Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the import of rekindling the morale of personnel of the Nigeria Police who were gravely demotivated as they watched their colleagues killed, police stations and personal effects burnt down while they were powerless to defend themselves
How do you restore confidence in a badly battered police? How do you lift the morale of a demotivated police force? These were some of the questions posed by well meaning Nigerians over the weekend after anarchy reigned supreme with hoodlums vandalising and looting public and government properties.
When the #EndSARS protest started nationwide, the police initially responded with force to dispel the protesters. In Lagos, the CP, Hakeem
Odumosu, first courted the rage of protesters by storming the State House in Alausa to dismantle the tents pitched by some of the earliest protesters. It took the intervention of the House of Assembly members to douse the situation as the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu was out of town.
In Abuja, the police shot water cannons, tear gassed and even brutalised protesters, including journalists who were about their legal duties covering the protests. Across the country, there were few cases of extra-judicial killing and harassment by the police as they battled to overpower the overwhelming force of the protesters.
As things went from bad to worse in managing the crisis, something had to give. Given the backlash they rightfully got from responding to the protest with more brutality, the police hierarchy soon announced a stand down for its men. The order was a total ban on use of force against the protesters.
They also acceded to some of the five-point demands by the protesters; the disbanding of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), the reformation of the police and release of all those arrested during the protest.
But there was a downside to that order that not many foresaw; hoodlums saw that as an avenue to wreck mayhem across the state. With the down tool order, the police became the first target. Across the nation, many policemen were killed and several others injured and they watched helplessly without defending themselves, except in some stations in Lagos that divisional police officers returned fire for fire.
Many police stations were vandalised, same with their barracks, further demoralising them. So when the hoodlums turned on the citizens, the police practically looked away. The result was widespread devastation.
It was President Muhammad Buhari that first gave an insight into the total fatality and casualty figures nationwide. According to the president, 69 people were killed during the protest nationwide. Giving a breakdown, he said those who died include 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers among several unknown. But the police have updated the figures of slain policemen to 22 with 205 stations either vandalised or looted.
Across the nation, widespread violence rocked different states, resulting to break down of law and order. In Calabar, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Abuja, Edo, Anambra, and Ondo among others, all hell was let loose as multiple public and private infrastructure were either looted or vandalised.
In the aftermath of the violence, affected banks took stock of their losses. At the last count, 67 bank branches were destroyed and many automated teller machines (ATMs) damaged.While the hoodlums torched some bank branches, they broke into others in a bid to access their vaults.
For the police, they appeared to have borne the brunt of the attacks. Across the country, there were coordinated attacks against police formations. While some were burnt, others were vandalised with police uniforms, weapons and accoutrements looted.
Other losses accrued by the police were burnt case files, computer sets, personal and vehicle exhibits, personal cars and uniforms of policemen.
In the armoury, the hoodlums made away with an unknown number of AK47 guns and pistols, from each of the police stations they visited and overpowered. The police said they have recovered most of the stolen weapons.
With the stand down order by the police hierarchy during the protest, most of them were incapacitated to defend their lives and divisions.
The aftermath was a gravely demotivated police who could care less about the looming anarchy given that they watched their police stations and personal effect burnt down and were powerless to fight back.
For the good cops, it was particularly demoralising as it seemed like they were punished alongside the bad eggs in the force. This period would go down memory lane as one of the lowest moments in its 90-year history.
Burden of Rebuilding
The destruction across board has exacerbated the underwhelming lack of adequate equipment the police continuously face. For now, the police are faced with the challenge of repairing the damaged police stations, barracks and even buy more patrol vehicles.
However, the feasibility of this remains uncertain given the paucity of funds available to the police in the 2021 budget. Recently, the federal government presented the 2021 Appropriation Bill to the lawmakers and in that allocation, if approved, the police would get N447.6 billion.
But the police hierarchy have been vocal in explaining that they are still running at a deficit, especially with the numerous security challenges that crop up everyday.
This year, the total amount allocated to the police was N403,709,451,000 and according to the police, while the recurrent expenditure makes up 96.4 per cent of the budget, capital expenditure is 3.6 per cent, a figure they insist is low considering the scale of capital investment required to upgrade the moribund facilities and equipment of the service.
This begs the question, how the police will fund the rebuilding of the burnt stations, barracks and vehicles when they are already running at a deficit.
Confidence Building in Lagos
The Lagos State Governor started off the first step in confidence building by visiting the command headquarters in Ikeja. He led members of his cabinet to to restore confidence in the system.
Promising scholarships for the children of slain cops as well as compensation for their families, he also pledged that the state would fund the burial of the murdered cops, as well as foot medical bills of injured police officers in the protest.
He also said government will consider insurance for serving police officers of Lagos Command, adding that all burnt stations would be remodeled and two new generators provided to power the command.
Sanwo-Olu further noted that it was time for improved police-citizens relationship, urging the officers to ensure that their uniform represented dignity, pride, honour and discipline.
The Lagos Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, while counting losses incurred said while six policemen were killed, 38 others were injured, 71 police vehicles, 62 exhibit vehicles and 29 formations were destroyed across the state.
He identified the deceased officers asASP Yard Edward, attached to Denton Police Station; Inspector Olayinka Erinfolami of defunct Anti Kidnapping Unit (AKU); Inspector Adegbenro Aderibigbe attached to Meiran Division, Sergeant Abejide Abiodun of Department of Operations (DOPs), State Headquarters and two others attached to Orile Division.
In attendance at the gathering were the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, other cabinet members, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Leye Oyebade; Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) Ahmed Iliyasu; Commissioner of Police (CP) Hakeem Odumosu; DCP Mohammed Ali, DCP Yetunde Longe, DCP Tunji Disu, Area Commanders, Commanders of Mobile Police formations, DPOs, senior officers and other ranks.
Meanwhile, police officers with no offices have been asked to report to the respective Area Commanders which they have done. Also, the state government has been making arrangement for makeshift structures so that the police can return to work, especially in this ember months.
Perhaps as part of his recent moves to shore up the morale of officers and men, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has begun a tour of commands and formations nationwide.
Starting off in Abuja last Friday, he commended
personnel for how they professionally exercised commendable restraints, adding that some paid the supreme price for peace during the recent protests and ensuing violence in some parts of the country.
Meanwhile, as part of the rebuilding process, the IG
inaugurated a nine-man committee for the assessment of losses suffered by the police across the country. This he said was informed by the need to properly document the losses suffered for the purposes of strategic planning, re-construction and re-equipment as well as for future reference.
The terms of reference of the committee include: that the delegation should physically visit the scenes of incident and capture the pictorials of all damages done to police infrastructure and personnel; verify the fatalities suffered by the police; establish the weapons holdings that were lost during the incidents, amongst others.
Striking a Balance
In striking a balance, the recent protest and its aftermath has again reinforced the need for the police to have crisis managers. This is because while certain situations require officers to take the aggressive approach, in other cases, reasoning with empathy most often than not, defuses a crisis.
Essentially, you can’t fight those fighting against police brutality with same brutality they are waging a war against. This can be attested by some cases where police officers, especially divisional police officers, came out to meet a raging mob and successfully defused the situation.
Also, the need to court a relationship between the host community is key. In most cases of unrest, they would protect you when the chips are down.
However, the crux is striking a balance between the carrot and stick approach- rewarding good behaviour but at the same time tackling crime judiciously without fear or favour.
Summarily, the last few days have shown the importance of policemen in the society, because a nation without its police is anarchy in waiting, an anomaly which was witnessed when hoodlums, arsonists and looters reigned supreme.
Also, the onus of boosting the fallen morale of the personnel lies squarely on the doorsteps of the police hierarchy and they can start by implementing the short term goals of the police reforms.