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Apprehension over insecurity as yuletide beckons

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[files] A police officer wears face mask customised for the anti-robbery Rapid Respond Squad (RRS). (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

There is palpable fear in Nigerian communities over growing insecurity as yuletide beckons. With barely six weeks before the world bids farewell to 2020, many Nigerians are eager to wrap up the year on a good note.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the lockdown that ensued had disrupted their plans for the year. So, with the full re-opening of the economy, they see this last lap of the year as an opportunity to recover lost grounds. But they come out on a daily basis to meet a chaotic atmosphere as they go about their legitimate businesses.

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The recent #EndSARS protest that later turned violent seems to have aggravated the hitherto precarious security situation in the country. With as many as 22 policemen gruesomely killed and 26 others injured during the mayhem, according to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, operatives of the force have not been very assertive in the discharge of their duties.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has a history of an increase in the crime rate during the yuletide. To make matters worse, the hoodlums that broke into police stations during the #EndSARS mayhem also carted away arms and ammunition before eventually razing them to the ground. Armed men also took advantage of the protest to break into two Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) facilities in Edo and Ondo states, where a total of 2,051 inmates were reported to have escaped.  

Thus, many law-abiding Nigerians fear that criminals had already polluted society. They also fear that hoodlums could turn the arms they stole from the police stations on them unless the police reclaim the public space and begin to enforce law and order properly. Already, many states in the country have started recording an increase in various crimes such as armed robbery, car snatching, traffic robbery, and burglary, among others.

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Last Thursday for instance, gunmen suspected to be armed robbers attacked a bullion van in Ajah area of Lagos State and made away with millions of naira. The attack lasted for as long as it took the robbers to accomplish their mission, as there was no intervention from the police.

Eyewitnesses that captured the incident on camera said the robbers rained bullets on the bullion van to unlock it before carting away the money. One person was killed in the attack, which occurred at about 3:30 pm, at the premises of Blenco Supermarket on Ado Road, Ajah.

Many residents of the state told The Guardian they have started adopting extra measures to protect themselves from criminals even as others urged the police to rise to the occasion.

“As it is, the crime rate is already on the high side; cultists and robbers are everywhere terrorising communities. For me, I don’t really have any plan other than to be cautious. I’m not even planning to travel this year to avoid being robbed or kidnapped because most December travels are always full of such stories. That was even when security operatives were fully at service not to talk of now. It will be worse this time around,” said Gilbert Nwafor, a resident of the Ilasamaja area of the state.

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Mr. Kelechi Ogbonna, a resident in Ilamoshe Estate, said: “Insecurity has become the order of the day as we hear stories of robbery here and there. If the situation is this bad, I can’t help but wonder what would happen during the yuletide. I just hope that before December comes, all the security agencies would have been fully back to duty to keep citizens safe.”

Another resident of the area, Fumi Adetona, said people now get indoors as early as 9:00 pm, as against 11:30 pm when most shop owners usually closed.

“In fact, before 9:00 pm now, the area becomes so quiet and lonely; everyone has become extra security conscious. Only recently, vandals looted over 10 cars in the area and up till now, the perpetrators have not been arrested. When the issue was reported to the police, it was not handled with any form of seriousness or urgency. Without saying it out, their countenance suggested that they are no longer interested in the security of the people. This has made everyone in this area tensed.”

Also, Ayomide Habeeb, who resides in Igando area, lamented that the security atmosphere there is alarming.

“There is no police officer in sight; some people are even thinking of hiring private security guards to protect their homes. Many people are afraid of what would happen during yuletide. I want to use this opportunity to beg the police to come back to their duty posts; there is fear in the land due to their absence,” he noted.

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For Azeez Abiodun, a resident in Isolo area of the state, people should take charge of their personal security.

“Security starts from oneself especially with the very little presence of our security forces presently. Everyone needs to be cautious. The crime rate has been high lately, as many will do anything to celebrate the season,” he said.

A resident in Ajao Estate, Mrs. Stella Akudo, is, however, optimistic that the security situation would improve before yuletide sets in fully. She said:

“I don’t have any fear. Police are back on the road, though not in full capacity, I believe before December, they would have reinforced. Right now, there are no security challenges in my area because we have local security personnel guarding the area. However, they cannot be compared to the Police Force, which is why I am hopeful that before yuletide proper, the police would have re-strategised and come back to work in full capacity.”

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In the face of the prevailing security situation in the state, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu has, however, reiterated the readiness of the Command to ensure adequate security.

Speaking recently, Odumosu warned social miscreants and criminal elements to turn a new leaf or face the full weight of the law, saying the Command would not tolerate any form of lawlessness.

In other states where The Guardian was able to gauge the security situation, residents also expressed fears over rising insecurity. But the police insisted that there was no cause for alarm. The reports below present a picture of what obtains in those states’ security-wise and police’s response to the situation.

We Are Ready To Deal With Criminals, Say Plateau Police
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

The #EndSARS protest has left Plateau State sitting on a time bomb because even before the protest, the state had witnessed crises ranging from herdsmen/farmers clashes, robberies, kidnapping, and cult clashes that led to the loss of many lives and property.

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Before the #EndSARS protest, the ‘stop and search’ teams of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) were stationed on major routes in the state. Personnel of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) were also on the roads to check reckless driving, overloading, and non-licenced drivers.

But after the protest, observations show that these law enforcement agencies have virtually left the roads, leaving residents to their fate. As a result, the state has been recording increased cases of crime such as car snatching, kidnapping, and robbery at Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points. 

A resident in Salisu Adamu Street, along Bauchi Road, Jos, Dr. Aminu Sale, described the near absence of security agents in his area as unfortunate, saying it could negatively impact this year’s Christmas and New Year festivities.

He recalled that a few days ago, a cult group at Kutare Line in Jos North clashed with a rival group at Yan Tippa, also in Jos North. The clash, he said, resulted in the destruction of vehicles while many unsuspecting residents were injured.

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According to him, the group resurfaced because of the absence of security operatives from the streets. “If this continues like this, residents in Bauchi Road will be living on a time bomb during this Christmas season,” he warned.

Another resident, who pleaded anonymity, also said: “We need heavy security presence as yuletide is approaching to protect the lives and property of citizens, but there is nothing like that; it is quite unfortunate. The danger here is that any slightest provocation, either in the markets, football viewing centres or beer parlours, could easily take religious colouration and result in violence.”

Speaking on the situation, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Ubah Gabriel Ogaba, said the Command is making adequate security preparations to ensure hitch-free Christmas and New Year celebrations in the state.

He stressed that the #EndSARS protest did not dampen the morale of the police as being insinuated by members of the public, saying that operatives of the force were on top of the situation.

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Ogaba warned criminals and trouble makers to steer clear of the state, adding that they would meet their waterloo if they choose to test the strength of the police. 

December 18 Council Polls Heightens Security Concerns In Abia
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia 
DESPITE fears by Abia State residents that the security challenges thrown up by the recent #EndSARS protest could linger on and consequently mar this year’s Christmas and New Year season, the state Police Command has declared that it would do the needful to protect lives and property before, during and after the period. 

This assurance notwithstanding, a petty trader in Umuahia, Mrs Angela Kene, told The Guardian that she was worried over increasing cases of bag snatching by criminals who disguise as commercial tricycle operators. 

According to her, the criminals always operate in the evenings when residents are rushing to their homes after the day’s activities. 

Other residents who spoke on the matter blamed the development on the ‘withdrawal’ of security agents from the roads and checkpoints after the #EndSARS protest, saying the situation does not guarantee security but rather amplifies the people’s fear.

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An activist, Bob Ogbo, urged the police to return to the roads to safeguard lives and property.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Geoffrey Ogbonna, however, insisted that the Command has all the human and material resources needed to ensure the safety of lives and property during this year’s yuletide.

But he noted that the local council poll slated for December 18, has added to their task to secure the state during the festive period.

He urged parents and guardians to caution their children and wards against being used by politicians for thuggery during the campaigns and on Election Day.

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He also urged residents to be conscious of their environment and report all suspicious activities and movements to the police promptly.

According to the PPRO, the police have strived to sustain relative peace in the state after the #EndSARS protest, adding that the replacement of their operations vehicles destroyed during the protest would improve their capacity. 

He urged travellers to board vehicles only at officially designed motor parks, even as he advised those traveling in their private vehicles to ensure that the vehicles are roadworthy so as to avoid possible breakdowns on the way that could expose them to criminals.

He also charged drivers to obey all traffic regulations, avoid over speeding, and not drive after drinking.

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Imo Residents Beg Policemen To Return
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

AS usually witnessed before the Christmas festivities, residents of some parts of Imo State have started complaining of pockets of crime. The Guardian gathered that armed and unarmed robbery cases have been on the rise both at homes and on the roads lately.

It was also observed that police presence on the roads was less unlike before the #EndSARS protest. One could drive a long distance without seeing any policeman or police checkpoint.

Hoodlums took advantage of the recent protest to burn down some police stations in the state. There were cases of killing of soldiers and policemen in the state during the protest, which could be the reason security agents, were yet to fully return to duty.

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Many Imo residents who expressed worries over the development, appealed to the Commissioner of Police, Isaac Akinmoyede, to deploy his men to the streets.

“Policemen are important to us; we need them to secure us. As it stands now, they are not found at public places to guard Imo people. I am using this opportunity to appeal to the Commissioner of Police to deploy his officers to guard us. Christmas is around the corner. We need them to beef up security,” said Chinonso Uba.

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Orlando Ikeokwu, however, said the Command was strategising to beef up security ahead of the festive season.

He promised to unfold the strategies as soon as they are fully developed, adding that the Commissioner of Police was working round the clock to ensure that the people enjoy optimum security during the yuletide.

Police To C’River Residents: We Are Under Oath To Protect You
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

NORMALCY has finally returned to Cross River State after hoodlums hijacked the #EndSARS protest and engaged in looting and burning of private and government properties in the state. Policemen could be seen at strategic points doing their stop and search operations while some were on patrol. Traffic wardens were also seen controlling traffics at busy junctions within the Calabar metropolis.

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However, some residents are not convinced that the police have fully returned to work given the high rate of crime in the state. They blamed the development on the #EndSARS demonstrators and their parents, who encouraged them.

A businessman in the state, Mr. Martin Anyafulu, said everyone would have to be responsible for securing himself/herself until the police overcome the fear of being the target of hoodlums.

Anyafulu, who said he was against the #EndSARS protest right from the onset, added: “They were doing their duty and we said stop SARS. If they are brutal, why not take your protest to lawmakers and wait for a reply? The whole thing was barbaric.

“Now, we have taken security into our hands. We should be in charge of our own security. Let us resort to guarding ourselves until the phobia in the police will give way until they come back.

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“If you are a policeman and they burn down your station and chase you out of the barrack, will you go back to the same place? With what we are seeing now, many policemen will resign if care is not taken.

“If we are crying that law and order have broken down, let us also protest against those who have broken down the law and order. We have our security in our hands. When it happened, we were laughing at the government. Now it has happened and dawned on all of us. Let us face it.”

A civil servant, Temple Tandu, was also of the opinion that security should be everyone’s business now, noting that cultism and kidnapping have become the order of the day.

“Before now, were the police really doing their work? I believe security starts with me. During the festive season, I watch where I go; I watch the type of things I do. I make myself to become security conscious because corruption will not allow the police to do their work; all they do is collect N100 from drivers. Once you give them, they allow you to go even if you are carrying ammunitions in your car. So are we really secured by the police? We are not.

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“Now look at what is happening in the state. Cultism has taken over everywhere and we have the police force. So, I will advise that we should be security conscious with or without the presence of the police,” he added.

Speaking with The Guardian, the State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Irene Ugbo, said despite threats of another attack on the state, the police have returned to their different divisions.

She said the police were ready to secure lives and property during the Christmas and New Year seasons.

Ugbo explained: “You can see that for now the state is calm, all because of the measures and plans that the Commissioner of Police has put on the ground since the #EndSARS crisis ended. We have been trying our best. There have been several threats from different angles to attack the state again but the Commissioner of Police is very proactive; he has been putting his best. We have been using the tactical team we have.

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“The state government has promised to give us vehicles to reach the nooks and crannies of the state effectively and we pray they do that soon. When we have vehicles at every strategic place, if criminals see them, they will be afraid to operate. So, we are hoping and praying that the promise will come to pass.

“For the ember months, we are so much ready. The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) has said that our men should go back to work and we have done that. Our men are all over the place and our Divisions are widely open. This is a job we are called to do. We took an oath; no matter the situation, we are always ready. So, we are ready and all men are on the ground.”

Crime Rate Rises As Police Disappear In Yenagoa, Other Bayelsa Towns
From Julius Osahon, Yenagoa

THE absence of police personnel and other security operatives in critical areas and major routes in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, and other towns in the state has made the residents vulnerable to attacks by criminals.

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Findings by The Guardian showed that armed robbery and cult-related violence were on the rise in some parts of Yenagoa and its environs, following the ‘disappearance’ of policemen from the roads.

There was no security presence in most of the streets and roads visited, as operatives of the police, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigerian Army, and the Nigerian Navy were not sighted. Personnel of the state-owned security outfit known as Door Akpor was also not on the streets of Yenagoa.

As a result, criminals have been having a field day on residents. Recently, cult groups engaged in violent raids of popular Swali markets, Amarata, Tombia, and Ekeki areas. Armed robbers using commercial tricycle known popularly known as Keke NAPEP also raid residents at night along major roads in the state capital.

The Guardian’s reporter in the state almost fell prey to the rampaging criminals about 8:00 pm last Thursday along the Azikoro road, near the Ekeki Police station.

“The incident was opposite the popular Unique Bar, and one of the girls standing on the roadside was robbed of her phone. They were operating in a Keke and were armed,” he recalled.

Reacting to the development, the spokesperson of the Bayelsa Police Command, Asinim Butswat, denied the absence of policemen from the roads, saying the Command has strategically stationed patrol teams at various locations in Yenagoa metropolis for quick response to distress calls.

He said: “We commend Bayelsans for the maturity exhibited during the EndSARS protest as the Command did not witness any riotous protest. The Command will intensify patrols and surveillance to address the current security situation in Yenagoa and its environs.”

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