Cases of attacks on police posts in the country have become recurring incidents. Police stations have become easy targets for hoodlums and criminals in society. Just last week, the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State, Ngozi Onadeko, confirmed that some armed hoodlums attacked a police station at Odo-Osun, Mapo area of Ibadan. These hoodlums numbering about 30 freed suspects from custody, ransacked everywhere before they left.
The attack on Onueke Police Station in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State on Friday, 8 January 2021 was more deadly.
In an interview with The Journal Nigeria, police spokesperson, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Loveth Odah confirmed the incident and stated that 3 police officers lost their lives: 2 inspectors and one sergeant. One of the late police officers was buried a week ago according to her.
Odah also added that the Divisional Police Officer’s (DPO) office, about 2 or 3 rooms (the officers’ quarters) 2 patrol vehicles, one exhibit and a personal vehicle were all set ablaze.
All the above took place this year. It was not different in 2020. Last November, it was reported that armed men attacked the divisional police headquarters in Igueben, Edo State. Two police officers, one inspector of police and a corporal were badly injured during the attack that later sparked serious protest in the locality as hundreds of youth took to the streets, calling on police headquarters to investigate the incident, which they believed was carried out with internal backing.
No region of Nigeria is spared this recurring embarrassment. The divisional police headquarters at Gidan Madi in Tangaza Local Government Area of Sokoto State was also attacked by gunmen in September 2020. Two officers, a DSP and one Inspector were killed in the incident.
In 2019, there was yet another attack of a police station in Agudama Ekpetiama community in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The attack claimed the lives of a DPO, 3 other police officers, including a pregnant woman, leaving 2 others seriously injured.
In March 2019, an invasion at Afuze Police station in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State, led to the killing of the DPO and four other officers. One could also recall there was a free flow of attacks on police posts during the End-SARS protest.
Recapping the Ebonyi incident that happened last month, DSP Odah said ‘People rushed into the police station to lay complaint that they were being attack in their houses. The Police began to organize themselves in preparation to move for the rescue of the other family members they claimed were held hostage. No one suspected that the station was ambushed and that the complainants were part of the deadly attackers. The armed attackers in a flash stepped in from all angles and rained gunshots on policemen who were off-guard. It became a very serious attack’.
Sometimes, the criminals would come in disguise as seen in the attack that occurred in Sokoto state where the armed men came dressed in military uniforms.
One major thing about all the aforementioned police invasions is that they all happened in the night. Those criminals must have studied the Nigeria police system and when they are most vulnerable.
The criminals must have also noted the fact that there are few policemen on night duties in most police stations. With that, it became so easy to carry out the dastardly acts.
The Police have several units, including the Mounted Branch, the Police Dog Section, the force Signals Section (which operates radio communications), the Central Motor Registry and so on. Contrary to popular opinion that the signal section is operating poorly, DSP Odah revealed that ‘the DPO communicated with the police HQ promptly and with ease they were immediately reinforced. If not, the plan of those criminal was to kill as many as possible and burn down the entire police station, but they were seriously repelled by the policemen on duty there and those that joined. So they communicated, the communication is working very well’.
Speaking on the Gidan Madi divisional police headquarters attack in Sokoto State the leader of the International Association of Educators for World Peace, Darlington Abdullahi, said the attackers’ aim was to destroy public confidence in security system and the government.
“The key thing is that the people will now begin to feel that the government is incapable of taking care of them and that is the strong message that these people want to spread. And that is one of the things that can make insurgency flourish because they’re able to lure people into their fold,” he said.
Looking at the attacks on most other police stations, it is clear that the attackers wanted to steal arms and ammunition. In divisional Police Headquarters at Igueben, Edo attack, following the explosion, the armed men, as soon as they gained access to the building, headed for the armoury where the arms and ammunition are kept and carted away large quantities of arms and ammunition.
The lapses that allow these wanton attacks are so visible. According to DSP Odah, the police manpower is on the low side. One policeman is slated to protect over 500 Nigerians. This ratio of police officers to the Nigerian population has made it much easier for hoodlums to operate. Criminals have taken advantage of the fact that in the police station, especially, the ones at the grassroots, the level of manpower is low.
She added even in that low manpower, the officers posted for night duties are extremely low in number. With that, when criminals troop into police stations in large numbers to attack, the personnel are easily overwhelmed. This can be seen in the Ebonyi attack, where the attackers were over 50, while there were around 100 gunmen in the Sokoto attack.
In Ebonyi State, for instance, the manpower level is so low and because of the rural nature of the state, many policemen don’t want to serve there. ‘In fact, almost everybody here is on transfer, it’s just the help of current IGP who said that anybody who is seeking or has been transferred should not be released yet, that is why we are having the number we are having here today’. DSP Odah recounted.
She added that out of the 2 rifles stolen, one has been recovered. DSP Odah also revealed that the perpetrators of the Police Area Command Headquarters attack that happened on October 14, 2020, have been arrested and the 2 rifles that were stolen was also recovered on 16 October. She made it known that the October attack was unprovoked as the criminals attacked because they were sent to steal police rifle. The question is why should the police station suddenly become a gallery of arms and ammunition for criminals to pick?
In August 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the sum of N13.3 billion for the Community Policing scheme in Nigeria. This move sparked several criticisms from those who felt that the focus should be on poverty and economic hardship since they are the major reasons for crime. Despite these contrary views, DSP Odah remarked that the community policing has been of tremendous help. For each Local Government Area, the Federal Government sponsors 16 and the State Government take up 34 making it 50 per local government.
‘This has helped us a lot in ensuring that the community is safe. I think the people in all those communities know all those who are not of good behaviour, they will be able to point at them so immediately we remove them from the community, the community will be safer. They will help us to mark out crime, peculiar issues in their area so that we can tackle things together’, she added.
The community policing has helped to boost the poor manpower in the police force and especially in Ebonyi state. Odah further stated that ‘whenever we hear about notorious robbers somewhere, the people in that community help a lot, even apprehending, detecting crime and prevention of crime’.
To end these attacks on police posts such police stations can have a proper fencing system with barbed wires. Policemen can be at strategic locations in the police stations and well equipped at every time of the day but most especially at night when these criminals like to strike. The popular Area F Police Barrack in Ikeja Lagos is a clear example of how a police station should be structured.
On the way forward, Odah stated that police itself has actually restructured. She noted that there are strategies being put in place for a effective policing in the year:
‘We have mapped out strategies this year, 2021. We are doing everything possible to ensure better policing this year to avert a future re-occurrence of such attack’.
Odah advised policemen to rekindle their morale. “Their morale should be boosted. I am talking about the workforce not allowing the whole thing that happened few months ago, the protests and attacks, to weigh them down, they should just remember that the responsibilities are in their hands as far as securing the country internally is concerned”.
Aside from the community policing that was put in place, Odah pointed out that the sensitization and educational programme launched by the current IGP, which she (Odah) is part of as a coordinator for Ebonyi State, is also a welcome development to end this menace. Although the programme is yet to take place, she noted that preparations are in place to actualize it in the year.
Faith Omo Ohioze