By Tonnie Iredia
Exactly six years ago, this writer and a few colleagues on account of ‘security reasons’ had to cancel a trip to the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, ASCON Badagry where we were scheduled to participate in a manpower development programme.
Some Good Samaritan had alerted us of a kind of civil war taking place along our proposed path between the police and the army. The report was that some policemen had an argument with a man at a check point which led to the shooting of the man who was later discovered to be a soldier.
Efforts by the relevant Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and his crime officer to hold a peace meeting with the army ended up with deaths on the police side including their two peace seeking leaders. We were not lucky to hear much of how the matter was concluded other than the announcement by the Lagos State Police Spokesman that the Commissioner of Police would ‘soon’ comment on the issue. On its part, the army said none of its personnel had a hand in the deaths!
Could it be sympathizers that helped the military to kill the DPO and his deputy to avenge the killing of the soldier? Why in earnest should a disagreement at a police check point lead to the killing of any person, military or police civilian?
One would have thought that the army and the police would have tried to learn from the ugly incident and disallow any recurrence but that has not been so. Today, it can be said with some measure of certainty that clashes between the police and each of our military services have come to stay. Apart from the earlier clash between soldiers and policemen who tried to stop them from using the BRT lane at Obanikoro, Lagos there was the 2013 clash between naval officers and police men also in Lagos leading to many persons sustaining injuries with police patrol vehicles including Armoured Personnel Carriers destroyed. In February last year there was commotion in Umuahia, when policemen attached to the Railway Police Station manhandled an unidentified army captain for allegedly parking his 18-seater Mitsubishi bus close to the fence of the station. The reprisal attack by the military was unimaginable. A month later, the fight in the news was the one between NDLEA and Airforce personnel over access into restricted areas of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport sequel to a new regulation by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) restricting movement into the airport after 7 pm to reduce the illegal movement at the Hajj and Cargo Terminal area.
Two months back, men of the Nigerian Navy engaged in a street fight at Ojuelegba with operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Lagos. The naval officers reportedly abducted a lady Sergeant attached to the Traffic Section of the Lagos State Police Command. Last month, a military officer reportedly sustained severe injuries following a clash between police and air force men at First Bank branch along Douglass Road, Owerri, the Imo state capital. According to media reports, the clash occurred when an Airforce officer, was disallowed the use of the Automated Teller Machine, by the police officers guarding the bank on the grounds that the Airforce officer came in armed. At about the same town, there was a report of a bloody clash not between the combined Army/Police team against Boko Haram but between themselves in Nigeria’s restive northeastern Yobe state leaving one soldier and three policemen dead. Like the one that happened in Maiduguri last year between the army and the police not much was gotten from the statements issued by organizations to which the fighters belong as to the substantive cause of each fight. From the public we heard it was instigated by the struggle to get a few of the foodstuffs meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Only 5 days ago, two policemen and a naval rating lost their lives, after some suspected naval officers attacked a police station in the capital city of Cross River State. Before the attack there was a disagreement as police traffic controllers attempted to stop some naval officers who flouted the red light at a junction in the heart of Calabar. This prompted Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State to hastily convene an emergency meeting with representatives of the Nigerian Navy and Police to address the deadly clash between the two security agencies. The Governor no doubt calmed frayed nerves promising to pay compensation where appropriate. Ayade may have spoken well, but why will tax payers’ money be used to repair damage done by people who are wrongly in uniform. Of course, the governor could not indicate the nature of compensation he intends to give to the widows and children of those who met their untimely death as a result of indiscretion by men in uniform.
From the above outline, a number of issues are quite glaring. First, it is exceedingly clear that our military and law enforcement agencies have too many officials whose temperaments donot fit the present era of democracy. Second, it would appear that the declaration after each fight that culprits would be penalized is essentially theoretical otherwise the fights would not have been on the increase if drastic measures were put in place. Nigerians are no doubt entitled to holding the authorities of the affected bodies vicariously liable for the misdeeds of their staff. Accordingly, the said authorities owe the nation an explanation on the prize/reward they normally give to their pugnacious personnel that motivates their unending combative and destructive tendencies. Is it a medal or cash award?
If the police and the military can afford to fight themselves at the slightest provocation, it is unlikely that they would be more temperate with the ordinary man. It is also a wasted effort that our nation continues to dispute poor international ratings of our human rights record because it seems obvious that the numerous people in uniform who have no place there. will involutarily dent our image. While the jingle, “the police is your friend” will get harder to sell, there is no better time than now to reverse to the old order where the armed forces were normally not visible in our streets.