Government and its security outfits should roll out a confidence building strategy that would rekindle citizens’ trust in them

A recent report by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) said over 70 of its personnel were killed in 2016 as a result of violent attacks by motorists on road marshals in the course of duty on highways. The body count might rise during this Yuletide season when more vehicles would be on the road. The report returns to the front burner of public discourse the vexed issue of violence against our uniformed men by angry citizens who the security agents are paid to protect. The figures are damning and the tragedy cuts across all security agencies.

Last week, a deputy superintendent of police was reportedly beheaded, following an ambush, during the Rivers State legislative rerun elections. His police aide was also killed in the tragic episode that underscores the level of lawlessness in the country today. Although some suspects have been arrested, we call on the police to conduct a proper investigation to unravel those behind the heinous crime.

Earlier in the year, the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, disclosed that between January, 2014 to April, 2016, no fewer than 350 policemen died while discharging their duties. According to Arase, 272 others sustained various degrees of injuries within the same period. In the armed forces, deaths are legion as the nation battles insurgency and militancy in the North-east and South-South zones of the country.

It is anomalous that citizens would turn against the very people who are paid to protect them. This is particularly worrisome because it signifies on one hand a breakdown of confidence between the people and security agencies of the state and on another, a tendency towards anarchy. Therefore, it must be of serious concern to the government that the nation has found itself in this ugly situation of lack of trust for its agents. For if people saddled with the protection of lives and property get mauled down so easily on the streets by criminal elements, how can citizens repose confidence in the abilities of such agencies to protect them?

The lack of trust and confidence developed overtime without concrete efforts on the part of government to stem it. The attitudes of security agents to citizens are appalling. They are rude and behave as if their uniforms entitle them to treat Nigerians shabbily. Besides, because of the serial acts of corruption by uniformed men on road duty, many Nigerians no longer see otherwise lawful and legitimate exercise of vetting vehicles and their particulars as a normal routine, but as means of further extorting money from them.

The feeling that every uniformed man is out to exploit ordinary citizens developed over time largely because of the overbearing nature of law enforcement officers. Offences that could have attracted warning get visited with instant punishment, including spending years in detention without trial. In several instances, officers prefer to enforce rather than prevent offences from being committed. Citizens find all of these very frustrating and tend to react negatively to officers of the law.

There is therefore an urgent need for government and its security outfits to roll out a comprehensive confidence building strategy that would rekindle citizens’ trust in them. This begins with a change of attitude towards law enforcement, which should emphasise crime prevention rather than enforcement. They need to be more friendly and didactic, taking time to explain to citizens why the law has to be obeyed in the interest of the society they live in.

We believe this is the only way public enlightenment programmes on cordial civil-security relations would have meaning to the people and get their buy-in for greater respect for the law and its enforcers.