The rampancy of kidnapping in recent weeks has become so scary that no one could pound his or her chest like a gorilla while leaving home in the morning and confidently declare that he/she would be back. No one! Not anymore! The situation became scarier this week along the notorious Kaduna-Abuja Expressway when kidnappers launched their ruthless operations three times in four days in the axis, killing and carting away victims. Among the abductees were nine students of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The kidnappers are demanding a whopping sum of N270m. The development has scared commuters away from plying the ever-busy highway. Fearful passengers now besiege the train stations at the two ends – Abuja and Rigasa – in order to avoid being captured despite the heavy presence of security operatives.
And by the way, where are the personnel of the Operation Puff Adder (OPA) launched to secure the axis? I had my reservations about the effectiveness of OPA when it was put in place more than a year ago. My fears were that the criminal elements could engage the services of snake charmers to neutralise its operations on their lucrative hunting ground. The latest happenings have just confirmed my apprehension. Or how else can anyone explain the now puff-less nature of the OPA if the charmers had not succeeded in taming them?
The happenings along the notorious Kaduna-Abuja Highway speak for the other roads across the states where kidnappers are reigning freely. As it is today, the criminals have stretched their nefarious activities beyond the roads. They now invade people’s homes, farms, worship centres, schools, etc., to harvest victims. Security operatives are also victims of the crime. Even army officers are not feared. Some of them have been captured and killed, ransom or no ransom. A couple of days ago, six senior police officers of ASP rank were spirited away in Katsina by kidnappers demanding a total of N100m to buy their freedom. If security personnel are not safe, who then is?
The primary responsibility of any government is to secure the lives and properties of its citizens. Failure to guarantee them qualifies such government as running a failed state. National development flees in the face of insecurity as we have been witnessing across the country in recent years. Farmers are afraid to venture into their farmlands for fear of being kidnapped.
A few years ago, the federal government initiated a scheme known as Agro Rangers intended to secure farmers on their farms. Pray, how many rangers drawn from the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) can be made available to effectively secure farmers across the nation’s farming space? Not even the entire staff strength of the Corps can execute the onerous task. Besides, if the kidnappers can dare police and army officers, who are the civil defenders? Haven’t they also fallen victim?
Because kidnappers are fully and better armed, they are not afraid to take on anyone. No thanks to the security hiatus existing all over the place. Unless those vacuums are plugged, we shall all be dancing on quicksand.
When armed robbery incidents became rampant in the country, the federal government responded with the SARS or Special Anti-Robbery Squad. But the squad spiraled out of control and veered into petty civil matters like debt recovery, extortion, brutalisation of innocent citizens on trump-up charges, extra-judicial killings, etc. Complaints about the squad first surfaced about two or so years ago. The government responded by giving it a new name – Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad or FSARS. That addition worsened matters culminating in the recent bloody nationwide #EndSARS protest. It all started peacefully even though there was no organised structure on ground to goad the movement. Demands were made on the federal government. The key demand of the agitators was the immediate disbandment of the notorious outfit which the government promptly acceded to.
Policemen were assigned to monitor the agitations to ensure it remained peaceful. President Muhammadu Buhari even agreed that the youths were entitled to a peaceful protest as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. It was quite interesting and refreshing seeing protesters offering security personnel snacks and drinks. A yellow fever (traffic warden) was caught on camera attempting to flee a protest scene but he was beckoned at to come for a cool soft drink!
Meanwhile, in a situation like that, criminal elements would be waiting in the wings to cash in on any slip. The controversial Lekki Toll Gate incident was all they were waiting for. The protest was unhinged and all hell was let loose. What followed is now a familiar story.
What next after the end of SARS? I have always been strident in my agitation for the decentralisation of the police system. Nigeria is presently harbouring 400,000 police personnel to secure some 200m people scattered all over the country. Of this figure, more than 200,000 are assigned to high-profile individuals in the public and private sectors. Sometime ago, I saw a policeman holding an umbrella to shield a Chinese contractor from the scorching sun. Most of these cops assigned to top politicians, public and civil servants are misused. They run errands for oga madam. Some pimp for the oga at the top. Others are used for ego massaging. Curiously, there is nothing the successive Inspectors-General of Police have not done to wean these cops from the apron strings of these big men and women. President Buhari even weighed in a couple of years back, ordering the withdrawal of policemen from underserving individuals or risk losing their jobs but the directives were flouted with impunity. The cops would rather stick to the side of the bread that is well buttered.
While some believe in the decentralisation of the police system, others argue that the creation of state police would be counterproductive. The popular route is leading to the community policing destination. But for me, state police system is the answer! The country is too large to be run from the centre. It is a question of amending the constitution so that the roles of the federal and state police will be stated to complement each other as practised in other climes like the United States where we selectively photocopied our constitution.
With the state police in place, the state governors would be able to control their domains and their peculiarities. Besides, the formation of state police would free a large number of jobless youths from the over- crowded devil’s workshop. Those arguing that governors would use state police to witch-hunt political opponents should save their breath. Some years ago, security details of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and those of the Rivers state Governor, Nyesom Wike, clashed over right of way in Port Harcourt. Guns were corked but no bullets rang out in the show of force to defend their principals. Yet the policemen guarding the two VIPs were federal security officers!
There would then be the need to have well-trained, efficient and disciplined special units like SAKS or Special Anti-Kidnapping Squad, SARS or Special Anti-Rape Squad and other such squads to address specific or peculiar challenges that criminal elements might throw up on the citizens in various states. The incubating SWAT could be replicated at the state level to address the challenges posed by armed robbery and allied crimes.
Dodging the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force is like postponing the good and not evil day.