#EndSARS Mass Action and the Governance of Internal Security in Lagos

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Dr. Ona Ekhomu

It gives me great pleasure to present this paper on policing in Nigeria especially after the difficult events of October 21st and 22nd 2020 when a mass action embarked upon by #ENDSARS group almost brought the Southern part of Nigeria to its metaphorical knees. Southern Nigeria was hard hit by the acts of wanton violence unleashed by hoodlums after the Lekki shootings of October 20, 2020. The rioters looted, burned, pillaged, vandalised, compromised, damaged and destroyed assets throughout Lagos and other states.

Aside from attacks on property and trophy buildings such as the Igbosere Courts complex, the Nigerian Port Authority headquarters building and banks in Lagos State, the rioters targeted police facilities and personnel. The pattern of attacks, ferocity of attacks and frequency of attacks on police personnel, police stations and police cars would lead me to conclude that the mass action in Southern Nigeria was indeed an attack on the police agency. Although correctional facilities, COVID-19 palliative stores and some homes of politicians were attacked, the principal target of the rioters was police personnel, police facilities and police mission.

The rioters also stole a large number of AK47 rifles and other weapons in police stations – arming themselves and presenting a grave threat to society. It is a known fact that insecurity in Nigeria is aggravated by the proliferation of illicit arms and small arms and light weapons in the West African sub-region. The loss of hundreds of police riffles to rioters is clearly a worsening or exacerbation of the arms proliferation in the country.

Moment of Silence

At this time, I would crave your indulgence to rise and join me in observing a moment of silence in honor of gallant policemen who were lost in the #ENDSARS riots.

May their sacrifice not be in vain.
May their memory be a blessing.
May light perpetual shine on their souls.
May Allah forgive their sins and grant them Aljannah, Amin.

Conceptual Framework

The key concepts in the paper are: #ENDSARS, Protests, Riots and Hoodlums.

#ENDSARS: is a decentralised social movement which two years later translated into physical street protests by Nigerian youths. The movement started from Lagos and spread rapidly to all southern states. The movement gained currency in the south as youths could relate to the goal of ending police brutality as practiced by SARS and later F-SARS.

I was informed by a senior intelligence official that it was the good work and hard work of SARS officials in Anambra State that brought an end to kidnapping in that state. He said that however, harsh interrogation techniques (extreme renditions) were used and that most suspects did not make it out alive from Awkuzu SARS office. They were presumed to have been extra-judicially killed.

The intelligence official added that the extra-legal murders were also predicated on the fact that kidnap and armed robbery cases charged to court were often handled with levity by apparently compromised judicial officers. The bottom-line was that the harsh tactics worked and violent crime was reduced to the barest minimum in Anambra State.

Lagos State SARS also recorded many successes
against armed robbers and kidnappers. The “billionaire kidnapper” Evans was investigated and arrested by SARSS and prosecuted for his high profile crimes. It was however asserted by southern youths that with the reduction of violent robberies, the SARS personnel have decided to target them for extortion. It was said that youths driving flashy cars were pulled over and their phones profiled.

These youths sometimes received rough chastisement in the hands of the elite crime fighters. The SARS personnel turned their investigative magnifying glasses on Yahoo boys, Yahoo plus, debtors, land speculators, etc. They were alleged to demand huge sums in extortion rackets and mete out beatings and threats of “wasting” i.e. killing to uncooperative subjects. The crisis reached a critical mass and youths organised against SARS adopting the hashtag #ENDSARS.

Protester: Is a person who publicly demonstrates his or her opposition to a social condition, policy or action. Peaceful protest is a form of protected speech. In a democracy, peaceful protests are allowed. The police have a duty to protect duly authorized peaceful protesters. When peaceful protest turns ugly, it loses the statutory protection.

Riot: A riot is an unlawful assembly or crowd whose intent is to cause harm to people and property. Riots are identified by stone throwing, firing of projectiles, burning, looting, beating, and killing. A riotous mob goes through several levels of escalation of their violence. If the reaction to the riot is slow or ineffectual, then it develops a life of its own and could spiral out of control. Lives are often lost in riots – as was seen in the recent #ENDSARS event.

Hoodlum: This word refers to a person who engages in crime and violence. The terminology was freely used by the mass media to describe the persons who caused the mayhem in Lagos on October 21st to 22nd. At the peak of the crisis on October 21, the hoodlums controlled the streets after over-powering the police agency. There was palpable fear in Lagos. A retired Naval Admiral asked me not to denigrate the violent protesters as hoodlums. He suggested the following terminologies: a) Angry youths, b) Palliatives hunters, c) Victims of circumstances, d) Disgruntled youths, e) Hungry youths, f) Brutalised youths, g) Marginalised youths.

Attacks on the Police

The October 21st – 22nd attacks on police throughout Southern Nigeria were unprecedented and historical. We ought to study what happened, why it happened, how it happened and how it can be prevented. This post-mortem of the attacks will enable us identify the threat against police facilities and personnel to enable us better defend the police even as you provide internal security services to the Nigerian nation.

The Police agency lost 22 personnel throughout Nigeria during the unfortunate violence in October. Compol Yaro Abutu who is the Chairman of the IGP’s EndSARS Damage Assessment Committee said that many police personnel are still not accounted for as the mobs chased some into the bush and their fate remains unknown. He said that many police personnel do not have uniforms as their uniforms were incinerated in the police stations. It is heart-breaking that some police personnel are now hanging around their stations like IDPs. Some have rented tents and plastic chairs and to enable them sit down. It is quite disturbing.

Let me begin by saying that I believe Nigerians love the NPF. Most law-abiding citizens consider the police their friends. What happened in Lagos on Wednesday and Thursday (October 21st and 22nd) were well-coordinated and premeditated attacks against law enforcement using the excuse or pretext of shootings at Lekki toll gate to visit violence on the police.

Hypothesis

It is not normal for members of the public to mount large scale attacks on public law enforcement officers. The attacks of October are unprecedented in the history of Nigeria where police personnel were systematically hunted and then killed or harmed by the members of the public that they serve. I therefore with to present a research hypothesis as follows:

The attack on the police formations and personnel in Lagos was intended to dislodge the police and pave way for the looting that followed. This research hypothesis can be subjected to empirical validation when more data on the October attacks have been collected.

The Fall of Ajah

The Ajah Police Station fell at about 1300 hours on October 21st. The station had been under siege by about 3000 rioters from 7AM of the fateful day. The gallant police personnel – about 12 in number fought back the youthful rioters who were intent on razing the police station. The law enforcement agents were boxed in the middle fending off rioters from the Western flank (Liberty Bridge side) and turning quickly to attack the rioters from the Eastern Flank (Abraham Adesanya Estate side). The police personnel would fire shots and push back the rioters alternately on each side. Eventually, it was said that criminal gangs from Victoria Island introduced guns into the theatre of battle and that changed the conflict.

The Ajah police apparently caused casualty among the rioters, some of whom were treated in nearby clinics and hospitals. No fatality was recorded. However, the crowd was overwhelming. The rioters were said to have stated clearly that they were intent on burning down the police station. Eventually, the firepower from VI helped to subdue the police personnel. They all successfully escaped from the rear of their compound and then the station was sacked.

Losses at Ajah Police Station- the police facility was burnt down, the roof was vandalised – came off after the timber got burnt, the apartments behind the station were burnt down, arms and ammo were looted, police uniforms and accoutrements were looted, police vehicles and private vehicles in the compound were torched, exhibits were destroyed, suspects in police cells were let go, items of property were looted and the hoodlums recruited themselves into the police force and promoted themselves. One said he is now the DPO of Ajah.

The fall of Ajah Police Station was facilitated by the lack of backup on the fateful day. Given that Police Stations in Orile (where a police personnel was killed), Ikorodu, Surulere, etc. there was ample evidence that police facilities were targeted.

However, given the wide-spread nature of attacks against a wide variety of targets in Lagos on 21st October it became a herculean task to defend the Ajah Police Station. Aside from police stations, media houses, LG Secretariats, the family home of Lagos Governor were all attacked. There is an urgent need to calculate the design basis threat for police stations. Clearly, the threat of mass action is a grave one that can overwhelm the police facility and then cause irreparable harm. The relevant questions:

1. How many police personnel can defend a police station from the kind of attack at Ajah on October 21st?

2. How many canisters of tear gas do they need? NOTE: No tear gas was fired before Ajah Division fell.

3. How can the armory be strengthen against looting by criminal?

4. What should be the protocol for calling for OP MESA or OP AWATSE to give aid to a police division in distress? NOTE: RSS was off the roads on October 21st.

5. Can the police division have a mutual aid agreement with private organizations or host communities that will guarantee help in an emergency?

6. Can the police agency put helicopters to work in support of police divisions that are seriously threatened by hoodlums?

7. Can police stations have a better structural barrier to prevent easy breach by rioters and criminal elements?

8. Can police managers and executives conduct annual vulnerability assessments of police facilities to determine loopholes and quickly plug them? The Ajah division attack showed that there were several loopholes which the rioters exploited in breaching the station.

9. The police division should collaborate closely with the community it serves as their security is intertwined. After the Ajah Division fell, nearby banks, businesses and stores were looted by the criminals. Vehicles were wantonly destroyed. Several estates raised youth vigilance groups for security after the fall of Ajah Division.

Hobbesian Reality

The breakdown of law and order in Lagos on October 21st represented life in the state of nature. It was “nasty, brutish and short” according to English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Many police personnel lost their lives while trying to do their sworn constitutional duty of serving and protecting Nigerians.

Since October 21st the police in Lagos have withdrawn from the streets. This is further fueling the Hobbesian reality. In a place like Ikorodu, Ketu, Orile hoodlums still hold sway extorting cash from motorists, setting bonfires and shooting at their enemies. The situation is still tense in the metropolis. Yes, we lost men, but we cannot be scared off. The policeman – according to the Peelian Construct is the member of the public paid to protect others. It is a life safety job. It is doing God’s work. The policeman has authority and he is the most visible agent of governance. The police must occupy again for normalcy to return.

The Hobbesian reality which states must be averted. We must have a Leviathan who must return law and order. That Leviathan (or King) is you – Police personnel. The law-abiding citizens of this country appreciate you and we love you. We also support you and will give you information that will be important in keeping our communities safe. Please overcome your fears and return to work. Life is good, but a life of service is meaningful and purpose-driven. One should not go through life without serving, without contributing. It is the service that defines our value as individuals – to ourselves, to our families, to our communities and ultimately to our nation. You, Policemen are a royal priesthood. You are a chosen race. The kind of psychic rewards you receive after saving a life cannot be replicated anywhere. You may not be a remunerated as well as you should, but your sacrifice and your service cannot be rivaled by any occupational group in Nigeria.

Conclusion

Mr. AIG Sir, distinguished Ladies and gentlemen. I want to point out the obvious fact that the attack were not aimed specifically at the police agency. The #ENDSARS rioters know that the Admiralty circle Tollgate Plaza shootings were not carried out by Police personnel. However, the Police as an observable and exploitable arm of government was attacked. In order words the attacks were meant for the Federal Government of Nigeria. Why is that so?

The governance issues, the poor remuneration of police, the unemployment of youths, the hunger in the land, the poverty, the anger, the inequality are not under the control of the police agency. It was convenient for the hoodlums to attack the police as the nearest representative of government. When people are angry, they lash out at anything close by – their wives, their children, their drivers, their workers, their dogs – anything. It is a psychological compensational mechanism – after which they feel better.

The various state governments have made overtures to assist families of your fallen or injured colleagues. Please go back to work to make your communities safe. Like we say – without security nothing works.

Before I end this short speech, I like to commend Police executives like our host today, AIG Iliyasu Ahmed for their dedication to public service. Your zeal to serve your community and the Nigerian nation is appreciated. We realize that lack of adequate resourcing is a big drawback to effective policing in the country, yet you stretch the little you have to keep our communities safe. I like to say that with the Police Trust Fund and the new Police bill, things are bound to get better.

From a strategic management perspective, police executives must find administrative, programmatic and technological means to achieve more with less. I urge Police executives to build trust between the agency and the community that it serves. The community will see self interest in effective policing and support the police. The political pressure that will bring about improvements in police remunerations and conditions of service will come from the community. It should be noted that politicians will not give the police what it deserves, but what it lobbies for. The community holds the key to effectively speaking out for the police.

The Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, as a leading professional security body will continue to partner with the police in obtaining resources from the government to enable the provision of quality service. We shall continue to champion the cause of the police agency and use our contacts to lobby for enhanced conditions of service. We also will use our vast knowledge and structured analytical tools to interpret the realities that confront the police agency and Nigerians. We belong in an epistemic community that is often not understood. The ontology of policing, the epistemology of policing and the methodology of policing have to be subjected to dissection, visualization and empirical examination in other to create new models of effective policing. Meta level of knowledge tools will be brought to the table to assist the police agency.

I also urge the various Police Community Relations Committees nationwide to lend the police a shoulder to lean on in these tough times. The PCRC as a natural ally of the police agency must speak up and speak out now that the morale is low in the agency. We all need the police and they need us.

I also wish to urge the mass media to champion the cause of the Nigeria Police Force. The police performs a crucial function of crime control and order maintenance. Without safe streets, legitimate activity cannot be carried out. The media must do its patriotic duty by telling the stories of police personnel callously murdered by hoodlums. Tell about the lives they lived. What schools did they attend? What was their favorite sports? What motivated them to join the NPF? What dreams did they have for their future? What was their family life like? What colors did they like and why? What foods did they like? This is the life that these great Nigerians lived, and they should be honored. No police death should be ignored. Every hero deserves to be honored. The electronic medium should show their photos and tell their stories. The print medium should display their images and share stories of their accomplishments. We deserve to know how they lived.

The corporate world has a major role to play. Funds should be mobilized to help families of fallen police heroes. Injured police personnel should receive first class medical treatment. This is expensive. The corporate world should also help in rebuilding police facilities destroyed in the October madness that was emblematic of the #ENDSARS protests. Given the current decline in Federal Government’s oil revenues, rebuilding the police facilities would be a herculean task. Patrol cars, modern policing equipment and uniforms are required to rebuild the police service in southern Nigeria.

The individual police man must engage in self talk that will encourage him to get back to work. The safety net that is provided by the police is torn right now. It will take the courage, commitment, dedication, patriotism, professionalism, perseverance and ingenuity of police men and women, police supervisors, police managers and other police officials to enable the healing that is required to get things back to normal.

…Ekhomu, CFE, CPP, CSP, PCI, CPOI and the National President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON) presented this paper at the occasion of Conferment of Fellowship of AISSON on Mr. lliyasu Ahmed, Assistant Inspector General of Police Zone 2, Onikan, Lagos.