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Beyond the Nasarawa massacre of Police

THE  massacre this month of over 40 police officers and 10 Department of State Services, DSS, men by the Ombatse cult in Eggon area of Nasarawa State woke Nigeria to the reality of the danger of increased violence against our law enforcement agents, especially the Police.

It brought home the determination of Boko Haram to destabilise this country, and that any evil we tolerate will turn round to haunt us in the end.

Boko Haram, by whatever means it emerged in our country, had become a big threat to our corporate existence as one nation. The politicians that may have started or engineered it from the North of Nigeria lost control of it. Those who called for blood to flow in the wake of the 2011 election results, lost face, became embarrassed and confused about the purpose, because what they had intended was not what was playing out.

What started as a small group with few guns, knives, and clubs, killing mostly non-Muslims, have become a big terrorist organisation with international connections and inputs. The Northern politicians themselves were fast becoming targets and victims of attacks.

It is now an almost settled matter, that those who may have thought that they would use Boko Haram to make their way into Aso Rock, will surely be prevented from controlling Aso Rock by the activities of the same sect.

No sound Nigerian, Christian or Muslim, will vote for any person who saw no evil in the activities of Boko Haram or had threatened violence for whatever reasons. Boko Haram today protects and respects no one, Northerner, Southerner, Christian or Muslim because they have fully grown into terrorists, although they started as a sectarian violent group.

The strong response of the Federal Government to the killings in Nasarawa State, by declaring state of emergency in three  of the Boko Haram bedrock states of Northern Nigeria was, therefore, welcome and overdue.

What should be done now also is for the government to keep watchful eyes on those states in the North that are most vulnerable, namely Bauchi, Plateau, and Kaduna states. The price of liberty, they say, is eternal vigilance.

The strong action by the Federal Government was needed at this stage.It was welcome because first, it brought peace to the peace loving citizens of those states, and by extension the country. Second, it sent a strong message to all Nigerians that the killing of any uniformed personnel is sacrilegious and should never be contemplated by any.

Third, it woke the nation up from getting used to killing our police men, no matter their weaknesses. After all, you do not cut off your head because it is over grown with hairs.

The first major outing of the Boko Haram group was to attack our Police headquarters. It was their strong message to the Police, that they were a key target; then they hit the UN Office in Abuja to tell us that they had gone international; then the news media houses to tell us how important publicity was to their course.

Soon after we lost  DIG John Haruna under circumstances that pointed at terrorism, though not confirmed by police. Boko Haram burnt police stations, attacked prison yards at every opportunity. In all these, the police did not seem to have read the real messages from the sect because of the supervening influence and opinion of some Northern leaders.The phenomenon of increasing hatred and killing of police officers was almost becoming politicised.

The Niger Delta aggression against the police was already building up.My unaided count is that over 200 police officers have been killed  since Boko Haram started in 2011, and it should not be so.

If the President of America mourned the Connecticut school shooting of 20 American kids like we saw recently, what should our President do with losing over 50 police and DSS officers in one fell swoop in Nassarawa State? What will the President do in superintending over a Force endangered by ethnic and religious politics and sentiments like the Nigeria Police? Assuming that we have a police with a bad public image,and indeed weak, should the President stand and watch while we kill all of them?

If our argument is that we don’t want Christians and Western education, and all that  in the North, should that constitute reasons to be allowed to kill our police men like this? The growing trend of attacking police officers on duty, and killing them on flimsy reasons must stop and be completely eliminated from the psyche of all Nigerians of all walks of life. We must be made to realise that the Police officer is a special agent of the President and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is not standing at that duty post or in that assignment on his own. If you touch a police officer, you have touched the apple of the eye of Mr. President!

The Police on their part must come to terms with the realities of policing our societies at a time like this. They must work together with all other law enforcement sections of this nation. They need to grow above bickering and cheap competition with the NSCDC over pipeline vandalisation,to the extent that lives were lost as we had in Ikorodu, Lagos recently.

Police as the bigger brother to all law enforcement organisations in Nigeria should take the lead in building friendly and cordial relationships with the others like the DSS, Customs and Immigration, and the baby of the family, the NSCDC.That is why the loss of DSS officers in Nassarawa became so painful, and we hope that their cooperation with the Police will continue to grow in spite of the mishap.

The Police will also do some conscience searching to meet the demands of policing Nigeria in this modern world .A friendly Police is imperative. First,the AGF in 2012 announced that over 3000 persons have been killed extra-judicially by the police in four years. No one likes a killer, and if Nigerians perceive the police as killers, support will drop.The rate of extra- judicial killing should be reduced, and only officers with stable mental conditions should be allowed to carry guns.

Second,the general Police image among the people is less than is desired. Many Nigerians believe that the police station is simply trouble,but  that is not so. The police gives peace and helps maintain law and order in society.

I often get surprised when a police officer flares up over a simple civil matter of debt recovery. What is his interest, why should a police officer be more angry than the complainant, in a purely civil matter? It boils down to compromised interest and corruption.

The appearance in public of some of officers is becoming so appalling as it is common to see a police officer in bath room slippers on duty. In this regard, one cannot help but appreciate the neat appearance of the average NSCDC officer, while hoping that they keep it up.

The morale and self-image of police officers, therefore, must receive a boost. Nigeria stands to gain more if the monthly wage of the lowest law enforcement officer, especially in the Police is pegged at N80,000, while the condition of police barracks  will be a matter for another day. Police deployment policy across the nation  should be reviewed such that officers will be close to their home LGAs.

I do not see how effective an Igbo police officer, for example, will be in an Efik, Hausa,  or Edo community or vice versa. The difference in culture, mentality, religion and other ethnic differences will affect his effectiveness and could even cause disaffection between him and his host community.

A percentage of officers therefore from the rank of Inspector and above, should be deployed in their home LGAs for effective policing.

It is perhaps time for State Governors to fund collaboration with the police to train and certify vigilante groups in the states, and the also fund the traditional rulers to muster information gathering on security for law enforcement.

A good and effective traditional ruler should know who the bad eggs are in his community. A traditional ruler should face some serious sanctions if in spite of the funding, cultists, terrorists, and kidnappers continue to operate within his community.

The police at the local government and state levels do not have any data base for persons with criminal conducts, or reported criminal conducts, to help them in times of need. Now, every DPO should be made to have date base of all Cults, and their membership within his area.

Beyond the Nassarawa massacre, the Police will have to deal with its image, and brace up for the real challenges of policing in our changing world. It has to be drummed into the ears of all Nigerians by government, that it is a taboo to kill any uniformed personnel especially the Police officer.

Mr.  CLEMENT UDEGBE, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.