BY RICHARD NDOMA, Calabar, ANAYO
ONUKWUGHA, Port Harcourt, KALU EZIYI,
UMUAHIA, OBINNA OGBONNAYA, Abakaliki and OKECHWUKU OBETA, Awka
Anxiety has enveloped men and women of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in the South South and South East geopolitical zones following recent attacks that appeared targeted at police stations and the cops in the South East and South South regions.
LEADERSHIP Sunday checks revealed that policemen in these parts of the country have devised means of protecting themselves from the attacks.
It was learnt that the cops no longer report for duty with uniforms for fear of being killed.
Our correspondents gathered that many officers in those states now hide their uniforms in bags on their way to work, while wearing mufti to evade attack.
This came after at least 20 policemen were killed at different times in Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi and Cross River States within the past one month.
Some stakeholders have expressed concern that if the trend continues, it would impair morale among policemen very soon thereby affect their efficiency in tackling criminals.
Some officers who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said they are now cautious, as they are not sure when the next attack would happen.
“The attackers are well armed and always operate at night,” a policeman in Ebonyi said.
Checks by our correspondent showed that on February 24, four policemen were reportedly killed on duty at Nkpologwu, Aguata local government area of Anambra State by unknown gunmen and their rifles were taken away.
They were killed at a checkpoint in the community and the police patrol vehicle was set ablaze by the assailants.
In Abia State, the police spokesman, Geoffery Ogbonna, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that there had been three attacks on them since January this year during which four policemen died.
He said the first occurred at Omoba Divisional Police Station in Isiala Ngwa South local government area followed by the one at Urrata Junction and the last at the World Bank Housing Estate, Abayi, both in Osisioma local government area.
Noting that one policeman each and two died in the Omoba, Urrata, and Abayi attacks respectively, the command spokesman however dismissed suggestions that some policemen were no longer reporting for duty for fear of either being attacked or killed.
Ogbonna, maintained that the attacks, which he described as unprovoked, were a manifestation of the security challenges in the country, even as he assured that the Command was making efforts to ensure the protection of lives and property in the state.
Some of the leaders of neighbourhoods where the attacks took place said they were not only horrific but were well coordinated and executed, and residents have since then been living in fear.
In Ebonyi, gunmen in the early hours of Monday attacked the Iboko Divisional Police Station in Izzi local government area.
Sources revealed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that the attackers were said to have set the police station ablaze with fire bombs.
When contacted, the police commissioner, Aliyu Garba, confirmed the incident, adding that no casualty was however recorded in the attack.
“Yes, they attacked the station around 1:00 am but there was no casualty. They threw improvised fire bombs at the station and it ignited but it only affected a small part of the building,” he said, adding that the command was taking steps to protect police facilities and personnel in the state.
“The steps we are taking include reinforcements in units and divisions needing such and rebuilding confidence of the personnel,” he said.
In January, three policemen were killed in another attack on the Onueke Police Station in Ezza South local government area of the state.
In February, the Police Divisional Headquarters in Isu, Onicha local government area was also burnt by hoodlums who torched four patrol vans. The gunmen also took away some arms and ammunitions from the station.
PANDEF, Ohanaeze Condemn Attacks
A chieftain of the pan-Igbo organisation Ohaneze N’digbo in Aba, Nze Jerry Odiba, in a chat with LEADERSHIP Sunday, condemned the attacks and called for a thorough investigation into the killings to unravel those behind them.
He cautioned against attaching any form of sentiment, reading, or mission to the attacks. In Cross River State, six policemen were killed by hoodlums in the last two months, the state police spokesperson, Irene Ugbo, said Friday in Calabar during an interview with our correspondent.
A breakdown of police personnel murdered by hoodlums in Cross River showed that four were killed around Idudundu axis in Calabar municipality.
They were attacked while on night duty by suspected members of a secret cult who were preparing to conduct an initiation.
Ugbo said two other policemen were killed at a checkpoint in Obubra local government area of the state. She said no police station was burnt in the state since the attacks started.
She said the state commissioner of police, Sikiru Akande, had organized a show of force at strategic areas to see how his men were fairing.
“Our men have been steady at strategic points of duty, we cannot be afraid. We have well trained officers who know their onions and as such cannot be cowed or intimidated by criminals,” she said.
In his remarks, the clan head of Agbogbo community, Minen Bachot Basssey, said he could not understand why things are almost getting out of hand.
“This isn’t the country we grew up to meet. Though President Buhari on his part is trying, it is just that the people we have now as children are so terrible, desperate to get whatever they desire, this was not so decades ago. I think unemployment too can be identified as one of the reasons behind criminality in our land,” he said.
The monarch urged the government not to relent in the effort to curb the insecurity in the country.
The youth leader of Ogbagantee in Akparabong local government area of Cross River State, advised government to employ men and women in almost every community in the country to feed security agents with relevant information that can lead to the arrest of criminals even before the crimes are committed, adding that the challenge ahead of the country is too big for security agents alone to tackle.
According to the president of Ohaneze N’digbo Cross River State branch, Chief Barrister Ugorji Nwabueze, government should double her effort to ensure that the plague is subdued.
“What we see now is as a result of the unemployment situation the nation is confronted with. Militancy, ethic militia and all sorts of groups are springing up on daily basis. If I were in government, I would ensure that all ethno-religious revolutionary organizations are prevented from springing up. These organizations to me are like a threat to the peaceful coexistence in our dear country.
“When the youth population of any nation is allowed to stay unemployed, without jobs, the nation becomes a fertile ground for anti-peace/anti-government organizations to recruit them for crime.
“Should government create jobs for the unemployed, you will discover that only a few would tilt to crime,” he said.
Also, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has condemned attacks on police stations and the killing of police officers in parts of the country, especially in the South-East and South-South.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Port Harcourt, PANDEF’s spokesman, Ken Robinson, described the attacks as ‘barbaric’, and should not be condoned in a civilised society.
Robinson said: “To the extent that some policemen reportedly no longer report to duty for fear of getting killed. Those behind these attacks and their sponsors should realize that nobody would be safe in a policeless state.
“We understand that there are criminal elements in the police but that does not mean every police officer is bad or that the Nigeria Police is the citizens’ enemy.
“PANDEF, therefore, calls on the perpetrators of the attacks to cease forthwith and seek lawful and acceptable ways to vent whatever exasperations they may be having.
“We also call on the police authorities to redouble efforts to sanitise the force, weed out rogue officers, and restore the dwindling primacy of the Nigeria Police within the internal security architecture of the country, while at the same time, urging police officers to be professional in their conduct.”
Osinbajo Restates Call For State Police
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has restated his advocacy for the decentralization of the Nigeria Police Force.
Osinbajo made the call at the opening session of an international conference on patriotism, security, governance and national development.
The event was organized by the Global Patriot newspaper in collaboration with the Nigerian Consulate in New York and Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) New Jersey chapter.
“We must accept that there is a need for greater decentralization of the police force. I have been a frequent advocate of state policing and I believe this certainly must be the way we must go. The National Assembly is in a position to consider some of the proposals that have gone to them for the purpose of devolving more powers to the states for security purposes and for addressing the security challenges,” he said.
He said the task of building a society desired by all Nigerians is exerting and requires the contribution of all Nigerians as the challenge for everyone.
On the need for citizens to unite in building a better society, the vice president added: “The task of nation-building is exerting and may even appear messy as the process continues, especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation like Nigeria. It challenges all values, patience and tolerance of citizens, it may even be costly. It is a challenge thrown to everyone, to build, not to destroy, to add to, not to take away.”
Regarding steps taken to address the perennial crises between farmers and herders, Prof. Osinbajo said the federal and state governments were committed to the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) as developed by a consensus of governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC).
Explaining the initiative, he said, “The NLTP is a comprehensive strategy for addressing farmer/herder conflict, essentially by encouraging interested states to establish cattle ranches.
“The crucial point here is that no community or state is compelled in any shape or form to give land for ranching. Ranching is essentially a business. NLTP is not a land grab in any way. Every state is completely responsible for its land. The federal government cannot go to any state and take any land.
“Already, 22 states have indicated interest and pilots with the support of the Netherlands government, are ongoing in four states of Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau and Gombe. If we are able to execute the NLPT, we will be able to see an end to the farmer-herder conflict because the goal is to make livestock breeders more sedentary and derive more financial benefits,” the vice president added.
Other participants at the meeting were Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Prof. Tijjani Bande; President of NIDO, Dr Kazeem Bello and prominent lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), among others.