Rethinking internal security
Ikorodu, Lagos has become a regular source of bad news. First, it was the story of riverine militias, who feasted on stolen petrol, courtesy of rusty and unmanned oil pipelines and infrastructure that transport fuel through the communities. For many years, these oil thieves built colonies around places like Arepo and Ibafo, down through the creeks of Ogun, Ondo, Delta and so on. They used the Ikorodu axis as hub to offload stolen fuel and it became booming business. But later, other dimensions of criminality, such as kidnapping were added.
Matters came to a head on June 23, 2016, when communities of Ishawo, Elepete, Muti, Magbon, Ereko, Igbo Olomu and Imushin, which are spread in Lagos and Ogun State, were ransacked in a vicious onslaught by mindless militias, as they were referred to, to the extent that between 20 and 50 persons were reported killed in one attack. A week before that, 15 were killed at Imushin. It became a weekly and weekend attack that left everyone wondering what governments of Lagos and Ogun were up to.
It became an embarrassment to the Federal Government, which was fighting too many ‘wars’ at different locations across the country. The military then promised to deal with the situation around Ikorodu and it was a successful exercise, and locations where oil bunkering thrived were pounded from air, while ground troops completed the mop up.
But of late, the dastardly stories coming from Ikorodu and adjunct communities make one wonder whether this is truly 21st century we are living through. Cult groups go about attacking families in the dead of night, leaving in their trail gory and mindless spectacle of parents and their children bludgeoned to death. The modus operandi of these killers is cannibalistic, fetish and horrendous. They do not come to steal anything, just to take life and in the cruelest form.
There was the case of the Ebhodaghes, a family of three hacked to death in April. The son was a WASSCE candidate in the recently concluded examination, but was not seen in class during one of the papers. Curious friends and neighbours traced him home, only to meet their dead bodies, so inhumanly mangled by elements said to be Badoo cult members.
One after the other, it became a pattern for these elements to visit mayhem on families. They even went to a church and killed some minors along with their mother who stole there, apparently to take refuge. But these daredevil man-eaters were not deterred by the solemnity of a worship place. They cudgeled their victims.
What really offended was the situation in which the Police never responded to ongoing attacks. They only come to pick remains of victims and no arrests and prosecutions are reported. Citizens also don’t get to hear of the profiling of these crimes to give information on intelligence and advisory. It was as if poor Nigerians are left on their own to battle these satanic monsters, who actually live in the neighbourhoods, or not too far away.
Then, the Lagos Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni on April 23, met with traditional rulers in these communities to warn them against harbouring criminals. He warned that the Police would no longer tolerate situations of killings without monarchs taking some level of responsibility. According to him: “Traditional rulers cannot tell me they don’t know who is who in their domain; all communities are advised to organise their local vigilantes.” He charged them to take ownership of crime fighting in their domains, as there are hunters among them. He warned that ritual killings must stop.
Did that call have effect on the security situation in Ikorodu and environs? Not exactly! As a matter of fact, some think the CP was compelled to visit the scene of crime more because on April 9, suspected militants in Isawo area killed four police officers, an army captain and a civilian. Other killings have taken place and the people have now resolved to police themselves, which was why a certain Badoo member who was apprehended by vigilante members was mobbed and set ablaze. It showed that the Police have not done enough to provide internal security; and it is the same thing happening all over the country. Police arrive late to scenes of crimes, most of the time. But if they are bent on unraveling the details, they produce good results.
A lot has been said and written about transforming the Police system to make the force more responsive and result oriented. Organisations such as CLEEN Foundation and networks like NOPRIN Foundation have produced enough literature on how to reform the Police. The current federal police are too far from the people to really understand crime fighting in peculiar situations.
When President Buhari came on board, to make a determined effort on the fight against Boko Haram, he put officers who know the terrain in charge. He moved the Command and Control (C2) of the military to Maiduguri, close to the war theatre, instead of what obtained in the previous efforts. It achieved a great deal. But what do we have here with the Police? We have Police Commissioners who deny outright that herdsmen are causing mayhem in communities, simply because they are involved on account of their religion or state of origin. They are unable to deliver according to the oath they sworn to; to provide security without any form of bias.
Now, what is very challenging is the situation of students who are abducted from their campuses by kidnappers and used to steal money from their parents. For 17 days running, six students of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, were abducted from their school by criminal elements. The idea of students being picked up in their schools is disgusting. It is frightening and sickening that this particular school is a state owned school, of a middle class status that should not be linked with such anguish. But that is what we have on our hands. Everybody, including government and the security agencies is helpless. Now, we are told some of these children have taken sorely ill, no thanks to the miserable environments where they are kept. The parents are in terrible states. Just imagine waking up for all these days not knowing what is happening to these young ones, in some deadly creeks. It is hard to bear.
All this means that even if Lagos State or any other state for that matter invests their entire budgets on security infrastructure, rural areas in Ikorodu and elsewhere might continue to be dens for hardened criminals. Therefore, we must decentralise the present system. The CP must also be ready to move around as the occasion demands. For instance, Owoseni ought to have relocated to Ikorodu since the beginning of this year. His recent admonition to his men shows that he is far removed from the various theatres of ‘war’ in the state. Area commanders and DPOs who have since abandoned their oath to chase after illicit wealth are frustrating his good efforts and intentions.
A sincere understanding of the problems is also very important. The Abuja-Kaduna highway has since returned to its old status as den of kidnappers. But when flights were diverted to Kaduna, the Police promised to secure the highway. They actually did, but once Abuja airport reopened, they abandoned the highway. Only 15 percent of Nigerians use flights to move around. The remaining 85 percent traverse the roads.
In the same vein, it could be argued that the Police force is not equitably shared to police all Nigerians. Some are idling away at roadblocks; others are carrying handbags for wives of governors and politicians. Some are consulting for kidnappers and robbers, while just a few, maybe 15 percent dedicated ones are conscientiously policing poor Nigerians. That is in addition to issues of poor funding, the right numbers and all that, one must concede. But seriously, we must rethink our internal security!