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Security concerns mount ahead Christmas, New Year festivities

It is four days to Christmas celebration when Christians all over the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians in Nigeria usually celebrate it with pomp. Apart from trooping to their respective churches to worship the Lord, most Christian homes embellish the day with special dishes....

Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

…No Cause For Alarm, Say Police

It is four days to Christmas celebration when Christians all over the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians in Nigeria usually celebrate it with pomp. Apart from trooping to their respective churches to worship the Lord, most Christian homes embellish the day with special dishes that will be enjoyed by family and friends. Christian scholars say it is a season of love, and preach sacrificial giving, love and peace during the period. But there are those who see the season as an opportunity to perpetrate iniquities, hence the usual rise in crimes such as pickpocketing, armed robbery, kidnapping and brazen attack on worshippers by bandits during yuletide.

As a result, there is apprehension in the air across the country presently on the safety of worshippers and travelers during this Christmas period. But the police and other security agencies are assuring that they have mapped out strategies to ensure a crime free Christmas. The reports below showcase the people’s concerns across the states and how the security agencies intend to address them.

Cross River: Cult Killings, Robbery, Kidnapping Worry Cross Residents
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

With Christmas and New Year around the corner, insecurity in Cross River is increasing on a daily basis. Killings and beheadings by suspected cultists are on the high side. Also, kidnapping, robbery attacks on shops and supermarkets in broad daylight are also increasing by the day. Residents in Calabar South and Calabar Municipality local councils appear to be the worst hit.

Speaking on the insecurity and its likely effect on Christmas and New Year celebrations, a lawyer and educationist, Mr. Timothy Esu, blamed the killings on the law enforcement agencies in the state, saying they had failed to secure the lives and property of citizens. Esu said: “Given the recent cult wars, suspected ritual killings, kidnappings and what have you, it doesn’t seem like the law enforcement agencies are doing much, which is why the culprits are having a field day in the city and the state generally.

“I also think that these security agencies might be having some constraints, which could be why they have not been forthcoming. So, I believe the state’s chief security officer, which is the governor himself, can do well by calling for a security meeting in order to ensure that security is at the peak throughout the yuletide season.

“In spite of the security challenges, people will, definitely, want to go out and have fun. People will be travelling in and out of the state. But I think the safety of lives calls for concern this yuletide season.”In the same vain, a resident, Cobski Cobham, also blamed the security agencies for not doing enough to secure lives and property of the people.

“There are a lot of concerns about the insecurity we are facing in the state. There are a lot of killings and kidnappings going on in the state. Police are not helping matters. I will say they have made the masses to stop trusting them,” Cobham said. Cobham added: “Another issue is that the epileptic power supply has added to insecurity in the state. When there is no light at night, that is when hoodlums’ activities take place but when the city is bright and you can see every movement, the level of insecurity is reduced.”

Meanwhile, the State Police Command has assured residents that it was poised to curtail the activities of the criminal elements in the state so that residents could have crime free Christmas and New Year celebrations.While condemning the cult wars ravaging Calabar city, the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Irene Ugbo, said the Command was putting modalities in place to confront the cultists.“The new Commissioner of Police is ever ready and as we set out, we feel there is need for us to beef up security in the state. So, we are well prepared by the grace of God.

“As at last week, some kidnappers and armed robbers were paraded and we are well prepared with 24 hours security patrol. We have challenges but it is not going to be an excuse. We are made to serve, to secure lives and property, which we are doing. By the grace of God, the Christmas and New Year celebrations are going to be successful ones,” Ugbo said. He called for useful and timely information from members of the public to the police towards curbing crime in the state, saying: “Timely information is all we need; it is enough for us to do our job effectively. Some people who want to give out information are scared for reasons I don’t know. But the security agencies had a meeting last week in respect of the yuletide season and we have given out our operational numbers that you can call and we will respond to you instantly. Our men are always on ground. The anti-kidnapping, CID, surveillance and other units of the Command are all on ground. We assure you that by the grace of God, not by our power, we are going to do our best.”

Police Douse Fears Of Ogun Residents, Pledge ‘Robust’ Security
From Charles Coffie Gyamfi, Abeokuta

In Ogun State, majority of the residents that spoke with The Guardian said that criminal activities heighten in the state during Christmas and New Year periods, adding that in anticipation, they have started to take their personal security seriously.

A civil servant, Kayode Idris said: “Are you telling me I should wait till Christmas and new year periods before I become mindful of my personal security. That might be too late. Whether I am driving on the road, in the house or in the office, I take measures to ensure my safety.”On his part, Dada Ajayi said even though he had always paid attention to his personal security, he has taken extra measures to ensure he celebrates Christmas and New Year peacefully.

Such measures, he revealed, included not staying late outside his home and also ensuring that he does not use the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in the night.Mrs Ronke Gamu also said he has become extra cautious as Christmas and New Year periods approach.Meanwhile, the State Police Command has urged residents not to be apprehensive, saying they would ensure adequate security during and after Christmas and New Year periods.A statement by the Command’s spokesman, Abimbola Oyeyemi, in Abeokuta, the state capital, revealed that the Command has put in place a “robust” security arrangement to ensure that residents celebrate the season peacefully.

“In view of this, large scale and elaborate tactical as well as covert policemen have been strategically deployed by the Commissioner of Police, Kenneth Ebrimson across the length and breadth of the state with a clear mandate of ensuring crime free Christmas and New Year celebrations,” Oyeyemi said.He added: “Men of special units such as SARS, PMF, Tactical Response and Intelligence Unit; Anti-Kidnapping and Cultism Units have also been deployed to nip in the bud any violent crime that may want to rear its ugly head.  Twenty-four-hour surveillance patrols have also been ordered around the various worship as well as event and recreation centres across the state.”

Oyeyemi asked members of the public to report any suspicious movement of either individuals or groups to the police as soon as they notice such.In a similar development, the State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE) has commenced operation “DRIVE TO STAY ALIVE” on Ogun traffic corridor with the deployment of 575 operatives, 25 patrol vehicles and 20 tow trucks to cover the state before, during and after the yuletide season.

According to a statement by the Corps Commander, Seni Ogunyemi, the operation, which commenced penultimate Friday would last till January 13, 2020.Ogunyemi said: “The Special Operation would also involve all road users through the TRACE Traffic Whistle Blower Initiative, TRACE Emergency Traffic Service, TRACE Community Based Traffic Management Scheme and the TRACE MAYORS.

“Christmas and New Year celebrations come with attendant traffic challenges as a result of increased human and vehicular movement, over speeding, drunk driving, non-use of seat belt and crash helmets by motorcyclists, as well as other over bearing attitude of motorists, hence the need for a corresponding increase in road traffic policing to ensure the safety of the general public, particularly the motoring public.”

Imo Police Command Bans Use Of Fireworks To Avert Outbreaks
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

As part of measures to ensure the security of Imo residents throughout the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the State Police Command has banned the sale and use of all forms of fireworks and explosives across the state. The directive was contained in a statement in Owerri by the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Orlando Godson Ikeokwu, last Tuesday on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Ladodo.

Ikeokwu also told The Guardian that preparations were in top gear by the joint security operatives in the state, known as Operation Iron Gates, to ensure security of citizens during the celebrations. He warned criminals in the state to have a rethink and change or leave the state, saying they would meet their waterloo should they choose to test the strength and preparedness of security agents to guarantee a hitch-free Christmas.

“The Imo State Police Command wishes to remind the general that the ban on sales, possession or discharge of explosives of any kind is still in force. The unwholesome practice where people indulge in the use of fireworks such as knockout bangers and other explosives especially during the yuletide period does not only constitute threat of fire outbreak but could cause distraction and panic that may constitute threats to security and thereby enable hoodlums to perpetuate their criminal acts.

“Parents and guardians are by this press release advised to educate their children/wards on the ugly consequences of such acts. Any person(s) found selling, possessing or discharging fireworks of any kind in the state will be arrested and made to face the full wrath of the law,” the statement said. Also the authorities of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in the state have assured motorists and commuters of smooth journey to their various destinations, saying they would be on the roads to ensure compliance to road traffic rules.

The Sector Commander, FRSC, Imo State Command, Francis Udoma, disclosed that 479 officials would be deployed in various areas to control traffic, adding that mobile courts has been set up to try erring motorists. Udoma also urged motorists to update their driver’s licences.Some residents who fielded questions from The Guardian urged enhanced security by the security operatives to ensure peaceful celebrations. “For me, I want to sleep and have my two eyes closed. This is important. Security operatives should guarantee us that,” said Joy Ugwu.

Free Rides Could Be Criminals’ Bait, Police Warn
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia 

Abia State Police Command has stated that based on the measures already put in place and some achievements recorded by the Command in crime fighting in recent times, the state would witness very peaceful yuletide and new year celebrations.

The Commissioner of Police, Ene Okon, told The Guardian that the Command has the gift of peaceful celebrations for the residents.He said: “We have done everything humanly possible to effect this. We have not only put in place strategic measures to ensure this but keep developing new ones as new situations unfold.” He recalled that the recent bursting of car, phone and bag snatching syndicates and the killing of the wanted, notorious criminal, Mr Sampson Nwokocha, alias Grave, were big reliefs that would make residents to sleep with their two eyes closed.He, however, urged residents in the state to avoid night traveling, boarding vehicles outside officially designated parks and accepting free rides.

On the issue of checkpoints, he said the police has stop and search points, adding that vehicular patrol teams that operate 24 hours daily had also been increased to four.When The Guardian interacted with some residents including market men and women, they corroborated one another’s apprehension about pickpockets, tricycle robbers and bags snatchers.

Recall that the state Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, recently established Ministry of Homeland Security, which is charged with ensuring internal security in the state. 
The ministry, which has Prince Dan Okoli as Commissioner, was yet to unfold its operational modalities. But it runs jingles on the state radio and television stations, urging criminals to relocate from the state or risk being apprehended and prosecuted.

Military Task Force, Police Move To Sustain Prevailing Peace In Plateau
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

The special task force known as Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) deployed to Plateau State to keep the peace has told residents to go about their normal businesses before, during and after Christmas and New Year festivities.Commander of OPSH, Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu gave the assurance while speaking with The Guardian in an interview.Agundu said that the personnel of the OPSH in collaboration with other security personnel in the state were working hard to consolidate the prevailing peace in the state, adding that they were working towards restoring total peace where everybody would be his brother’s keeper irrespective of ethnicity, religion or tribe.

Observations showed that security personnel had been stationed in strategic locations across the state. Agundu appreciated the personnel for their sacrifices for fatherland and also residents for cooperating with all the security agencies keeping the peace in the state.“I want to sincerely appreciate each and every soldier of this command for the enormous sacrifice they have been offering in the course of discharging their duties most often under difficult circumstances.

“In the midst of all challenges, we are able to stand tall to ensure that peace and tranquility reign within our areas of operation and collectively the entire theatre of operation,” he said. He stressed that the security agencies were ever ready to address issues of insecurity in the state. He solicited the cooperation of citizens through the provision of useful information to security agents, adding that there was a great desire among the operatives to entrench enduring peace on the Plateau.

Agundu added: “Whatever we are doing here on the Plateau, it is our professional competence and the mandate that has been given to us by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Gabriel Abayomi Olonisakin and by extension, all the service chiefs. They have given us that mandate.“We must contribute our quota professionally to ensure that the ordinary citizens of this state in particular must be able to go about their lawful duties in peace and tranquility. I want to appreciate all the personnel of the police, Civil Defence Corps, Correctional Service, Immigration and all other security agencies that are part of this Command.”He told The Guardian that their job was to make sure that those who had decided to take the path of violence were corrected.

“It is not punitive in nature. If we can make them have a change of heart to toe the path of law and order, I think it will be to the betterment of this state and the entire country,” Agundu noted. He said the manipulation of the youth was at the centre of the problems being witnessed in the state, adding that some of them were ignorant and naïve of what they were doing.

According to him, as part of the preparations to ensure a hitch-free Christmas celebration, they initiated a lot of programmes to win people to their side so people could come to Plateau for the yuletide.“You are witnesses to what is happening today. The society is bubbling once again. We are re-inventing ourselves. People traverse the nook and cranny of the city without any form of threat and harassment. So, we are building on it. And I believe that the season is going to be quite celebrated.

“And by the way, there are no hotel accommodations again because all the reservations have been fully booked. It is a sign that the society is bubbling again. It is not yet Uhuru, but we still have a lot of work to do to encourage everybody to respect one another and forgive one another and show tolerance.“But those who preach hate, I don’t know what they are out to gain. We will make sure we get them out of business. There are those who profiteer from the vagaries of the times and they want to continue to live on the pains of innocent persons. It is not going to happen any longer. Christmas and New Year will be celebrated peacefully by the grace of God,” Agundu said.

Also, the Police State Command hinted about the deployment of a large number of its operatives to ensure a peaceful celebration, urging all and sundry to report any threat to lives and property to the police or any nearby security agency. However, residents told The Guardian that they were apprehensive despite the fact that there were no signs of any threat to peace yet.

Enugu Residents Adopt Special Security Measures As Petty Thieves Flood City
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

Preparations for the yuletide season are gradually getting to their crescendo in Enugu State. What appeared like a lull in activities and businesses in the state has given way for the usual pleasantry “unu ga-ana?” (Will you be traveling?) The roads are saturated with cars. There are human and vehicular traffics in almost every nook and cranny of the city centre. The markets are crowded and traders, especially those dealing on household items, continue with their activities even after the normal market hours.The motor parks are not left out.  Some residents who waited for the schools to close formerly for the term are moving in their numbers with their family members.

However, amid these bustling are pockets of crimes being committed here and there.  So, while the roads are getting busier, some men of the underworld are really causing pains on others by dispossessing them.Mrs Joy Okeke, a trader at the Ogbete Main Market, narrated to The Guardian how a pregnant woman she tried to assist ended up stealing her purse containing over N50, 000 she realised from the day’s sales.

The crayfish dealer said: “On citing the woman as she walked as if she will deliver now, I felt she needed to rest and asked her into my shop. I was busy attending to customers outside not knowing that she had spotted the purse where I hid it and removed all the money inside. I came inside and she told me she would like to go, that she called someone who was already waiting. I was happy and wished her well and she left. Few minutes later, something struck my mind and I rushed to where the purse was only to meet it empty. I raised an alarm but nobody could trace her whereabouts.”

What is now common in the state is the ease with which marauders steal car batteries from vehicles parked along the streets especially at night. There are also other marauders who walk about in the day, tampering with parked vehicles and looking for valuables to steal. Meanwhile, inside the major markets, wheelbarrow pushers ‘disappear’ with goods and purchases they are meant to drop for the owner at the car parks.

In order to beat the rising trends, residents have ensured that most street gates are closed as early as 7:00p.m and reopened from 6:00a.m. Residents are also hiring vigilante security men to watch over their streets at night.A shop owner along Edinburgh road, who identified himself simply as Ikechukwu, said he has engaged a private security firm that would send its workers to oversee his premises from next Monday when he would close for the year.

“I think with them, I am sure that I will still have something to do when I return next year. I am travelling with my family on December 25. I will spend at least two weeks in the village because of several engagements that we have. So, what it means is that this business will not reopen until I return. I had in the past engaged private security men to look after here. I don’t rely on the vigilante or police,” he stated.

Another resident, James, said that he has decided to be cautious ahead of the celebrations, noting, “it is not only criminals that cause some nightmare.”He explained: “If you look at the streets, you will see that some of these youths are beginning to gather disused tyres which they will burn as a sign of end of the year. I have ensured that none is found within my residence so that I don’t fall into what I know nothing about. We keep hearing announcements that people should not burn tyres and throw fireworks, yet daily we see them do it openly and nothing happens. So this is one area I have decided to work on to ensure that they don’t throw these things around us.”

The State Police Command has, however, assured that they would continue to provide security to all and sundry to ensure that the festivities go smoothly. A few days ago, the Command issued a statement urging youths to desist from throwing inflammable objects around the neighbourhood to avoid fire outbreaks. They also asked those who move about looking for where to steal to beware, stressing that anyone caught would be made to face the law.

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Ebere Amaraizu, stated that the Command had improved vigilance and was working round the clock to protect residents and their property. He also said that emergency security telephone numbers had been released so that residents could contact the police for help and information, and get prompt attention. Amaraizu also said the support of other security agencies in the state would boost plans already laid out by the Command to ensure a peaceful yuletide season. She, therefore, asked residents to go about their lawful duties without fear.

Kebbi Police Tightens Security At Borders
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

Kebbi State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Danjuma Garba, has perfected arrangements to ensure that maximum security of lives and property is guaranteed during the festive seasons. He stated this last Wednesday while fielding questions from newsmen on the Command’s preparations towards ensuring a hitch-free Christmas celebration.

According him, the Command has posted some its operatives to some border areas in order to ensure that criminal elements do not find their way into the state. “I am assuring you that my Command is ready to promote peace and love among the people of the state as Kebbi State is the most peaceful state in the country presently,” he added.Speaking with The Guardian, a resident living in Bardariya area, John Audu, said he would be celebrating his Christmas in Kebbi, commending the efforts of the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu, and the security agencies in maintaining peace in the state.

Travellers Decry Multiple Checkpoints On Highways
By Adetayo Adeowo, Angela Opara, Victoria Nwosu, Adedayo Okusanya and Rita Alaukwu

Drivers and inter-state travellers are divided over the multiplicity of police and military checkpoints on the nation’s highways as Nigerians travel to various destinations for Christmas and New Year festivities.While some of those who spoke with The Guardian said the measure was a good strategy towards ensuring safety and security on the highways, others said the checkpoints were too many and causes vehicles to get snarled up in traffic and thereby paving the way for hoodlums to attack harmless passengers.

They also accused the security personnel manning the checkpoints of extorting mortorists. A driver in a notable transport company plying the Sagamu-Ore-Benin-Asaba-Onitsha highway, who identified himself as Okechukwu Udeaja, lamented that the number of checkpoints on the route was alarming.“I urge the government to reduce it or better still scatter them to different locations,” he said, pointing out that that the robbery rate along the Ore-Okada axis of the road has been very high of late due to the absence of checkpoints in that area.

Another driver, who plies the Lagos-Port Harcourt route, identified the Auda axis as a flash point.“Kidnapping and robbery occurs frequently at this place because there is no checkpoint. But once you pass that area, you will see checkpoints in close range scattered everywhere leaving the areas checkpoints are needed,” the driver said.

Another driver with another transport company also identified Benin By-Pass as flash point and called for the presence of more security personnel along the axis. “Criminal acts on the road is something that have been going on for a long time, but it is more prevalent now at Benin By-Pass. That place is a very risky place and drivers are afraid of the area. I am urging the government to station more policemen in that place, not where people are living in order to guarantee our safety,” he added.Also speaking with The Guardian, a trader, Mrs. Akande Joseph, recalled that she noticed several police roadblocks while travelling to her hometown in Kwara State.

Another traveller, Mr. John Dickson, said: “If you pass Onitsha at around 3:00p.m, traffic gridlock is created by bribe-taking soldiers and policemen and women and it will last till around 10:00pm. No proper vehicle inspection takes place at these roadblocks; all they do is to insult commuters and after all stretch out their hands to collect bribes.” In a chat with The Guardian, Emeka Orji, a 38-year old trader, alleged that the logs used as roadblocks at checkpoints by security agencies during the day are used by kidnappers to waylay travellers at night. He shared his near-death experience on the road during one of his trips.

“I was on my way to Anambra State with my family once and we had to use the night bus. As we approached a checkpoint, it happened that the security personnel had left the checkpoint to probably sleep or take a break, and they left all the roadblocks on the road. Our driver had to really slow down in order to maneuver the obstacles and before I knew what was happening, armed robbers ambushed us.

“Some passengers who tried to resist were injured in the process; some were kidnapped. Till today, I do not know their whereabouts. I thank God for sparing my life although I lost every other valuable item on me, including my phones and laptop.”Despite these misgivings about the high number of checkpoints on the roads, a traveller, Mbakalu Mary, sees nothing wrong with that.

“There are many checkpoints and they have really helped in reducing armed robbery even though the drivers will have to pay some money to the security operatives there,” she said. Also, a driver at Papa Ajao park in Lagos that plies the Lagos to Oyo route, who gave his name as Saheed, said he has no problem tipping security operatives at checkpoints as long their presence enhances his security.

“There are always soldiers and policemen on the road even though we have to pay little money at each checkpoint after we are stopped. So, we also increased the transport fare so that it will be easy for us to settle them.“The case of armed robbery and kidnapping has reduced a lot on the route, may be because of the checkpoints. But some people that travel at night always have encounters with thieves and kidnappers. So, travelling at night is dangerous,” he said.

On her part, a student in a higher institution in Enugu, Amuche Rita, who travels from Lagos to Enugu, doubted the authenticity of security operatives at various checkpoints due to the level of corruption and violence they portray.“I doubt if all checkpoints are genuine because some of the officials only request for money and threaten to harm you if you don’t succumb without even checking if the driver is practicing safety measures like wearing a seatbelt and driving within the speed limit. I believe those are armed robbers as well but because of ignorance and fear, no one ever stands up to them,” she said.