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Gun smoke from the east

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I've become more circumspect, lately, in my choice of labels for our leaders, past and present. I was going to begin this piece by referring to the regime of Nigeria’s last but one uniformed leader, General Sani Abacha as one of untold tyranny, unequalled dictatorship, unrivalled despotism.

Abacha, however, has been succeeded by some of his former colleagues, out of uniform, supposedly guided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whose actions would diminish the crimes and misdemeanors of the “goggled one.”

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Where an elected leadership presides over an administration denominated by glaring favouritism, circumscribed by astounding nepotism, hallmarked by indefensible sectarianism, unparalleled lawlessness and astounding disregard for the rule of law, it becomes imperative to check for appropriate parallels and parameters to describe the regime. When the actions or inactions of the rulership, challenges the very foundations of national unity, interrogates our security, dilates our communal stability, questions our hitherto fragile cohesion and integration, and impinges on our carefully managed fault lines, we have to be restrained in deploying one-size-fits-all profiling for every dispensation.

At the height of the reign of terror foisted on our land during the regime of Sani Abacha, a few names were unwittingly incorporated into local folklore, on account of their Hitleresque, maybe Aminian enterprise in that regime, unparalleled in the sociopolitical history of Nigeria.

A certain Hamza Al-Mustapha, a Major in the Nigerian Army, who was Chief Security Officer (CSO), to Abacha, reportedly, represented everything that was mischievous, dreaded and fearsome in that administration. His name was indeed a recurring decimal at the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, also known as the “Oputa Panel,” constituted by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999. The initiative to attempt to heal the wounds of the nation’s chequered past, especially the period between 1984 and 1999, when Nigeria was under the rule of four successive military dispensations.

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Al-Mustapha was not a member of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), the highest decision-making organ of that government, nor was he a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). He was not a Military Administrator in any of the states, nor did he head any government department or agency. But the recurrent heckling of the press characterised by malevolent, vicious and violent attacks on media houses; the brutal attempts to rein in pressmen which culminated in the abduction and killing of some journalists; the pursuit and intimidation of real and perceived enemies of the Abacha government including even some government officials, however, implanted the name and visage of Al-Mustapha on the public consciousness.

Those familiar with the reign of Idi Amin Dada, the self-styled Field Marshal who was President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, will readily recall Amin’s hitman, the monster called Isaac Maliyamungu. Maliyamungu’s principal schedule was the brutal suppression, even extermination of enemies of his boss, real and perceived, across the country.

Under Abacha, groupings and associations like the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which was constituted by a broad spectrum of democrats to bring pressure to bear on Abacha to step down for the winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, were constantly harassed and harangued by Abacha’s henchmen. They were so pursued because they held opinions contrary to that of the administration. Al-Mustapha was allegedly the face of that Abacha terror machine, which visited sorrow, tears and blood on hapless Nigerians, to borrow a line from the lyrics of one of the songs of the inimitable Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

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While Al-Mustapha was generally considered the face behind the mask calling the shots from the fortressed comfort of Aso Rock, another name, which assumed national notoriety, was a certain Barnabas Jabila Mshelia, nicknamed Sergeant Rogers. Rogers was said to be Al Mustapha’s man Friday. He stalked the streets of Nigeria, ever baying for the blood of the innocent as a propitiation for the god who sent him on errands, and pretty regularly too.

Memories of the daredevil antics of Lawrence Anini and his second-in-command, Monday Osunbor, who terrorised Benin City, the serial capital of Midwest, Bendel and later Edo State back in 1986, was in the recesses of our collective memory when Rogers rudely reminded us of that unsavoury past. Anini was the prototype Robin Hood, who robbed banks, shot at people, but was curiously benevolent, as he sprayed currency notes on the streets during his getaways. Eleven policemen and nine other lives were lost to Anini and his daredevil acolytes on his deathly enterprise. His driving skills were out of this world, his marksmanship, impeccable. He was a national nuisance whose bloodletting endeavours not only caught the attention of Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s President at the time but virtually cost a sitting Inspector General of Police, Etim Inyang, his job. Ibrahim Gambo Jimeta, who continued the manhunt for the evasive, even elusive Anini, succeeded him.

Shina Rambo, another outlaw who specialised in snatching exotic automobiles on Lagos roads, was the major successor act to Anini in the business of banditry. Rambo, whose real names are Olusegun Adeshina Adisa Kuye, reigned during the early 1990s and is credited with atrocities akin to the exploits of Anini. At the height of his criminal fame and jurisprudence, Rambo reportedly robbed 40 choice cars in Lagos in one single day, and drove in a convoy, with utmost triumphalism, through Nigeria’s borders with the Benin Republic, to his hideout in Nigeria’s Western neighbour. He was alleged to have had a pact with the border police, which made them look the other way, whenever he was at work.

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In those halcyon days during the regime of Sani Abacha, the fear of Sergeant Rogers, a member and chief marksman of the dreaded strike force one of the security contraptions under Al-Mustapha, was the beginning of wisdom. Rogers himself volunteered at the “Oputa Panel,” that he was the officer-in-charge of logistics of the deadly unit and custodian of a broad array of arms and ammunition. He and his comrades in that mortal preoccupation underwent a very special anti-terrorism programme, where they were trained by Israeli instructors.

According to Rogers, the second-in-command in the strike force was a certain Ibrahim Umar, a lieutenant, while Mohammed Abdul, better known by the alias Katako was one of Rogers’ several accomplices on their various missions. Rogers and his colleagues hunted down their preys on the streets of Lagos, in operations reminiscent of scenes in an action movie. If such potential victims holed themselves up in their homes, they were traced, tracked down and hacked down.

The world woke on June 20, 1994, to news of the assassination the previous night, of Muftau Adegoke Babatunde Elegbede, who had held several positions of prominence, under successive military administrations. Elegbede, a Vice Admiral, was murdered in cold blood, along the Gbagada/Oworonshoki expressway in Lagos. His assailants gave him no chance of survival as he was reportedly hit by more than 70 bullets from automatic rifles.

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October 6, 1995, the Ikeja, Lagos residence of elder statesman, Alfred Rewane, was invaded, and the old man was eliminated. Rewane, a very successful businessman, was a major financier of NADECO, the major anti-Abacha pressure group and fingers naturally pointed in the direction of Abacha’s goons. Alex Ibru, a former Minister in the Abacha government, was the next target on February 2, 1996. Ibru who was in charge of internal affairs between 1993 and 1995 in that administration, was yet another Nigerian of note, who was hunted. His newspaper, The Guardian, was perceived as antithetical to the Abacha regime. Indeed, the newspaper was earlier shut down for two months, between August and October of 1994. The car in which Ibru was riding was generously perforated with bullets. Ibru was badly wounded and had to be flown to England for treatment.

Four months later on June 4, 1996, Kudirat Abiola, wife of Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, was mowed down on the streets of Lagos. Kudirat, 44 years of age at the time, was very vociferous about the return of her husband’s presidential mandate, stolen by Abacha, to him. She was also unrelenting in her clamour for his release from incarceration. Olu Onagoruwa, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former minister of justice in the very same Abacha government, lost his son, Oluwatoyin, also a lawyer. Suspected marksmen of that regime, trailed him a week before Christmas in 1996 and shot at him just as he was driving into his father’s home.

This is not forgetting the attempt on the life of elder statesman Abraham Adesanya, on January 14, 1997, shortly after he left his office. About 40 bullets were reportedly expended in that operation on the senior citizen.

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This is not precluding journalists who were either killed by Abacha’s errand boys, like Bagauda Kaltho, or those who were framed up and imprisoned, notably Kunle Ajibade, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Charles-Obi, George Mbah, Onome Osifo-Whiskey and Babafemi Ojudu. Moshood Fayemiwo, the publisher of Razor magazine, was kidnapped in broad daylight in the Benin Republic in February 1997 and kept incommunicado for seven months, till September of that year.

Wole Soyinka, Anthony Enahoro, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and a number of opponents of the Abacha despotism, voted with their feet, while others like Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, sustained pressure on that regime from within.

According to Rogers, the instruction to him and his colleagues from their bosses was that those on the hit list were enemies of Nigeria who wanted to break up the country. Rogers opined during his appearance at the Human Rights Violations Commission hearing, that Jibril Bala Yakubu, an army colonel in the Abacha government, was one of his bosses on the project to dispense with enemies of that milieu. Rogers said they were regularly assured, that they were heroes who were contributing to the sustenance of the oneness and unity of the country and indeed, to national stability.

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Sergeant Habila Barnabas Mshelia, at the last check, is consigned to a wheelchair because of a life-threatening accident he was involved in years back. He is also reported to have become a newborn Christian.

In recent weeks and months, however, there has been something of a resurgence of Rogers-style killings, in parts of the country, with specific reference to the South East. From Imo to Enugu to Anambra, reports of brutal murders in the full view of cities and communities, in broad daylight, have become a recurring decimal, reminding us of those dreaded Abacha days.

Ahmed Gulak, a former adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, was on Sunday, May 30, 2021, shot dead on his way from Owerri the Imo State capital, to catch a flight at the Owerri airport. He was reportedly ambushed around Umueze Obiangwu, in Ngor-Okpala local government area, en route to the airport. Reports indicate Gulak was asked out of his car, questioned about his identity and shot at point-blank range.

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Barely 24 hours after Gulak, a retired High Court, Stanley Nnaji, was double-crossed by gunmen in Enugu, capital of Enugu State and shot dead. He was dragged out of his Mercedes Benz SUV, beside the Enugu Diagnostics Centre right in the Enugu city centre and shot several times. There were insinuations that Nnaji in 2006, gave an order to the Inspector General of Police at the time, Tafa Balogun, to remove Chris Ngige, who was governor of Anambra State at the time, from office.

Chris Uba, a stalwart of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) like Ngige, presented a document signed by Ngige, before the Anambra State gubernatorial polls of 2003, to quit office after the election. Uba had allegedly sponsored Ngige’s election. And he had gotten Ngige to sign to give up the position thereafter. Following Nnaji’s adjudication on the matter, Ngige was forcefully ejected from office.

On July 7, 2021, Sam Ndubuisi, a professor and chief executive officer of Scientific Equipment Development Institute (SEDI), a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, was shot dead again on the streets of Enugu. He was returning from office after work on a fateful day, when gunmen took him out in the most gruesome manner, in an incident, which consumed his police orderly and traumatised his daughter, who was riding with him. The sports utility vehicle he was in, was riddled with bullets. Three days before this incident, Ifeanyi Okeke, Chief Executive Officer-designate of AutoEase Organisation, was murdered in the presence of his seven-year-old son, in the same Enugu.

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Phillip Udala, the billionaire businessman, was on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, murdered across the road from Enugu, in Eke-Agu, Idemili North local government area, of Anambra State. Udala, the youthful proprietor of Udala Football Club, in the state, died in the most bestial manner. The vehicles conveying him, the manager of his club, Godsent Eriobu and three police escorts, were burnt beyond recognition. The South East, suddenly, so sadly suddenly, has metamorphosed into a novel “Wild, Wild East.”

Interestingly, just like Rogers and his affiliates never took a pin from the scenes of the crimes they committed, there have been no reports of theft from any of those that were murdered in recent weeks. Which means the killings were premeditated.

So what could be the motivation?
While the killings masterminded by agents of the Abacha government were overtly political, the reasons for the recent killings in the South East remain a riddle. No arrests have been made by the security agencies thus far, in any of the instances highlighted above, thus for now. There are no leads to any of the murders. The motive for each incident remains a matter of speculation and conjecture in public discourse. Why would anyone in Imo State, want to annihilate an Ahmed Gulak, who hailed from faraway Adamawa State? What offence would a former professor at the Enugu State University of Technology, (ESUT), Samuel Ndubuisi, Managing Director of an innocuous agency under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, have committed against anyone, from his otherwise obscure parastatal? Why would Phillip Udala, a young entrepreneur who was reinvesting into his home base, having established a football club among other investments, be so unimaginably barbecued on a sunny afternoon in his own state?

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The security conundrum in the South East at this time requires the most imaginative of investigative skills from our security agencies. That these killings occur in the full glare of people in built-up parts of the various states which are usually better policed than other areas, is a matter for serious interrogation. What happened to the intra-city and inter-state patrols by the police? What has become of information sharing between security operatives, between local governments, and between states? Is it that states in the South East and elsewhere in the country are understaffed? Is it a question of inadequacy of vehicles or equipment? Is it a matter of lack of motivation? Is the police in short supply of quality manpower in the mould of Abba Kyari, the super-cop with the feared reputation of an effective crime buster? Is the police high command identifying and grooming young crime fighters within its ranks to take up the challenge of delivering perspicacious and efficient police to address the dynamics of our security conundrum. The trend we have witnessed especially from the South East in recent times must not be allowed to persist.

Answers to some of these posers may lie in the patronising attention the Federal Government has accorded the police, over the years. A copy of the 2021 Supplementary Budget recently submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, for instance, clearly demonstrates how grossly underfunded the Nigeria Police is. Whereas the supplementary request seeks N239 billion for the Nigeria Air Force, the Ministry of Police Affairs is to get N8.5 billion. Police Formations and Command are to receive N22.5 billion. Put together, both the Police Affairs Ministry and the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, are to get a total of N31 billion. The Army according to the same document, is to receive N207 billion, while the Nigerian Navy will get N157 billion.

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With this manner of miserly, measly and condescending fiscal provision to the Police, the force cannot conjure magic or miracles in crime prevention and fighting. Yet, we must place on record, that much as they are not acknowledged, police personnel from various units in the Force, notably the “Counter Terrorism Unit” (CTU) and the “Mobile Police Force,” popularly known as Mopol, are also on the frontlines, augmenting the efforts of the military. This should recommend the Police Force, for commensurate funding and encouragement, as the military Services.

As of January 2018, the personnel strength of the Force was over 300,000. There were 12 zones; 37 state commands including the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT); 128 area commands; 1,388 divisional commands; 1,579 police stations and 3,756 police posts. Three years down the line, these figures have skyrocketed with at least half a dozen more zonal commands joining the statistics. The number of vehicles in the fleet of the Police as of 2018, was 11,191, while the Force also had 3,115 motorcycles. They need to be fuelled and maintained.

A senior police officer once recalled his altercation with a Commissioner of Police (CP), who was his immediate superior, over operational matters. The said officer had advised the CP, that managing the territory under their jurisdiction, will be improved, if broken down vehicles in the command were repaired and overhauled, to facilitate the operational mobility of the police personnel, under their command. Some of the automobiles simply required tyres, fuel pumps, radiators and similar minor components. He also suggested that the daily allowances of men on surveillance and patrol duties should be paid to boost the morale of the men.

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To the chagrin of this officer who was a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), at the time, the CP countered and said: “My primary obligation here is to Force Headquarters. And they know what I’m doing here.” The DCP backed down and even sought a transfer from that command to forestall further clashes with his boss. But the CP covertly confirmed suspicions in the public domain, about untoward practices in the Force, which constitute a major clog in the wheels of efficiency in the Service.

It should come to us all as a surprise, that senior police officers promoted to the ranks of Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and Commissioner of Police (CP), in the last year, have no official vehicles. Many of such officers ride to work in their personal cars, while some of them heading zones and state commands, simply commandeer police pick-up vans and convert to official use. There are indications that following the appointment of the incumbent Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Alkali Baba, orders might have been placed for vehicles of various categories for allocation to senior officers, to enhance their productivity.

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Former police IGP, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris told members of the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs at a meeting with the parliamentarians in January 2018, that the Force will need to be infused with a minimum of N1trillion per year, over a period of time to enable it to deliver on its core mandate of securing lives and property.

The minimum expectation of Nigerians is that its police and sister security services should ensure that people can sleep with two eyes closed, go to work and return home safe, drive leisurely to visit family and friends and be able to return home in one piece. They should be able to shop, stop and have a drink or buy a snack, and return safe and sound to their abodes. They should be able to go to their farms without being molested by herdsmen and their cattle rummaging through their farmsteads, even while they are at the mercy of the gun-wielding marauders. They should be able to drive to the next town or community, without the fear of encountering bandits or becoming objects of Ransome bargain in the hands of unscrupulous kidnappers.

Olusunle, PhD, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

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