who knew Biu while in service under the Abacha regime said the conduct of his men who went to Abaji in company with the prime suspect bore the insignia of the Biu persona. During a raid on the premises of The News magazine in 1997 by the Biu-led Anti-Terrorism Squad, he never notified the Area Command. He only led his operatives, then made up of mobile policemen and soldiers to the premises of the magazine in Ogba, Ikeja. The Bui-led squad was deep into its operations before words got to the Area Commander, a woman, who immediately deployed her men to foil what was perceived to be a robbery operation. Many years after, Biu’s men replicated the error in Abaji, FCT, bringing monumental disgrace to his IGP.Unfortunately, their failure to seek protection from the local police station is now being cited as one of the reasons Kabiru Sokoto’s loyalists were able to overpower the investigators and flee with the suspect.

In 1997, an official of the Federal Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), a Christian, had confessed to his pastor, the frustrations he was going through in the force. He had attempted to leave the force on three occasions, but on every occasion, the pastor would inform him that God told him(the Pastor) in a dream that he should not take the step he was about taking. On the third occasion, the policeman was to obtain his letter of appointment to another company, having passed the interviews.

On Sunday, a day before he would get his letter, a message appeared to the pastor’s wife about him. She narrated it to the husband, who then asked the policeman to see him after service. Upon the delivery of the pastor’s message that the man should not take the step he was about to take, he broke down in tears and narrated his ordeal in the force in full. The policeman told the story of the huge fraud in the police system which, he stated, made his heart heavy each day he saw the uniform,  adding  that he could no longer bear the shenanigans of his colleagues.

The man narrated how police officers connived with hardened criminals and sometimes robbers to carry out nefarious activities, saying that every serious armed robber in the land had concrete roots within the police. The man painted the picture of a rotten force, which he believed could only probably be salvaged by divinity. He said he had tagged along for too long and that his conscience could no longer take the dangerous occurrences. His pastor however insisted that the revelation from God was that the man should remain in the force. The pastor told him that policing was a job ordained by God and that God wanted peace in the city and asked it to be guarded and protected, not just by his Angels, but physically by men.  The man left the pastor’s sight with a heavy heart. He was said to have retired some years after.

In another instance, a former Area Commander had confessed that most notorious criminals were known to the police top brass and that robbers hardly struck in big cities without “clearance” from the police. The question that reverberates is whether the police are actually friends of the people.

Sources in the administration had confirmed to The Friday Edition that inter-agency collaboration on the fight against terror had been tough with the police. A source said that while the State Security Services (SSS) had been discreetly investigating some issues, it had been difficult for it to fully carry the police along because of the fear of betrayal. The Army, whose personnel constitutes the bulk of the Joint Task Force on different operations around the country, was said to have been taught a bitter lesson by the police in 2009, when it handed over the leader of the Boko Haram sect to the force only to hear that the man, Mohammed Yusuf, had been summarily executed by policemen. Thus, while the SSS has its limits, collaborating with the police on sensitive investigations has become a dangerous venture. Sources confirmed that while such could pose problems for the search for national security, some meetings of the Security Council were said to have been devoted to complaints of inter-agency rivalry bordering on the fear of the police.

When the Boko Haram insurgency started getting out of hand in the North Eastern part of the country, it was gathered that the police had the best chance to nip the trend in the bud. Sources insisted that whereas the leaders and members were identifiable in those days, the police were interested largely in clamping suspected members into detention and asking them to secure bails, which were never free at any instance. In effect, while some members were going in and out of police cells, they became more emboldened to challenge men of the force, whom they saw as turning them ( sect members) into gold mines.

Investigations had revealed that similar scenarios had occurred in the South West, the South South and the South East when the different militia groups emerged there. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) had blossomed in the South West following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Bashorun MKO Abiola; the Niger Delta militants mushroomed in the South South towards the tail end of the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, while the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) also took over the South East around the same time. It was learnt that instead of the police relying on its Intelligence arm to deal with such militancy, it applied force, clamping many into detention without trial and thereby militarizing the groups.

Incidentally, the situation has now boomeranged to the extent that the police have become the target of the several militant groups. The most deadly attacks on the force is however being carried out by  men of the dreaded Boko Haram, who are still bitter about the summary execution of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in police custody in 2009. The force lost 29 members to the attack on Kano city on Friday January 20. That is besides the several casualties suffered in countless raids on its stations in Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi in recent months.

As reported by AFP, the Human Rights Watch, on Tuesday, put the total of deaths from Boko Haram’s onslaught on the nation between 2009 and this year at 935. This year alone, as at Tuesday this week, the sect has killed over 250. The HRW in its report said the sect had shown little regard for human life. HRW’s Senior Researcher, West Africa, Corinne Dufka, wrote: “Boko Haram’s attacks show a complete and utter disregard for human life. The Nigerian authorities need to call a halt to this campaign of terror and bring to justice those responsible for planning and carrying out these reprehensible crimes.” The report put the number of deaths in 2011 at 550 in 115 separate attacks.

Meanwhile, as the HRW was releasing its reports, there was news  from Kano again that a police station in Sheka, Kumbotso Local Government Area also came under the attack of Boko Haram late on Tuesday.

The United Kingdom has warned its citizens against travelling to Kano.

The warning, contained in a Travel Advisory issued on Tuesday, also warned those who are already in Kano wracked by attacks by Boko Haram on Friday, to be wary of their movement.

The advisory read in part: “The Nigerian authorities have lifted the post-attack curfew in Kano city during daylight hours on Sunday 22 January, but have announced the curfew will be in force from 1900 hours on Sunday 22 January until 0600 hours on Monday 23 January.

“In the light of Friday’s attacks, we are currently advising against all but essential travel to Kano city and for those in Kano city to remain vigilant and to exercise caution.  DFID and British Council have limited their operations in Kano pending further assessment of the situation.

But who can save the police? A security expert stated during the week that the police must save themselves from the current entanglements. He disclosed that while the force had taken a lot of things for granted security wise in the past, such infractions were now hunting the force. According to the security expert, the police had taken the general peaceful attitude of Nigerians for granted in dealing with alleged criminals, while some leaders of the force had even collaborated with some questionable characters for pecuniary reasons.

“The problems appear endemic now. But once the socio-economic issues and the issue of bad governance related to the surging crime in the states are resolved, the police can then take care of the bad eggs in their midst. A policeman should not be immune to prosecution, if he is found to live above his means. The same should be true of all security agencies if professionalism and patriotism are to be elevated,” the security expert said.

In view of the changes in the top hierarchy of the police, President Goodluck Jonathan announced the setting up of a committee to oversee the urgent reorganisation of the force. The committee will be chaired by Mr Parry Osayande, chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police. Other members of the committee included Mr Casmir Akegbosu, Mr Bashir Alnasu, AIG (rtd), Major-General SN Chikwe, Professor SD MUkoro, Dr Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), Aisha Larai Tukur and the Solicitor General of the Federation, while the Permanent Secretary, SSO, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) would serve as the secretary of the committee.

The committee’s terms of reference include identifying the challenges and factors militating against effective performance in the police and making recommendations for addressing the challenges; examining the scope and standard of training and other personnel development activities in the police to determine their adequacy or otherwise, among others.

No matter the eventual direction of the ongoing probe into the conduct of the Biu team, the police are already the worse for it.  The development has not only compounded the soiled image of the force; it has left many wondering whether the police can ever be seen on the side of the people.

 

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