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Zoo killings: I stand with the Police

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The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

There was tragedy last Sunday in Benin City, the Edo State capital. The specific location was the zoo in Ogba, a community which lies about four kilometers west of the Benin airport. Just like play, three policemen who were part of the security at the tourist facility were killed by yet to be apprehended gunmen who also abducted the chief executive of the zoo, Dr. Andy Ehanire. No motive has been established. The Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Gwandu Haliru only said militants were responsible.

Back in the village in those days, uncles and aunties who lived in Benin City told interesting stories about the zoo. They had seen all the strange animals in the folklores that grandma told at night just before we went to bed and on account of which I would sometimes refuse to sleep alone in my own tiny location in the house. And so, as I grew in time and space, visiting a zoo to see the unfamiliar animals became an objective.

I visited the zoo some time in 1982. It was on a Sunday too, after church service. I paid about five kobo and streamed in noisily with other youngsters. There were no policemen to provide security for visitors. The only security alert was by way of a signpost, which warned visitors to exercise restraint as they approached where the lion was kept. The madness of gunmen infiltrating the park to hunt down human visitors was too farfetched to be contemplated 35 years ago.

What is really happening? Why has life become so cheap in Nigeria? Death is now such a common sight. It is in the school, church, mosque, market, street and now in the zoo! The only human loss recorded at the Ogba zoo, which made headlines, was the unfortunate death of the handler of the zoo’s lion who was killed by the lion itself. There was an apparent slip in procedure. The lion was not bolted out in a safe compartment before the handler entered with a live goat to feed it. The animal charged back and took the present and the presenter together as meal. It was killed immediately. One fellow explained that in the zoo, what apply are Mosaic laws of an eye for eye and that any animal that kills a human must itself be killed by a human.

Now, as we speak, three human beings have been killed in Ogba zoo and their killers cannot be found to be killed in return. They are even in custody of a fourth human being. Quite worrisome was the way the three policemen were killed. They wanted to be part of the fun and accepted to be entertained by complete strangers. In the process, they lowered completely their guard and got killed like guinea pigs without any form of resistance. It is absolute damage that leaves the police high command and indeed the nation with only lessons not remedies.

Number one lesson is that policing, especially at the tactical level, drips with danger. At the strategic or command level, the dangers are not as manifest. The rank and file gets absolutely reckless once there is something extra to eat. I had seen when the entire men in a patrol team would be over a motorist to request the vehicle particulars. They hardly exercise discretion and can crowd themselves into a formation where as many of them can be taken down by just a bullet from an assassin. For instance, on the Ogba zoo killing, why would three policemen on guard duties sit together at the same spot to drink beer? They could have drunk the same beer at different spots to avoid the wholesale exposure that made the evil task of the gunmen so easy to accomplish.

I should add that this kind of slip couldn’t be ascribed to poor training. It is purely attitudinal. Even boys scout know how to take excellent defensive and attack positions to pre-empt eventualities; how much more the police who are trained in combat operations. If a policeman must die in the course of duty, the death should be much more heroic than the cheapness of the Ogba zoo killing. It makes it even more painful that hoodlums could get into a facility and take out trained men of the Nigeria police on guard duty just like that without resistance.

Few months ago, a video of a robbery attack on a bank in Owerri and the gallant resistance of policemen on guard at the bank went viral. The incident was recorded by the CCTV camera at bank. It revealed how the policemen, two of whom eventually died, exhibited good tactics and repelled the robbery attack from different directions. If the policemen had banded together as if on a parade ground, it would have been possible for the robbers to take them down with a bullet and rob the bank successfully.

This is just saying what policemen, on their own, can do differently to save the day. But there is a lot more that they cannot do to impact the underlying occupational conditions that create the bad image that the police force has. Consequently, what really needs to change is the public perception of the role of the police. In simple description, the policeman is he who stays awake so that another man can sleep peacefully. That is awesome, almost close to what God does in human lives – protection. For doing this much, the police constable for instance receives N35, 000 a month, which is just about $100. From this amount, he cares for his family, clothes himself, sometimes including providing his own uniform, and responds generally to the demands of all affiliations.

The other thing the constable possesses outside his salary is a loaded gun. He operates a gun and a very tight budget. Without prompting from higher quarters, he uses the gun to complement the budget in a manner a bit subtler than the other man who also carries gun to earn a living. Even with the gun, his budget cannot accommodate beer. But if some beer comes his way pro bono while still on duty, he may not hesitate to drop his gun and grab the opportunity with both hands. I am suspecting this was what happened at Ogba zoo last Sunday and it will happen again if all things about the policeman remain equal. The policeman is left; so to say, to care for himself anyhow, and always, the desire to survive will come before the desire to be professional.

The argument may extend to include the point that bad conduct or specifically extortion among the police is not a consequence of poverty. Good, but that is neither here nor there because we do not also know by much that poverty is responsible for police unprofessional conduct. An experiment to determine the truth has to be benchmarked against set conditions, which will be the right care for the police.

It is only after this has been done, and seen to have been done, and the policeman in Nigeria still acts lower than himself, that we can begin to consider other factors. For now, the only factor to consider is good care. Let us decide today to avail a policeman just about one tenth of the care given to federal legislators and if nothing changes about him, we can then invite God to intervene.

May the souls of the three policemen killed at Ogba zoo rest in perfect peace. Amen!



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