VIOLENCE AGAINST STATE AGENTS
There is need for a comprehensive confidence building to rekindle the trust of citizens in security agencies
No fewer than 65 police officers, 92 security operatives and 81 soldiers were killed between January and June this year, according to a special Premium Times report. Dozens of officers from the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS), Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were also killed within the period as men in uniform become sitting targets for extermination by sundry criminal cartels. Not only is it tragic that citizens would turn against the very people who are paid to protect them, this is particularly worrying because it signifies, on one hand, a breakdown of confidence between the people and security agencies of the state and on another, a flirtation with anarchy.
The brazen manner in which these criminals operate, and the audacity of their attacks should worry the authorities. A deputy superintendent of police was once beheaded following an ambush during the Rivers State legislative rerun elections. Three years ago, a group of bandits attacked a mining site in Anka Local Government Area of Zamfara State and disarmed the six policemen on duty, killing one in the process. More audacious and savage was the invasion of Afuze Divisional Police Headquarters in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State where the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and three junior colleagues were murdered.
The message being sent is simple: 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?
A former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, put the scale of the problem in perspective when he disclosed that between January 2014 and April 2016, no fewer than 350 policemen died while discharging their duties. Hundreds of others have been killed since then. A report by FRSC said over 70 of its personnel were killed on duty in 2016 from violent attacks by motorists. Why are these criminals increasingly directing their guns against those whose duty it is to keep all of us safe? Why have our security agents, particularly the police, become easy game for hoodlums across the land?
To compound the problem, men and officers of these critical institutions of state do not get much sympathy from the people because their officials 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 in the performance of their duties, including for instance, vetting vehicles and their particulars. Offences that could have attracted warning get visited with instant punishment, including spending years in detention without trial. In several instances, officers prefer to encourage rather than prevent offences from being committed, all in a bid to extort. Citizens find all of these very frustrating and tend to react negatively to officers of the law.
In the interest of national security, there is also an urgent need for government and its security outfits to roll out a comprehensive confidence building strategy that would rekindle the trust of citizens in them. This should begin with a change of attitude towards law enforcement, which should emphasise crime prevention rather than enforcement. Those who carry arms on behalf of the state should be friendly, and should take time to explain to citizens why the law has to be obeyed in the interest of the society. A friendly security agency will be fed with more intelligence to combat crime than one that is inherently cruel. But above all, the authorities should look into how and why those who are meant to protect the people have become vulnerable to violent attacks.