By Our Editors
Weeks after the #EndSARS protest directed against the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police which snowballed into days of killings and looting across the country, Nigerians are still licking their wounds and counting their losses from the wanton destruction of properties in the aftermath of what was meant to be a peaceful protest.
The unfortunate hijack of the protest by hoodlums and the looting of private and public facilities also left a sour taste in the mouth of most Nigerians, in particular, the organisers of the well-intended protests. Part of the reprehensible side effect of the protest was the killing and maiming of innocent officers of the Nigeria Police who were carrying out their lawful duties.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu disclosed that 22 personnel were killed while 205 police stations were set ablaze following violence that erupted during the protest. Also, 71 public warehouses, 248 private stores were looted in 13 states and the FCT.
More disturbing is the fact that the Force encountered huge losses in terms of human and material resources during the #EndSARS protest which commenced on a rather peaceful note but degenerated into violence, loss of lives and unprecedented destruction of property.
Sequel to this rather bizarre development, wives of the slain police officers have become premature widows and their children fatherless as a result of the senseless killing of their bread winners.
As a newspaper, we consider it sad that while affected states have been counting their losses, the plight of the families of these officers who died in the line of duty is not being given enough attention. The impression being created is that, perhaps, police lives do not matter. The disturbing outcome of this situation is the fear that police officers may have also become endangered species as hoodlums pick on them at the slightest provocation. This, in turn, has led to a rise in activities of criminals and armed robbers as nearly all checkpoints across the country have been deserted by police officers who fear for their lives.
This newspaper is of the view that while armed robbery and other vices have resurfaced in some major cities in daring dimensions due to justifiable absence of police officers on the streets, the government should, as a matter of urgency, guarantee the safety of these security operatives in order for them to return to their duty posts, especially during this festive period when crime is usually on the increase.
While the IGP had recently charged officers and men of the Force to protect themselves if attacked in the course of doing their jobs, he reiterated that police officers are also human beings and in the course of doing their jobs, they are faced with danger and they must therefore defend themselves to stay alive. We have cause to be afraid that if the situation is allowed to get to the point where the citizenry and the Police are engaged in mutual antagonism, a lot could go wrong. That will, in no way, help the already dreadful security challenges confronting the nation.
Adamu had alleged that the #EndSARS protesters were out to demoralise Police personnel. This, in our view, is an unfortunate misinterpretation of what was, essentially, a public response to the inanities of a unit of the Force. SARS, we insist, was a slur on the image of the Police and did not, by any stretch of the imagination, equate to the Police as a Force. But on a salutary note, the police chief disclosed that the government and the management of the Force would soon roll out packages for the families of the deceased officers.
While the Lagos State government has taken steps to ensure that police officers killed in the protest are duly compensated, this paper is of the view that other affected states and the FCT should take a cue from moves by Lagos to bring succour to the families of the deceased officers.
At the same time, we urge government at all levels to ensure adequate welfare provision for the Police in order to enable them to carry out their duties diligently. It is from this standpoint that we consider the sum of N11 billion as budgetary allocation to the police, too paltry for the huge responsibilities that they are called upon to shoulder in a crime-infested country that Nigeria has unfortunately become.
While we applaud the speedy assent of the Police Reform Act by President Muhammadu Buhari, it is important also for the government to address the daunting challenges confronting the Police by amending other obsolete laws impeding their performance. All said, we will remain firm in our argument that the Police are human and so they have rights, official and personal, that must be protected.