A Shameful and Shameless Police Force

by Abiodun Ladepo

Did you read The Punch newspaper of December 4, 2008? I laughed my heart out at the story of the 14 alleged oil thieves arrested in an NNPC 10,000 cubic tank. No, the fact that thieves were routinely breaking into NNPC tanks was not funny. The hilarious part of the story was the assertion by one of the thieves that the police, who caught them, had always been in connivance with them in the past!

Hear 28 year-old Eni Samuel, one of the thieves: “Severally, we used to go inside the big tanks to collect fuel and make returns to them (Police)…This is the business we do with the police and one of them has our number (that) they use in calling us when it is time for business…It is business between us and the police and security agents…How can we have access in there if the police are not cooperating with us? You see, their container office is directly opposite the NNPC Tank farm gate and the tank we entered is directly opposite the gate too. The police always open the gate for us to enter and operate.”

The police always open the gate for armed robbers to rob?

The Punch also reported that one of the thieves confessed to paying the police N1500 per every 75 liters of oil they stole. “This is big business and I have been doing it for a long time since breaking the pipelines is a bit more dangerous,” he said.

Of course, the police swore up and down, denying ever knowing any member of the gang. Yet, they were able to “arrest” these people who carried weapons like rifles, shotguns and locally made pistols, without firing a single shot. Did negotiations break down somewhere? I tend to believe the version of the thieves in this instance more than I believe that of the police.

And that was why I laughed at the story. I really should have cried for my country. But how many such stories would I cry about? On the same day (December 4, 2008), The Sun newspaper also reported that every bank in Ibadan, the largest city in black Africa (until the unofficial “amalgamation” of Lagos Island and Lagos Mainland), were forced to close their doors out of fear of an invasion by bands of armed robbers. The state commissioner of police, Basiru Azeez, pathetically wondered why the banks closed without his permission. “We did not ask them to close down. We have told them we have provided enough security. There is no reason for this panic. We have mobilized enough men to the field. We even withdrew some people from other places to the town to beef up security. We are on top of the situation. I will call them (the banks) to another meeting tomorrow,” he said.

…There is no reason for this panic”? Really? Where was Azeez the previous week when the whole of UCH (a stone’s throw from the governor’s office), Mokola and Bodija were shut down as armed robbers went from bank to bank killing people and dragging away bags of money? Where was the police command? Where were the police when a bank on the intersection of Ring Road and Adeoyo Road was repeatedly robbed early this year?

In those halcyon days of yore, bank doors were ajar. You walked in, conducted your transactions and walked out without the fear of armed robbers. The banks’ strong rooms were indeed strong rooms – solid metal walk-in safes – with multiple combination locks that bank managers, assistant managers and accountants maintained. Armed robbers had to have all three personnel and all three combination locks present in order to carry out a successful raid. I do not recall ever seeing a single police officer guarding any bank – at least not the old Standard Bank (now First Bank) where a close relative worked.

Well, Mr. Azeez did call the bank executives to a meeting the next day. But out of the 24 banks spread around Ibadan, only 10 sent representatives. The attitude of the bank executives reflects that of the generality of Nigerians: total loss of confidence in the police. At one of the robbed banks in Bodija, the security measures emplaced by the bank were almost air-tight. There were guards that let you in the parking lot; there were armed roving guards in and around the premises; the door in and out of the banking hall was such that allowed only one person at a time. Never mind the hazards of fire and other emergencies that may require a fast and mass evacuation of such a public place. That bank, and many others, more or less barricaded themselves inside during banking hours. The entrances to most of the banks had Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras that record every movement, and so were the banking halls and strong rooms; many of the cashiers’ windows had bullet-resistant glass. So, what more could these banks have done to prevent fatal armed robberies? Shut their doors and send their workers home, since, depending on the conniving police to protect them is tantamount to suicide.

I have always believed that most successful robberies are carried out with the aid and abetment of insiders. Think about it for a moment: would you rather rob a house that you didn’t know if there were valuable properties in it, or would you rather rob the one you were certain held valuable goods? How would you verify that a house had valuable goods other than visiting the place prior to the robbery? How would you know whether the occupants of the house were armed or not, and if they were, what sorts of weapons they had? How would you know the best time to conduct your robbery in order to maximize your take? The answer to all these questions is: insider information. You need someone that works (or used to work) in a bank in order to know the security layout. You need the same person to tell you when huge cash deliveries are made. You need someone to disable the CCTV just long enough for you to carry out your operation. Above all, you need someone at the local police station to ensure that the unit did not respond on time when distressed bankers call.

Oh, there is one more thing: what if you were a police officer in mufti? Doesn’t that dramatically improve the chances of successfully robbing a bank? You already have easy access to guns; you already know how to use them; you know that weapons and ammunition accountability in your unit is, at best, a farce; you know when your unit is conducting shift change-over and so would be slow to respond to any call; you know when the patrol vehicle is either without fuel or is on the other side of town; you know when the bank is due to receive huge deposits because it had notified you so you could protect it, and you know the bank’s security layout because it trusted you with it. Why not rob the bank yourself and blame it on some phantom robbers – those that seem to fly in from the outer space and fly back out as soon as the robberies are completed? Do not armed robbers live right among us? Did not the police use to have a section tagged Criminal Investigation Department (CID)? Was not it the CID’s responsibility to ferret information on armed robbers from the public in surreptitious manners? What happened to the good old investigative policing? Did they move everybody to road side robbery in the name of road side checkpoint?

Why…why have not the police captured any culprit in any of the major armed robberies that have taken place in the Ibadan Metropolis (and along the LagosIbadan express-way) in the past six months? A Yoruba adage goes something like this: a limping masquerade enters the house, and soon after, a limping person exits the same house; who does not know that it is the same limping masquerade that just exits as a limping person? Who does not know that the battalion or armed robbers now tormenting the people of Oyo State, (and, in fact, all parts of Nigeria) is peopled, at least in part, by men and women who have sworn to protect Nigeria and Nigerians? How many readers of this piece have ever touched a gun, let alone load one and shoot one? How many readers of this piece know where a gun shop is located in Nigeria? I am not talking about your local blacksmith that manufactures your single-shot hunting rifle. I am talking about a shop where you can purchase a military-style machine gun, AK-47s, automatic eight-cartridge shotguns, 9mm hand guns, incinerator grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers, hollowed bullets, and bullet-resistant vests – for these are the tools that the so-called armed robbers bring to work. They are so brazen that they bring with them electric power generators (in case there is power outage) and chain saws with which they cut through your metal burglar-proof windows in broad daylight. It used to be that they sent letters to whole neighborhoods about their intent to rob them on specific date and time. They came on time, usually in a convoy of vehicles, robbed to their hearts’ content and left when they were satisfied. Now they write to banks, giving them advance notices of their intent to rob on specific days!

These are not your run-of-the-mill armed robbers. These are either trained military personnel, or trained police officers, or a combination of both. These are not men and (yes) women of the underworld. These are men and women paid to protect you. I refuse to believe that a police force worth its salt will sit idly on its hands while its communities are ravaged over and over by savage entities and in broad daylight too.

Azeez swore to newsmen: “We will fight the armed robbers to a standstill.” Standstill? Haba! Standstill is stalemate, my friend. Who wants his police force to fight armed robbers to a standstill? Whatever happened to dying for one’s country, especially if one is wearing its uniform? Or could it be that the country is no longer worth dying for? So, the goal of the police force is only to fight to a standstill and not to vanquish the armed robbers? I guess Azeez would declare victory if the armed robbers packed up and moved shop to Lagos or Gun State. Did Azeez want the banks to put their fate in the hands of the same police force that helplessly stood by, and probably participated in the recent deadly riot in Jos?

When the premise of our struggle is faulted, how can our vision be attainable? I know that most of our police officers are not policemen during the day and armed robbers at night. I know that some of them really want to make a difference. And for those who truly care about their job, I know it is unfair to ask them to die for a country that equips them with antiquated weaponry and sends them after drugged up, adrenaline-driven, and better equipped armed robbers. I know that it is asking too much of the police corporal to place his life in harm’s way when his commissioner is living a life of stupendous wealth attained through dirty means. I know that if I were a police officer, I would rather my IGP focuses on the health, welfare and morale of me and my family members; the provision of logistical support ranging from simple radios, to motorcycles, vehicles, arms, ammunition and intelligence, than milling around Mr. President in Aso rock, making and serving his tea, and chasing Nuhu Ribadu all over the country. And if I were the President, I would reorganize the police force, starting with the dismissal of the current ineffectual, compromised IGP.

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