THE HIGHWAYS OF INSECURITY

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The police could do more to guarantee life and property

The rising wave of insecurity in the country and the inability of the federal government to contain the problem have become increasingly glaring. Last week, the House of Representatives expressed deep concern over the spate of armed robberies and kidnappings on the Benin-Shagamu Highway and called on the police to stem the upsurge. In a motion detailing insecurity on the Benin-Okada road and other places, Mr. Dennis Idahosa said bandits were taking advantage of the heavy vehicular movement on the highway, leading to indiscriminate killing and abduction of travellers. Warrant Officer Felix Akanbi of the Nigerian Navy was shot last Wednesday by kidnappers on the road. At about the same time some air force men fought through ambush by bandits along the Kaduna–Birnin Gwari road before asking for reinforcement.

Insecurity on the highways is taking the country down a potentially explosive path. The wave of crimes is unnerving, and bleeding across the country. Every day is nightmare. Travelling is now tantamount to going to war: only the lucky ones return alive. Last Tuesday, some criminals laid siege to Ajebo on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and abducted the son of the Chief Medical Director of Lafia Hospital, Apata, Dr. Oladipupo Sule and two of his staff amid a staccato of bullets. The police arrived 30 minutes after the kidnappers had vanished. “I am distressed and seriously devastated,” said Sule.

But what poignantly heightened the air of insecurity and tension in the polity was the killing of Mrs Funke Olakunri, mother of two and daughter of the leader of Afenifere Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Chief Reuben Fasoranti on the Sagamu-Ore road. The assailants, wielding assault rifles emerged from the bush and shot the 58-year lawyer dead. It was one killing that almost stretched the country to its limits, engendering threats and counter threats from the south and the north. The Alafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi lamented the “siege on Yoruba land” as he reeled off the names of prominent victims of the area that had fallen to the general banditry. It was a measure of the confusion in the air that perhaps prompted vice president Prof Yemi Osinbajo to hint of drafting soldiers who are already overstretched to the highways to perform what principally is a police function.

The frequency, audacity and savagery that often characterise the attacks by sundry criminal cartels are worrisome. According to the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, no fewer than 1,071 persons lost their lives in crime-related cases across the country in the first quarter of 2019. The North-West topped the death list with 436; North-Central came second with 250; while the South-South geopolitical zone recorded 130 deaths. The reign of terror has now shifted as the relatively peaceful South West is now seized by the jugular by the cartel of criminals.

In all of this, the police have been found wanting in their response. “Operation Puff Adder” and the redeployment of some top police officers within the north have yet to produce the urgently needed impact as many travellers have conveniently abandoned many roads, particularly the busy Abuja Kaduna Highway, opting to travel by rail. But a large country that depends mainly on road transportation for the movement of commodities and persons cannot afford to surrender the sector to the tyranny of some unconscionable individuals.

The police certainly have to do more to guarantee life and property. There is the urgent need to effectively police our borders. As the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Dr Kayode Fayemi said recently, immigration authorities need to ensure that only persons with valid travel documents are allowed to cross the borders. More important, it has become imperative to decentralise the police by encouraging community policing.

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A large country that depends mainly on road transportation for the movement of commodities and persons cannot afford to surrender the sector to the tyranny of some unconscionable individuals