By Prince Ejeh Josh.
Should we not be worried as a people with this ugly development presently trending in our beloved country, Nigeria?
Why are Nigerians always expressing joy and satisfaction whenever members of our security agencies are callously murdered by armed robbers, kidnappers, militants, bandits and terrorists?
Nigerians have not failed to share their good feelings on and outside social media whenever security agencies suffer heavy casualties. Indeed, there is always an open support for those killers.
Hardly would you see majority of the citizens condemning the untimely and inglorious death of our gallant but fallen soldiers, or brutally murdered police officers. The news always throws up a feeling of satisfaction, sentiment and fulfilled emotion. I had even read a byline story titled “The Enigma called Shekau” published by a newspaper where the Nigerian most wanted terrorist, Shekau, was described by the writer as “a no nonsense enigma” who had been serving the Nigerian Army in disproportionate measures.
One would be marvelled at the opinions of many Nigerians regarding the image of the Nigeria Police, the Army, the Department of State Security (DSS) and other security organs. To the common man trying hard to erk a living from the toil of his sweat on the streets of Nigeria, his primary enemy is not the kidnapper, armed robber or militant but the police. Ask whether the cliché, “the police are your friends” was true, he would angrily retort; “they are thieves and criminals”. This is the extent the situation has degenerated. Alarming level of distrust. Unhealthy suspicion. Growing fear and frustration at the sight of a police officer.
The unanswered question is; why? Why have the supposed protectors become predators? Why have the security agencies become another menace bedevilling the people of Nigeria? A law-abiding citizen would be running from armed robbers, cultists, kidnappers and police at the same time. Many Nigerians; not politicians though, are comfortable being captives in the hands of bandits, kidnappers and even terrorists rather than falling victims of the police or the army. Alas! The presidency once hailed the Boko Haram terrorists for taking good care of then released Chibok school girls who were in their custody for months. Pertinent attempts shall be made to unravel the mystery behind this distrust.
Suffice it to submit that one of the major factors that differentiates the Nigerian security agencies and armed robbers is not in their character of operations or social relationship with members of the public, but the fact that their actions are usually cloaked by institutional legal framework which would readily absolve them of any wrongdoing even when they acted outside their defined limits. With this legal backing, they are seen as official agencies of the state saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and protecting the citizens from harm by marauders. This is why they are garbed in uniforms which easily differentiate and give them that leverage of authority and power.
These uniforms removed, the country’s security agencies, such as the Nigeria Police Force, the DSS, the Nigerian Army, and other state security outfits are more or less rogues; operating like armed robbers, cultists and thugs. They extort innocent and law-abiding citizens. They threaten to shoot and kill at will. It has become normal for them to force their victims to ATM points to withdraw all their savings or else, their victims would be shot and have their bodies dumped at a nearby bush where they would be decomposed and eaten by vultures.
These are the known characteristics of criminals. Armed robbers. Bandits. Kidnappers. And even cultists. Armed robbers usually operate to extort their victims, and whenever it occurs to them their preys are not willing to cooperate, they unleash such despicable and unimaginable acts of terror. All hell would be let loose. With their bloodletting guns, they’d go on rampage, shooting sporadically, and ruthlessly assaulting their hapless victims. Who dares challenge them. For kidnappers; their primary target is the exploitation and extortion of their victims. Failure to meet their demand would leave their abductee in cool of cold blood.
Fortunately, the state has put up some institutions that would help fight and prevent the occurrence of these heinous crimes. The primary agencies being the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army. However, the reverse is the case in Nigeria. Those in uniforms see those uniforms as an opportunity to fiendishly exploit the sweat of those they had constitutionally sworn to protect.
Illegal check points are deliberately mounted in all major roads, and motorists and passers-by are harassed, extorted and threatened to be hounded to the police station if they refuse to “roger” or “settle”.
Some motorists are even pronounced guilty on the spot by the police and punishments punitively meted out on them then and there like common criminals. For the Nigerian Army; some of their check points are known by motorists for notoriety. They stage young civilians on the roads to collect or extort money from motorists on their behalf at security check points. These young civilians being used to rob motorists would usually give the impression that they were members of task force collecting license fees for government. However, whenever the soldiers notice that a certain commercial driver or motorist is proving hard to crack, they would intervene by asking the driver to park aside. The driver would either be asked to do a “frog jump” or asked to swim in a muddy water for proving stubborn or obstinate. This is the untold hardship many motorists have been subjected.
The question that lingers is: who do they tell their stories? Many stories remain untold because those to be told are also accomplices and benefit from the blood money. They share in the spoils, and are ready to turn the table against the victims of these extortion.
The security agencies are now lording it over Nigerians. They boast that they are above the law, and aim their guns at people recklessly. They have assumed unconscionable dictators. They prey on the voiceless common man innocently walking on the streets. People now hire our security agencies for dirty jobs such as intimidating their perceived rivals, beating up and extorting money in the name of debt recovery which has never been the job of a police officer, civil defence or the army, and even move illegal substances and objects across the country’s borders.
The police and their sister security agencies have derailed from their primary duties, and now occupied with extortion and illegal bidding. For instance, section 4 of the Nigeria Police Act 1967 (as amended) provides for the primary functions of the police. Dishearteningly, many police officer don’t even know those primary functions they are meant to execute. Many of them would readily tell you they are meant to protect politicians, business mogul and mount check points to search motorists and passengers. Prevention of crimes is secondary to them while extortion of our people is primary to them.
Recent waves of illegal arrest and intimidation of Nigerians by the security agencies call for concern and expedient attention of those in the position of authorities. The SARS and other police officers are now seeing every Nigerian youth as criminals. It is now a crime to walk freely on the street without being harassed by the SARS. When has it become a crime to work hard and enjoy one’s sweat in Nigeria? When has it become a crime to ride on a good car, or enjoy oneself with a bottle of champagne to ease off the day stress? I am not against genuine concern and arrest of fraudsters and armed robbers, but I’m against the dangerous and alarming ploy to generalise everybody as a thief, armed robber, fraudster and cultist in order to extort.
Many Nigerians have shared their horrific experience in the hands of these security agencies. The rate of this indiscriminate arrest is alarming. Oftentimes, people are arrested and forced to withdraw all their money to settle the police or they would be implicated as robbers. This is unbecoming. The police authority is not doing much to address this epidemic. The extortion has become a subculture, accepted and gradually being institutionalised. It has become something normal in our abnormal society. The police no longer do their jobs. All they do is, stretch their hands and collect settlement from unwilling motorists and Nigerians.
The question is, why won’t Nigerians be happy whenever something ugly happens to them. It saddens me that many Nigerians with useful and sensitive information that would tip the security agencies to decisively prevent the commissioning of and arrest crimes are unwilling to share it with them because of the unbearable consequential damage that would follow it. The informant or source (as it is called in the security circle) would be arrested and even accused of working with criminals.
The authorities must stand up and do something now. The police institution must re-evaluate its architectural, operational and human relations base if they want to make any meaningful security breakthrough. They must re-assure members of the public of their safety, and rethink how to ameliorate this sour relationship. The security agencies would not achieve anything and would continue to suffer heavy casualties if the people are not made the epicenter of their operation. They cannot operate in isolation of the people and their needed information would not fall from the sky. Until then, Nigerians would continue to celebrate whenever calamities befall on them.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on our opinion page are those of the writer and do not represent the position of INSIDER or any of its reporters/editors.