November 7, 2020

Bring back mobile police

Emeka Obasi

By Emeka Obasi

Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa saw it coming. In 1962, Emmanuel Adu Olawaiye, led a team of five policemen comprising three officers and two other ranks to Malaya. The Nigerian government sent the cops on a course that culminated in the birth of the Police Mobile Force (PMF).

The PMF came in to tackle riots and other civil disturbances. Olawaiye was 20 when he joined the police in 1940. He went for virile young men to lay a solid foundation. And they got the best of training to tackle riots. Shooting at protesters was out of it.

At that time, Nigerian soldiers were adored and stayed away from internal security operations. Our soldiers were heroes in peacekeeping operations all over Africa. They were with the United Nations in the Congo. They did well in Tanzania and also in Cameroon.

Brigadier Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi was outstanding and earned the nickname  ‘Ironside’. He was promoted Major General and made overall commander of the Peace Keepers. Adekunle Fajuyi and Conrad Nwawo bagged the Military Cross for bravery.

Nigerian police officers also made a mark. Luis Orok Edet was in the Congo from December 1960. He was decorated with the  UN medal after using subtle means instead of guns to quieten the civilian population.Isa Adejo fought against armed rebels in Niger Republic in 1965.

All the senior police officers in the First Republic trained in the United Kingdom. Edet who enlisted in 1931, was at Police College, Hampshire. Joseph Adeola trained at Branshill. Audu Bako was sent to Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Usman Farouk, to Wakefield and Adejo to Scottish Police College.

While the PMF handled disturbances professionally, the Nigeria Army stayed away from internal security. Seeing them was a rarity. Occasionally, they would march out of their barracks to the delight of children some of who were carried away that they got lost temporarily, like little Wole Soyinka, in the 1940s.

As a subaltern, Alex Madiebo, took troops of the Army Reconnaissance Squadron, Kaduna on a bird hunting exercise in 1958. They attacked quitia birds that fed on grains. In 1959, the soldiers moved to Sardauna Province to kill lions feeding on cows on the Mambila Plateau.

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Soldiers are trained to defend the nation’s integrity. In the First Republic, politicians destroyed the Army the moment PMF were shoved away from internal security in Tiv land. That experience helped shape the January 15, 1966 coup.

As commander, Five Battalion, Kano, Col. Arthur Unegbe, refused to send his soldiers to the Middle Belt against the Tiv. He was redeployed to Lagos as a result of his refusal to obey the Premier of the Northern Region. Unfortunately, Unegbe was killed in the coup.

Maj. Chris Anuforo commanded troops in the Tiv operations. He was said not to support the use of force on the rioters. That stand did not sit well with some of his superiors. Anuforo was one of the ring leaders of the military coup and he killed more officers than any of his collaborators.

This sounds like what played out during the #EndSARS riots in Lagos. The introduction of soldiers turned the tide. Violence followed and the Army has a lot of damage control to do.

I noticed that our politicians have turned riot policemen to bag carriers and orderlies. You see an ordinary Local Government chairman moving about with a mobile police escort. Yes, an LG chairman is ordinary because he should be closest to the people.

In the Second Republic, LG chairmen did not enjoy the luxury of police orderly. Private citizens did not flaunt police guards. The present dispensation is weird. Our mobile policemen are only found in the waiting rooms of those in power.

Time has come for the PMF to return to their statutory responsibilities. They are better equipped to handle protests and protesters than any other military or para military group. With shields and water cannons, lives will not be wasted.

We should take the PMF back to the Shehu Shagari years. Someone should go study the Sunday Adewusi template. Reforms and proper training should be introduced. And they must be reminded that they cannot kill and go anymore.

Whoever advised the Army to storm Lekki has turned the people against our pride. Only the military can clean the mess Lekki has become. I knew that involving them will stain all honour they ever had. All the support the soldiers enjoyed over their plight in the North-East could have vamoosed.

Please, let the Abuja think about reinventing the PMF. The MOPOL I know can tackle bandits in the North-West and kidnappers all over the country. It is not enough for them to be posted to VIPs. Mobile policemen should be disengaged from politicians without big portfolio.

The Army should stay away from politicians, that was what ruined the First Republic. Our soldiers should not be seen, let their deeds speak for them. I am sure a well trained PMF will be more useful internally than the military.