Whichever way we look at it, what happened on Thursday, April 5, at Offa, Kwara was more than armed robbery. Over 50 people killed at the last count, including seven policemen, and five or six banks robbed, depending on the account you read, leaving behind tales of woes, sadness and befuddlement at how low we have sunk as a society.
What has been the response of our police so far to this horrific incident? The inspector general dispatched three mobile police units to Kwara State and the question one is forced to ask is, What for? No, this is not a critique of the Nigeria police, but just an attempt to force all of us rethink our ways and reflect more on the gradual sliding of our country into an Hobbesian state. We all know the police, warts and all, but it is hard not to feel at least a little sympathy for the rank and file of Nigeria police, who together with some decent officers, are also victims in a society like ours. It was painful reading the testimony of a retired inspector, 72-year old James Oyeyemi, who lost his daughter, Grace Makinde, also an inspector, in the tragedy wherein he lamented rhetorically, “How could someone with AK-47 face somebody with machine guns? The police do not have sufficient weapons.”
He should know, as he retired from the police in 1998 after 35 years of service, but the man did not say a new thing. As at today, we have less than 300, 000 policemen protecting nearly 200 million citizens and some of them are still assigned to protect so-called important persons, read public officers – either elected or appointed and those who could afford to pay the money the police charge for such guards. Recall the altercation between Senator Isah Hammah Misau and the inspector general over allegations of humongous money paid by embassies and multinational companies for such police guards. Misau not only asked the inspector general to provide an account of such payment, he added that the money could be put to better use in equipping the police better to do their job. Just ask any policeman around you what he goes through in discharging his duty and what happened in Offa as painful as it was, could not have been unexpected.
Further, the robbery pattern in Offa seems to be the commonest in the southwest part of Nigeria now. Nearly a year ago, specifically June, armed robbers attacked the police station in Iwo, Osun State, killing four policemen before attacking three backs in the town. Till date, banks in Iwo close their gates at 2pm citing security concerns. One of the banks robbed, FirstBank, actually opened her doors to customers only this year offering just ATM services since last year. November last year too saw 20 robbers, as eyewitnesses said, attacking banks in Ifon, headquarters of Ose local government, Ondo State, killing three policemen before using dynamite to blast their way through the banks in the town they visited a month earlier. Till date, no bank operates in Ijebu East local government area of Ogun State after series of robbery attacks six years ago. Yes, you read that, no bank is functional in an entire local government not because there are no banks but robbers chased them away.
Some questions deserve answers though. How come our policemen have become easy preys for robbers? Why are they usually the first target in such large-scale robberies? Of course we all know monies appropriated for police sometimes don’t get to them like other sectors in Nigeria and the corruption there is so rife too to the extent that one inspector general was actually convicted for graft, but robberies like that of Offa must force to rethink our security architecture. Whether we like it or not, incidents like this will throw up the issue of state police which we all pretend will go away quietly. More often, robbers come into a community, wreak havoc and leave tales of woes with scores dead in their trail. Offa has a naval formation but no help came from the naval ratings and officers as some Offa residents claimed. While not holding brief for the naval guys, how come the residents looked up to them if not that all efforts have failed?
Offa is also not far from Osogbo and Ilorin, two state capitals, but no reinforcement from the police in both towns bringing to focus interstate and intercity cooperation among the police. Four years ago, a friend in a border town of Ogun State watched helplessly as robbers decimated his home while a nearby police formation in Lagos State declined to help claiming it was outside her jurisdiction. As we commiserate with Offa people over the loss of their loved ones, we must equally ask our governors, “What do you do with your monthly “security vote?” A more fitting memorial will be the apprehension and successful prosecution of the beasts who perpetrated the heinous crime of last week.