Urgent vacancy for bandit hunters

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 24 Feb 2008
I abandoned my car and ran for dear life. It was about 9pm on Egbeda-Idimu Road on the outskirts of Lagos. Not that I am a coward. But when you see people parking their cars and running to nowhere, the first instinct will be to join them. On enquiry, I learnt that armed robbers were operating nearby. A few metres from the scene of the robbery is the Idimu Police Station. After more than 30 minutes, when people felt the robbers had gone, they re-entered their cars and continued their journey.
I also emerged from my hideout and sped off. In front of the Idimu Police Station was a team of policemen on checkpoint duty. They stopped me and ordered me to open my boot. They searched everywhere, even to the point of removing my rear light cover, apparently to search for guns. I felt like hitting the man peeping at every corner of the boot. Some minutes ago, armed robbers operated in their domain unhindered. Instead of hunting for these marauders, the police showed their ingenuity in searching a man, who was alone in his car.

I pitied the cops, just as I took pity on some thieves who stole my mobile handset penultimate Friday. I didn‘t wind up my glass as I used to. So, as I drove along a traffic jam on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway by Dopemu Bridge in Lagos, somebody tapped me, saying some incomprehensible things. Just as I turned to look at him, his comrade in crime stretched his hand from the passenger’s side, took the phone I kept below the stereo compartment and ran away. It happened within a split second.

Many other people have lost their phones and other valuables this way, some at gunpoint. In many streets of our cities, robbers unleash a reign of terror. Sometimes, they move from house to house, maiming, killing and terrorising citizens without any challenge from the police.

Banks particularly have been the worst hit. Last January 31, bandits invaded Canaanland, headquarters of the Living Faith Church, also known as the Winners Chapel at Ota in Ogun State. They raided four banks in the complex, carted away huge sums of money and killed some people. Penultimate week, up to 23 people lost their lives to robbery attacks on banks in Ebonyi, Osun and Kogi states. Millions of naira were also lost to the bandits.

Snatching of cars is now a regular occurrence. Music star Tuface Idibia and popular actress, Uche Jombo, are recent victims as they reportedly lost their Jeeps to bandits. An editor of a national magazine was also said to have recently lost his official car two times within one week in Lagos. The first time, it was Oodua People’s Congress that helped him to recover it. The robbers snatched it the second time about six days after. Since then, nobody has been able to trace the car.

What bothers me in all this is how 20, 40 or even 50 youths, as the case may be, could gather together to plan robbery attacks. How possible is it to recruit this large number of armed robbers? Something tells me that these could be university graduates who, perhaps, belonged to one cult or the other when they were in school. By the time they come out of school without any prospect of finding jobs, they easily gather together to form a robbery gang.

The crime situation in the country is worsened by the fact that there is no social security system, as obtains in some advanced nations, to take care of unemployed people. After enduring pangs of hunger for some months, some youths become willing tools to be recruited into robbery gangs.

They do not care about the consequences because those elected to take care of their interests have abandoned them. They are more after amassing wealth and looting the commonwealth. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission was reported last week to have increased the annual salaries and allowances of National Assembly members to N60bn up from about N41bn. This contrasts sharply with the general trend of grinding poverty in the country.

In a report, which the US government released recently, Nigeria reportedly earned $55bn from oil exports in 2007. This placed the country as the fourth highest revenue earner among member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Ironically, the report also ranked the country second among the poorest OPEC members with a per capita income of $409. Algeria reportedly earned $51bn with a per capita income of $1,516.

The argument of some people is that Nigeria’s population is large. This, however, ought to be an asset. China and India are equally very populous. But because they have mastered the art of wealth creation, they are better off. We depend almost solely on oil revenue without bothering to diversify the economy. People struggle to be in government not to serve, but to be part of those who share the resources of this country. Little consideration is given to the development of infrastructure that will make private businesses thrive.

The result is that bandits are not just multiplying by the day; they operate with venom. In the last six months of 2006, according to official statistics, 150 Lagos residents lost their lives to robbery attacks. The police have also lost a good number of their men to robbers.

Besides, a regime of fear has pervaded the land. Nobody feels secure anymore. People sleep with one eye closed. Many motorists drive with their hearts in their mouths. Some drive into their houses with trepidation, always looking back to ensure nobody is coming behind. Even when a bad car exhaust pipe releases its thunderous sound, some people duck from imaginary bullets.

No doubt, the police have failed in their duty to secure citizens against robbery attacks. And typical of a man who is pursuing rats while his house is on fire, the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, is rather upset at the way policemen are presented in films. He reportedly told senior police officers in Abuja recently that “our policemen are courteous and responsible and not the way they are represented in films.” Hence, he plans to have a meeting with Nollywood film producers to discuss the issue. He also intends to vet scripts that have police characters.

Happily, authorities of the force in Edo, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun and Railways are said to be thinking of how to effectively use community-policing concept to fight crime. Beyond this, security agencies need to guard their armouries jealously. Nigerians do not want to hear any story of missing arms and ammunition anymore. The cops must emphasise intelligence gathering in their efforts to fight crime. They must be thorough in their recruitment process to avoid recruiting ex-convicts into the force.

Above all, they must engage in some soul searching. They should find out why some state governments have placed their hopes of combating crime on a local hunter. According to a front-page report in THISDAY of 19 February, the governors of Bauchi, Katsina and Kebbi have engaged the services of a hunter called Ali Kwara to flush out robbers from their states. The man is so effective that some other states in the North are showing interest in engaging him. And the police high command is said to have endorsed him.

Gradually, the black uniformed men are advertising their irrelevance in the fight against crime. We need more hunters in all the states of the federation to save us from the incompetence of this crippled force.

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