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The military and law enforcement

Published by The Nation on Fri, 16 Aug 2019

WHAT the growing incidence of internal security is real is no longer deniable. Citizen anxiety is also on the rise. On its part, government doesnt fold its hands and is actively engaged in providing thoughtful solution. State governments are especially on the offensive with various initiatives designed to curb the menace. And the federal government is actively engaging stakeholders from traditional rulers to governors and security agencies.As a zone that has been hit hard in the past few months, the Southwest has prudently and wisely led the struggle for a more effective security architecture in the country. Acknowledging its preeminent role in the matter, the executive branch of the federal government recently met with Southwest traditional rulers to intimate them with its new policy initiatives to combat the scourge of insecurity.The timing of the meeting was not unconnected with the publicized positions of the respected monarchs on behalf of their subjects. While Iku Baba Yeye, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi sent a powerful letter to the president, Oonirisa Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi paid a special royal visit to the Villa. These are enough to trigger a fitting response from the president. Meeting with the traditional rulers, President Buhari outlined new measures his government was taking.In an announcement on his Twitter handle, the president informed the nation of these measures, which include expediting commencement of our community policing initiative, and revamping police intelligence gathering capacity; boosting the numbers of security personnel; recruiting police officers from their Local Government Areas and stationing them there.Others include speedy approval of licensing for states requesting the use of drones to monitor forests and other criminal hideouts; installing CCTVs on highways and other strategic locations; and equipping the police force with advanced technology and equipment to facilitate their work.Lastly, the president promised to continue to bring in our military when needed to complement the work of the police, including possible deployment of troops on certain highways on a temporary basis, and to use the Nigerian Air Force assets to bomb hideouts where criminals are located.We must commend the government for rising to what the occasion demands. Surely, many citizens would wonder why it took so long. They may also see many of these new initiatives as not so extraordinary because they are normal ingredients of a good security menu.Take community policing, for example. The agitation for state police has been predicated on the premise that the closer to the community policing is, the more effective it is in ensuring the security of citizens. Community policing is not state police. It is still going to be under the supervision of the Nigerian Police. But recruiting its personnel from the local community and stationing them there is going to be tremendously helpful. What took so long' And for how much longer do we have to wait for implementation after policy pronouncements' Thats blowing in the wind.Of all the measures outlined by the president, however, theres one that must raise the anxiety level of well-meaning citizens especially considering old history and more recent stories. The idea of sending soldiers to the highways even on temporary basis should give us pause. What questions does this raise' What fears are to be entertained' What risks does it pose'The military is best known as our strong tower against external attack and assault to national security. Involving the military in road check points is using them for law enforcement. From our past national experience, we can expect very little good coming out of military involvement in law enforcement. From the mid-60s to the late-90s, when the military held court over civil matters, we remember how respectful they are of civilians. With guns on one hand and horse whip on the other, they traumatized our people and violently assaulted our dignity.Yet, it was during that time that Nigeria had its first cases of armed robbery in the land. The draconian decree that imposed the death penalty by firing squad on armed robbery hardly did much to deter the crime. Instead, the criminals became daring and more deadly, choosing to kill their victims to prevent them from becoming witnesses against them at trial.Law enforcement is the responsibility of the police. When the military has shared this responsibility with them, we have seen untoward effects in clashes between the personnel of the two agencies. The latest incidence is the unfortunate killing of three police officers belonging to the highly regarded IGPs Intelligence Response Team (IRT). The killing is reckless. The subsequent explanation is even more insulting to the memory of the gallant officers.This latest incidence of killer soldiers in Taraba state raises serious questions. If it can happen to police IRT, it can happen to bloody civilians for whom soldiers have the least respect and the greatest contempt.According to media reports, the police officers had gone on a mission to arrest a notorious kidnapper, a former petty fish trader who found new wealth in kidnapping for ransom in Taraba State. They had reportedly worked with the Taraba Police Command. Their mission accomplished with the criminal in handcuffs, they headed to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo. They encountered soldiers at checkpoints on the way. This is where a thick fog of confusion sets in.The military claimed that the van that the police drove was flagged down at three army checkpoints but refused to stop. The police disputed this claim. The military also claimed that the soldiers received a distress call about a kidnapping, a red signal to which they responded by pursuing the police officers. They caught up with them and opened fire on the vehicle, killing three officers and a civilian and rescuing the kidnapper who they turned to victim. Sadly, even after the truth was known, the military still referred to the police as the kidnappers. Aside from lost lives, this is the most disgusting aspect of the military excuse.One aspect of the military narrative appeared to be confirmed by other sources. Hamisu Bala, the kidnapper, is evil. He is also clever. After he was apprehended, handcuffed, and bundled in the van, he managed to peep out of the van and raised an alarm that he was being kidnapped. His friends and beneficiaries of his largess pursued the van and at the third check point they informed the military. That was how the military got involved.Several questions scream for answers. Why did the soldiers open fire on the van carrying the police instead of stopping it and arresting its occupants' Did they shoot indiscriminately into the van or did they target the police officers' If the former, how was the kidnapper spared' If the latter, why' And when they finally killed the three officers, did the soldiers not identify the handcuff on the kidnapper as a police tool of arrest' If they did, why did they release him' If they didnt, did they make any inquiries on why he was handcuffed'According to the police, one of the dying officers told the soldiers that they were police officers on duty. Why did not this alert the soldiers to their terrible mistake and handover the kidnapper to the police' As they were not accredited law-enforcement officers, shouldnt it occur to the soldiers to at least contact the police command to do more investigation' What is most troubling question: are the soldiers in cahoots with kidnappers'This last question raises a serious issue. The Nation reports that after the police officers and civilian were killed, Bala, with handcuffed hands and chained legs, managed to crawl to safety inside a house. On the following day, he contacted an army captain who helped him cut the chains and handcuff. This facilitated his escape.This latest military indiscretion is a red flag. We must avoid involving them in law enforcement on our roads. We must not create more deadly encounters while trying to solve others. Give the police the tools they need. Attend to their welfare. Recruit more men and women of integrity. They will get the job done.May the souls of the gallant officers rest in peace.
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