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Aftermath of #EndSARS protests: Policing crippled, insecurity escalates

By Chijioke Iremeka
12 March 2022   |   2:43 am
Since Nigerian youths, under the #EndSARS Movement, took to the streets over a year ago to protest against widespread police brutality against the citizens

Travellers made to trek through a military checkpoint for security reasons in the South East<br />

Since Nigerian youths, under the #EndSARS Movement, took to the streets over a year ago to protest against widespread police brutality against the citizens, and demanded prescription of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) for violating the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, the country has been facing escalating insecurity.

Nigerians are decrying silence by the police and other security operatives as a breakdown of law and order characterised by unchallenged robberies and ritual killings, among other terrible social vices, have become the hallmark of the post-#EndSARS Nigeria.

CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes that the high level of insecurity persists as the impact of another special police unit, the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT), to replace the disbanded SARS is yet to be seen:

NIGERIA has been facing worsening insecurity since the end of the #EndSARS protests in 2020. The situation in the country today is comparable to the post- Civil War era in the early 70s when all manner of crimes were committed against the state and the citizens. The state actors, including security agencies, are seen as paying lip service to security and exhibiting a ‘wait and see attitude to the problem that has sent thousands of Nigerians to their early graves. Some stakeholders believe that the security agencies are deliberately allowing criminals to perpetrate crimes against innocent masses. Unrestrained robberies, ritual killings, kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking, among other criminal acts, are rampant in many parts of the country, making many people wonder if there is still a government in Nigeria and if the police, military, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), among others, are still saddled with the responsibility of securing life and property in the country.
 
A number of Nigerians have also, in their frustration, called on the government to implement a ‘no work, no pay policy in the police force as the personnel seem to have gone into recession since the end of the protests. They accused the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of not ordering the personnel to do the work they are paid for.

 
The stakeholders, who also accused the IGP of keeping mum to make a cheap political statement, described the situation as an organised conspiracy among the security operatives in the country to make Nigerians suffer. Vigilantes who have come to the rescue of the situation are being wasted every day due to the lack of arms and ammunition that can match the sophisticated weapons being used by the criminals.
 
During the #EndSARS protests, the irate youths, in their five-point demand, craved compensation for families of victims of police brutality, the release of arrested protesters and an increase in the salaries and allowances of police officers.
 
The protesters also demanded that an independent body be set up to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to prosecute those indicted. They called for psychological evaluation of operatives of the disbanded SARS before being redeployed into other units.
 
By the way, the SARS, in the context of the Nigeria Police Force, was created in 1992 to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling and firearms, but the special police unit was accused of being infected with the same disease it came to treat.
 
The unit, which was part of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) headed by the then Deputy Inspector General of Police, Anthony Ogbizi, became controversial for alleged link to extrajudicial killings, extortion, torture, frame up, blackmail, kidnapping, illegal organ trade, armed robbery, home invasion, raping of men and women, child arrests, invasion of privacy and pollution of water with illegal disposal of human remains.
 
Owing to these allegations, SARS was investigated severally but the crimes allegedly committed by the operatives did not abate. Reform was promised in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 but none took place until the 2020 #EndSARS protest. The unit was disbanded on October 11, 2020, and replaced with the SWAT team, but the country is yet to feel the impact of the new squad or know its operational mandate as criminal activities are still perpetrated everywhere in the country unchallenged.
 

In Anambra State, the security situation has degenerated to the point that the residents are now being advised to quickly lie down whenever they hear gunshots and listen to discover where the shooting is happening to avoid being killed by stray bullets.
 
The Guardian gathered that the advice was given to students of the School of Basic Midwifery, Mission School, Iyi-Enu, Ogidi in Idemili North Local Government Council of Anambra State where the sound of gunshots has become a recurring decimal.
 
“Yesterday (Sunday), armed robbers came and robbed the POS operators at Afor-Nkpor. You needed to see how we ran and were lying on the floor. We were instructed to lie down before looking for the direction of the gunshots to avoid the stray bullet,” one of the students, Mercy Ijeoma, told The Guardian.   

Just last Friday, five people lost their lives while an unconfirmed number of other people were severely injured when terrorists invaded Manini village, near Kuriga, along Brinin-Gwari- Kaduna Highway and opened fire on the passengers.

 
The Chairman, Birnin-Gwari Vanguards for Security and Good Governance, Alhaji Ibrahim Nagwari, said the terrorists opened fire on motorists along the highway on three occasions. “The terrorists burnt a tanker conveying 33, 000 litres of fuel to Brinin-Gwari at the same Manini killing field. Attack and killing of people in the area happen daily,” he lamented.

The poor security situation in the South East is not abating. Almost daily, the zone records cases of an arson attack on security facilities and the killing of security operatives. Consequently, there is no security operative anywhere in the region to protect anybody. The security personnel themselves are not safe. They appear to have been cowed to submission. They now go to work on mufti and hole themselves in their stations until the close of duty. If you call the security personnel to arrest an emergency situation, you won’t see them.
 
Two weeks ago, gunmen invaded Ebenebe community in Awka North Local Council of Anambra State during a funeral ceremony and opened fire on the mourners, killing over 20 persons. After the killings, the attackers walked away unchallenged. The police confirmed the attack by suspected cultists.

The 34-year-old man whose funeral was being held at the time of the incident was killed on December 30, 2021, also by suspected cultists at Amansea Area in Awka North. The Guardian learnt that it was during the lying-in-state at the residence of the deceased that the suspected cultists arrived at the scene and started shooting sporadically at the mourners.
 
In another community, Ogbunike, in Oyi Local Council of Anambra State, gunmen went to different open bars where people were relaxing and opened fire. From there, they moved to another location. Because they were not challenged, they returned the next day and killed four persons of the same family. Among those killed was a brother to Governor Willie Obiano’s special assistant on security.
 
Cult activities are also being perpetrated in Ogbunike, Ogidi and the surrounding communities. Ogidi is the headquarters of Idemili North Local Council of Anambra State. Human life has become valueless in these communities.

 
In one fell swoop, seven people were murdered, including the manager of a hotel. The police, who acted more like undertakers than crime control officers, gathered the bodies of the victims and deposited them at the Iyi-Enu Mission Hospital morgue in Ogidi.
 
Similarly, gunmen repeatedly invaded Ekwulobia and Oko communities in Aguata and Orumba north local councils of Anambra State recently, killing 12 people. A few other people were kidnapped while some lucky ones escaped.
 
The killings in Aguata and Orumba came on the heels of the killing of a professor of Economics and former permanent secretary in the old Anambra State, I.O. Onyemelukwe. The 88-year-old First Class graduate was the father of a Canadian scholar and winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2021, Prof. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe. 
 
The gunmen were said to have operated freely for about 30 minutes around 9 pm before leaving the area, abducting two other men.

Also, Kogi State-born Sule Mathew, co-founder of hostutors.com and a First-Class graduate of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), was killed with other passengers on his way to Anambra State for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.
 
On Sunday, September 12, 2021, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Toritseju Jackson, a 23-year-old law graduate from Buckingham University, United Kingdom, came back home for the mandatory national training at the Nigerian Law School was brutally murdered in the premises of Toprank Hotel.
 
Like other young Nigerians who returned to their home country regrettably to meet their death, Toritseju was stabbed several times right in front of the hotel at Wuse Zone 4. The hotel management said it had nothing to do with the brutal attack and killing of the corps member.
 
The Plateau State Police Command also confirmed the murder of a 300-level student of the University of Jos identified as Jennifer Anthony.

 
The student of the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Science of the university was found dead in a hotel with her eyes gouged out and other vital organs missing. Her boyfriend allegedly killed her for money rituals.
 
In February, gunmen killed three policemen at a checkpoint in Ebonyi State. The sad incident happened in front of a police station in Ishielu Local Council. The gunmen opened fire on the officers who were said to have mounted the roadblock. The Police Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the state, Loveth Odah, confirmed the incident. It was a repeat of the Anambra incident, where gunmen killed soldiers at a checkpoint at the Awkuzu Junction along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway.

On Tuesday, 15th of February 2022 at about 11:35 pm, some yet-to-be-identified hoodlums allegedly attacked traders at the New Cattle Market located in Omumauzor, Ukwa West Local Council of Abia State, killing eight persons and some cows. The attack was condemned by northern youths. The state government responded swiftly by mobilising security agencies to the scene that night to secure the lives and properties of the innocent traders. They, however, could not fish out the attackers.

Scary Reality
THIS is the situation in which Nigeria has found itself since the #EndSARS protests across the country and beyond, yet the police and other state actors sit back and play the ‘wait-and-see’ game, allowing the innocent masses to pay with their blood.
 
It was gathered that the #EndSARS protests sent fear down the spines of the police, who are now scared to mount checkpoints or even conduct stop-and-search around the country, especially in the South East where total absence of police has been reported.
 
“If you have any problem with anybody, just settle it amicably as there is no police in this community. A number of cases we have reported to them, waiting for arrest but the police declined. If you like to fight with bottles and kill yourselves here, the police will not come out,” a resident of Nkpor, in Anambra, Vincent Okoye said.
 
Okoye, who is a lecturer in one of the newly established private universities in the state, further said: “Every man is on his own in this country. We don’t keep late nights. Once it’s 8 pm, the roads are deserted. People are killed with ease and robberies are the order of the day.

 
“We are hoping and waiting for the incoming governor, Charles Soludo, to do something when he assumes office. It’s bad. This is not the Nigeria we prayed for. Cult killings everywhere.”
 
Following these happenings, some Nigerians are of the opinion that some youths ignorantly joined forces with the criminals to sent police away from the roads so they (criminals) can freely perpetrate their evils.
 
A security expert, Samuel Muoto, explained the reason for the rising crime rate in the country: “After every war, arms and ammunition are in the hands of the masses, hence some of them who do not have the means of livelihood to sustain their living will use the weapons to perpetrate crimes.
 
“Arms are in the hands of the people who have no reason to be in possession of arms. When the guns are in the wrong hands, they will be used to do a lot of wrong things.”
 

About seven police stations in Benin City were razed to the ground and arms and ammunition were carted away during the #EndSARS protests.
 
“Sadly too, the Benin and Oko Correctional Centers along Sapele road and Airport road were invaded by hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful protests. They set free an estimated 2, 000 inmates and a high percentage of the number is yet to return to the facilities,” Mr. MacHarry, a security analyst at SBM Intelligence said.
 
“Unfortunately things have gotten way worse than they were a year ago, which has made many young Nigerians with talents leave the country and seek a life elsewhere.”
 
A number of people alleged that the security agencies are deliberately tight-lipped in the face of high insecurity in the country, especially in the South East, as a way of getting back at society for earlier attacks on them during the #EndSARS protests.
 
They lamented that over a year after the #EndSARS protests ended, the police are yet to resume duties, especially in Anambra State.
 
“The security agencies are deliberately mute just to get at the masses due to the #EndSARS movement. There are a lot of criminalities in Nigeria. Ritual killings everywhere in the country and robberies unchallenged,” said Kim Egwuoma, a graduate businessman, who is scared and tired of scampering for safety where there is none.
 
“Where is the SWAT that the IGP promised us? Where is it operating from, as I’m yet to see one. This is a top conspiracy to allow the people to cry and yawn for them to come back. But we are not in a hurry to do so. Many reform-seeking Nigerians said not much has changed since the #EndSARS protests.
 
“The real changes and broad structural reform of the force demanded by the protesters remain elusive. SARS was disbanded but the police structure remained firm, and the corruption still thrives unabated.”

When contacted to respond to the allegations and speak on SWAT, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos Police Command, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, neither pick calls put across to him nor return the calls afterwards. He didn’t also respond to the text message sent to his cell phone.
 
However, a security expert and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Security Watch Africa, Patrick Agbambu, who responded to the seeming organised conspiracy among the security operatives, said there was nothing like that. “The problem remains that the police lack capacity to handle violent crimes after SARS was disbanded,” he said.

According to him, it’s taking the police time to readjust to the changes made during the #EndSARS protests, as 14 months are not enough for the Nigeria Police Force to reorganise itself and carry on with its duties.
 
“There is a unit to deal with violent crimes. SARS is just one of them. You also have a Rapid Response Squad (RRS) but when you scrap one unit, it will affect others. The normal police in the barracks cannot do this. These people are trained and retrained on the job,” the expert said.

 
On why there is no presence of SWAT in areas where they are needed in the country, he said: “Not all the normal police officers have the courage and mind to join SWAT. Also, not all the police officers will hear that robbers are out there and will they come out to fight.
 
“That is why when you go there to complain about a robbery or certain crimes, they will not respond to it. When they are called upon, they may not have the capacity to carry out that operation.

“The problem of the SWAT is that of manpower. When we say we do not want these SARS the IGP gave SWAT in replacement and people said they do not want the SARS members in the new SWAT. We expect this situation because the police will not conscript them to join SWAT.
 
“The IGP has called on them to come and join SWAT but many of them do not have the morale to do so. The IGP and commissioners will not go to war to fight the criminals. So, a few people that came out were trained and deployed. But they are not enough to be distributed to the areas where they are needed. Until the police get it right, we will continue to live with it.”

Another security expert and the Managing Director, Beacon Consulting Limited, Dr. Kabiru Adamu, said though there had been a pronouncement that SWAT exists, operationally, it has not been seen or felt anywhere.

He noted that the government is still hesitant to fully launch SWAT, noting that after the #EndSARS protests, many more things were exposed and the government is dealing with those things.

He said the government was hesitant to bring a tactical team that would go the way of SARS.

According to him, the inability of the police to deal with a crime can be viewed from three perspectives.

“There are the structural problems, operational and political factors. The government is really hesitant. The leadership of the Nigerian Police Force has gone political and is still trying to come out of the effect of the #EndSARS protests. The tactical team that deals with the crime were disbanded and the government doesn’t want to fully launch another tactical team that would go the same way.”
Way Forward
 
Speaking in an earlier interview with The Guardian, Convener of the New Nigeria Group (NNG), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, stated that convening a conference of all ethnic nationalities was necessary to proffer solutions to the insecurity in the country.
 
He added that it would be a misnomer to think that the South East could be secured when the rest of the country is lacking security, stressing that the issue must be holistically addressed.
 
To him, the insecurity in the country is not a problem that could be solved by recruiting more police or army personnel.

 
“This is because when we didn’t have up to 50,000 policemen, the country was safe. So, what changed? The significant thing is that there are things deeper than what we can see. It calls for the convocation of leaders of Nigeria from every ethnic nationality.   
 
“They should bring them together to discuss some contentious issues. If the people of South East understand that Nigeria is ready to listen to the issues bordering them, likewise the North and South West, they would go home and try and hold their people together, even if they are miscreants.

“But if we say that the only way to solve our problems is by buying more arms and employing more policemen, then we are not yet ready. The more security personnel you recruit the more problems you have.

 
“We have changed the Inspector General of Police (IGP); we have changed service chiefs; we have bought more equipment for the army and we are still nowhere near solving the problem.

“So, while I am for enforcing the law, punishing criminals, what I know is that what we are facing is not a normal thing. I think there is something much deeper than we can find and the solution is to call the elders of the country to talk on how to solve the problems.”

However, Nigerians home and abroad are calling out the government, particularly the agencies saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians to rise up to the challenges and save the country.