We Still Can’t Wear Our Uniform In Public — Police Officers
• We’ve to be alive first before combating crime
• Return to normalcy will be gradual
• As criminals take advantage of police absence
Barely a month after the #EndSARS protest against police brutality which turned bloody with loss of lives and massive destruction of property, the police, which was the main target of the mayhem is yet to recover. Policemen virtually disappeared from the public space. The Inspector General of Police had to issue a directive asking his men to return to the streets but investigations across the country revealed that things have not returned to normal. Policemen who are supposed to protect the residents are themselves afraid to walk freely on the streets in their uniform. Their morale is low and they are yet to regain their confidence. In some places, criminals have taken advantage of the absence of the police which has resulted in upsurge of crimes.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard showed that police personnel are not fully back on the streets in Ondo state for fear of possible attack. Some of the policemen who spoke on condition of anonymity said that they still lived in fear and could not walk freely on the streets.
According to them, “after the protest many of us can’t put on our uniform and walk freely on the streets because of the fear that we may be attacked. Two of our men were killed during the protest. One was roasted alive just because the protesters saw his police uniform inside his car. What we do now is that when we leave the police station we would remove our police uniform and put on mufti to disguise”.
Speaking with vanguard, the police spokesperson in the state Tee Leo Ikoro said policemen in the state returned to their duty posts after the protests. “We returned to our duty posts immediately after the #EndSARS carnage where we lost our men to the hoodlums. This is because we know our duty is sacrosanct and if we are off duty many people and things will be affected. We looked at the #EndSARS saga as a bye gone but as human as we are, we also felt bad about what happened and we are aggrieved over the killing of some of our officers. People expected us not to return to our duty post but we remain at out duty posts. The #EndSARS protest only energised us to do more.”
In Oyo State, only a handful of policemen were at work as most of the police stations were locked up. Some of the policemen resumed duty this week even as residents, government, Yoruba leaders have made passionate pleas to the policemen to resume duties.
At most junctions where they used to control traffic, men of the Oyo State Transport management were there to fill the space. At the UI-Sango-Bodija junction, Mokola, Eleyele, Ologuneru, some soldiers and members of the state road transportation management were controlling the traffic. Traffic wardens were at the Bodija-Cementry junction, Iyaganku, Bodija market, Oke Ado market.
But, in the area of maintaining security, it appeared the policemen were not responding to distress calls.
Hoodlums have capitalized on the absence of policemen as they robbed residents in different parts of the city. At Idi-Ishin-NIHORT area, a man was shot dead by robbers on a motorcycle who attempted to snatch the bike.
It has been a horrible situation in Benin City, Edo state capital and some other parts of the state since #EndSARS protest turned violent with the destruction of police facilities and carting away of arms and ammunition. Rival cult groups renewed their clashes that have claimed not less than 37 lives, while criminals and hoodlums have taken over the streets of Benin City. Robberies and other violent crimes have become a daily occurrence in all parts of Benin City, as people now live in fear while night life is completely dead as everybody runs home at dusk. Even residents in Government Reservation Areas which are so called protected areas are not spared of these attacks as a guest house less than 500 metres from the gate of government house was recently ransacked and all the 13 occupants were robbed that night.
The attack on police stations has dampened the morale of policemen as they disappeared from the streets while those who still ventured around, moved in mufti. Some of them in mufti were also victims of robberies as one of them who was going home after work, had his bag where he kept his service pistol snatched by suspected robbers in a white Toyota Sienna bus.
A policeman in Benin confided in Saturday Vanguard that “our morale is very low after that incident. Imagine DPOs now reporting from the state command everyday and no vehicles for them and their personnel to work, that is disheartening. Look at the Area Commander and two of his men who went on patrol last week and were shot by those hoodlums in Upper Sokponba. Till now many of us still don’t wear our uniforms on the streets for fear of being attacked. Though the Inspector General of Police has come to address us, the governor himself has visited and tried to motivate us but it is gradual, we will definitely come back to the streets but you don’t expect it to be immediate”
The absence of the police on the streets have also resulted in cases of self help by residents who have turned themselves into vigilance groups. There was a reported case of two suspected thieves who were arrested in Upper Sokponba road, beaten to pulp and set ablaze while in some other areas like Amagba, Ekheuan Road, residents formed vigilance groups and take turns to watch all entry and exit points into their areas.
The commissioner of police in the state, Johnson Kokumo said the return of the police to their normal duties would be a gradual process after suffering the damages to their facilities which he said killed their morale. He said some of the escapee prisoners were sending threat messages to policemen who arrested and investigated them before their eventual prosecution and conviction. Kokumo said his men were working within existing limitations to restore normalcy to the state.
He said: “You can imagine what it means that three police stations along Sokponba road were destroyed and burnt; patrol vehicles destroyed in several other parts of the state capital, all the officers in these stations now operate from the headquarters. How do you expect things to be normal in a place where 2000 inmates escaped? Is there any magic we can do without vehicles, without arms and ammunition? We were doing our best to arrest the criminals in Edo before the jail break and we are equally trying our best to see that the escapees are re-arrested and brought to book.
Despite the fact that there was no attack on the Police in Plateau State, the presence of the personnel of the Force is not very visible on the highways and streets in the Jos and Bukuru metropolis.
Saturday Vanguard observed that spots where the personnel were always seen mounting road blocks have been free since the state government lifted the curfew which was imposed in the Jos North and Jos South local government areas but traffic police were on their duty posts at major junctions in the city directing traffic.
Personnel who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed they followed instructions of their superiors. A police Corporal serving in the C Division of the Force in Jos said, “What happened when the hoodlums hijacked the #EndSARS protest was a terrible thing, although we did not experience any attack here in Jos but we worked based on instruction. We are not off the roads but sometime when there were no operational vehicles, we allowed the team on critical assignment to use the available vehicle to carry out their duties. You don’t expect us to trek from the station to the road, the demand for work tools for the Police is a very valid one because we really lack things that can enhance our job.”
Another personnel, a Sergeant at the Anglo Jos station added, “We did not experience any attack here but we have to stay alive first before we combat crime”.
Barely a month after the attack on policemen and their offices by some hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest in Ekiti State policemen have gradually been returning to their duty posts following the intervention of the State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi who visited the state headquarters of the Ekiti State Police Command to pacify the leadership and men of the command with a promise to re-build damaged police stations and compensate victims of the attack. During the violent protest, several police officers were assaulted and injured while their personal property including vehicles were destroyed. Three police stations were set ablaze in Ikere Ekiti while several weapons were carted away.
Immediately after the unrest, many officers irrespective of their ranks went into hiding for safety of their lives while some had no office to resume to due to the destruction. No single patrol vehicle was sighted on the road except escort teams of VIPs a situation that gave rise to an increase in criminal activities and lawlessness in the state.
The issue became so alarming that the Ogoga of Ikere Ekiti summoned a town hall meeting where he cried out on the absence of policemen on the streets of the town. However, the situation has changed as many of the police officers have returned to their usual place of primary assignments
Speaking with vanguard correspondent, the Ekiti State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Sunday Abutu explained that the police officers are more combatant than ever before to do their job professionally. According to Abutu, many officers affected by the violent protest have moved on with their lives saying most of them have been consoled by the message of the IGP after the attack.
In a chat, a police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity claimed that the protest and attack against the police did not go down well with most of them. He said, “we were not happy that despite all we have done to protect people day and night, all they could do was to attack, kill and destroy our property. We are not the major cause of the problem, the police too are suffering, we have a lot of underneath problems we are facing but who do we run to? We have been working under an abnormal situation, I wonder how you expect the best from a man that has been subjected to poor accommodation, irregular allowances, and lack of working tools. The public can not do without police, we just need to manage ourselves and continue to endure until the right things are done by the concerned authorities.
A high ranking retired Police Officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in Yola, Adamawa state argued that it would take the Nigerian Police some months or years to recover from the trauma of the last #EndSARS protest. Speaking against the backdrop of the absence of policemen on the streets of Adamawa state after the protest, he said, though no police station was destroyed or police personnel killed in Adamawa during the protest, but what happened in other states speak volume.
“Policemen with their rifles were being chased and killed right in their stations and on the streets by armed protesters. They were killed and maimed and they could not defend themselves. And few months after the orgy of killings, you expect them to return to the streets and move freely like before? The Inspector General of Police has directed them to return to the streets, but he is not everywhere to protect the policemen. Policemen are human beings like us with families to take care of and if they recall what happened to their colleagues elsewhere, it will take time for them to regain their confidence.
“The usual police presence on the streets in Adamawa was drastically reduced. Policemen were only seen in groups being moved in their vehicles to their places of work or duty posts. Other policemen who moved from place to place, may either be going to work or returning from duty while hiding their uniforms to shield their identity. The absence of policemen on the streets and highways has actually resulted in the upsurge of crimes in the state.
“Most of the highways in the state today are no go areas, especially at nights. The roads are no longer safe, even the cities are equally affected by the absence of the police on the streets as armed robbers and other criminals are on the prowl”.
Some of the policemen spoken to expressed regret that the police was entirely reduced to nothing during the EndSARS Saga. They argued that though no policeman or station was attacked in the state as in other states, but what affects one affects the other. They said “many of our colleagues were killed in the guise of protest while others were maimed. It will surely take the police a long time to come to terms with the unfortunate protest and the killings associated with it, but with time we will adjust to the situation since we have signed to protect lives and property of the citizenry” some of the police personnel added.