The recent attacks, killings, and kidnapping that rejuvenated on Sunday 21st November 2021 along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, which lasted through the entire week were very worrisome and a cause for serious concern. Following a short-lived strike by the Nigeria Railway Corporation and the reduced activities of these men of the underworld, many commuters went back to traveling on the roads. Unfortunately, they came back stronger and more determined to wreak havoc on commuters and even on security forces. The outgone week witnessed the killing of a Zamfara State political aspirant in the 2019 elections while he was on his way to the country capital. This is one out of the several deaths recorded on the road during the period. My first interstate drive as a younger fellow was Kaduna to Abuja through to Lokoja. Traveling from Kaduna to Abuja was adjured the safest because the road was dualized, it barely had any potholes and you could complete a journey from Kaduna to Abuja within one hour and thirty minutes. Unfortunately, the same road today has become a death trap for both commuters and the security forces. This route has become a haven for potholes and several bad sections. These bad sections have made the operations of these bandits much easier. The bandits take advantage of the bad portions of the road to launch their attacks. You still wonder why we have such a bad road right under the nose of the Federal Capital territory of the country. I have seen officers and labourers of FERMA (Federal Road maintenance Agency) working on the road, yet the road seems to be as bad as ever. You keep wondering when work will ever be completed on the road.
Recently, while lamenting the security situation on the road, I heard a colleague criticizing the security forces, particularly the Nigerian Police for not living up to expectations. It was reported that there were Police units or formations not far from where some of these malevolent attacks have been launched. I was tempted to align myself with my colleague’s vituperations. However, on second thought, I realized that the security personnel, especially the ones on the field might not be blamed absolutely for the security situation in the country.
In one of the videos being shared online. I saw a particular clip where these police officers were engaging the kidnappers/bandits in a very heavy gun duel that lasted several minutes before they were able to push the bandits off the expressway. As I watched the video, I couldn’t decipher particularly if any of the police officers was wearing a bulletproof vest, in fact, one of them quickly alighted from his motorbike, popularly called ‘Okada’ to take cover and engage in the gun duel. I began asking that in the event (God forbid) that a bullet hits one of the police officers live on video and he drops dead, another family is automatically turned fatherless, ‘husbandless’, ‘brotherless’, or ‘sonless’. And most, unfortunately, the system barely has adequate arrangements for such officers that get injured or die even in the line of duty. It is for this reason I find it difficult to blame policemen for any form of negligence in engaging these men of the underworld. Recently in northern Nigeria, we experienced the sophistication of these evil men. In a development that has defiled logical explanation, these gruesome men brought down a fighter jet that was nearly 10,000 feet above sea level and moving at over 250 km/hr. How can the trifling weapons being paraded by our policemen stand in battle against this level of sophistication and professionalism from the bandits?
Every year, during the presentation of the national budget by the President, a substantial chunk of the budget is allocated to the security sector in Nigeria. However, we have failed to see the direct impact of this huge allocation to the sector. When a police officer knows that there is no hope for him or his family if he dies on duty post, he would be careful to commit his life to the exchange of a gun duel. For an effective fight against banditry, armed robbery, and kidnapping, the police officer who puts his life on the line must have the confidence that whatever happens to him, his employers would rise to his aid. But if he knows that nothing good might come out of it or it might come out with a lot of bureaucracy and struggle, he may as well decide to run for his life in the face of overwhelming weaponry by men of the underworld. We see police officers of the western world and admire how they carry on their duties. These officers are equipped with all kinds of gadgets as well as individual vehicles. However, you see 10 policemen crammed up in one rickety Hilux van in Nigeria. How would you expect them to function maximally? I have never seen a Nigerian police officer with pepper spray, tasers, or other none fatal gadgets. Our men are mostly usually equipped with guns, bats, and handcuffs. A poorly armed Policeman will prefer to take a step backward and think twice before putting his life on the line to fight a well-armed bandit that has no value for life.
In my few years of practice as a legal practitioner, each time I had to visit a police command or station, one of the conspicuous features is posters on the wall, announcing the death of Police officers. While the majority died in the line of active duty, few others die as a result of illness or other remote factors. If you do a little investigation into the status of the family of the deceased, there is probably no arrangement for their family welfare or sustenance. How then will you tell a Police Officer who has no hope for the future if injured or killed in the line of duty, to take a bullet without protection? For those based in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, there is a popular radio program on Human Rights Radio, popularly called “Brekete Family”. This program airs every working day of the week for about 2 hours and the program seeks to assist people whose right has one way or the other been trampled upon, either by government forces or private individuals. Many of the complaints that come up in this program are usually centered on families of uniformed men who were killed or who died in active duty but were not compensated. In some cases, compulsorily retired uniformed men who were maimed or lost their ability to continue actively in the force and who have been abandoned to their fate, also come to this radio program to seek assistance in getting their entitlements/compensation for the injuries they have suffered while in their line of duty. This radio program has become popular for its ability in getting quick justice for aggrieved persons that run to them for help. It is however unfortunate and quite a big shame that a policeman or his family would be forced to air their grievances vide this media while seeking justice. This injustice must stop.
For the Police to be effective and if this battle against banditry and kidnapping must be won, then the Nigerian Police must stand shoulder high above the bandits/armed robbers/kidnappers. If the battle against banditry and kidnapping must be fought well, it must be fought on all fours, that is, increased sophistication, proper motivation, ready backups, and adequate compensation. A police officer must have something they can count on, in the event that the fight affects their ability to fight on. If an injured officer has no hope of being assisted medically, how much more is the family of a deceased officer. We, therefore, call on those in power to direct the funds meant for the police to the correct use and not to keep diverting it for private use while other junior officers die on the line of duty due to poor funding. Until a police officer is 100% certain that his injuries or death will not lead to the suffering and abandonment of him or his family, we may never have uniformed men that are willing to fearlessly face the bullet of bandits. Armed robbers, and kidnappers. We may find it difficult to progress from the circle we find ourselves today. May God save and deliver Nigeria from the hands of men of the underworld.
Akintayo Balogun Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice and is based in Abuja, FCT, Nigeria. A prolific writer, public affairs analyst, and commentator on national and international issues.