• Friday, June 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

Military takeover of civil policing signals Nigeria’s worsening insecurity

Nigeria records more deaths by terrorism as fatalities rise 10,366 last year

For many years now, Nigeria has been contending with assorted security issues which have kept successive governments and administrations on their toes.

The country is said to be in low-grade war all these years. The constant attacks by various categories of criminal elements on innocent citizens have become a serious concern to both the government and the Nigerian people.

These attacks with heavy casualties have over the years necessitated the involvement of the Military in local policing, which is totally off their remit. This wholesale involvement however, has also created a lot of anxiety in society.

Recently, many legal luminaries criticised the Police for ceding its constitutional responsibility to the Army.

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Referring to the handing over of one of the eight persons declared wanted for the killing of 17 soldiers in Okuama, by the Police to the Army; the luminaries said it was not the constitutional duty of the Army to investigate murder cases, but the Police’s.

Obono Obla, a constitutional lawyer, senior advocate of Nigeria and former aide to ex-President Muhammdu Buhari, explained that the Army has no statutory duty to investigate a case of murder.

‘’The constitutional or statutory responsibility of the Army is to defend the country against external aggression or anything that would compromise the country’s territorial integrity,” he said.

But the Army is going ahead with the investigations of the murder case, a civil job that the Police is empowered to do.

This is not the first time the Army is taking over civil jobs from the Police, especially internal security.

Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker and an Abuja-based lawyer, differed with his senior colleagues on the Army taking over civil policing, while arguing that if the police had been living up to its responsibilities, the Army would not have stepped in.

While that is worrisome to civilians, Umelahi noted that the escalating insecurity in the country requires the might of the Army to tame it.

“Yes, constitutionally civil policing is the responsibility of the police, but the level of insecurity in the country now is almost like in a war time and during war, the constitution is naturally suspended.

“So, the Army is giving the insecurity situation the treatment it requires, though the success has not been what most Nigerians expected from the Nigerian Army that is dreaded for its feat at ECOMOG wars and peacekeeping missions,” Umelahi said.

Nowadays, across the country, the Army mounts roadblocks as if the country is in a full-fledged war. Their presence intimidates civilians.

In some parts of the country, travellers complain of too many roadblocks, amid delays and unprovoked disciplinary actions meted out to erring drivers and even passengers by the soldiers.

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The sad development, according to some security experts, points to Nigeria’s worsening insecurity resulting from the inability of the Police to optimally perform its civil security duties.

“Our Police men and officers are ill-equipped and poorly motivated. The two are part of the reasons they lag in protecting lives and property in the country and that is why the Army is often stepping in to help,” Bem Hembafan, a retired police officer said.

He noted that the presence of the Army is being felt more outside the barracks these days because the insecurity menace is escalating beyond civil policing and beyond the power of police, which is short-staffed and ill-equipped.

In August last year, Kayode Egbetokun, the then acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP), disclosed that Nigeria must recruit an additional 190,000 officers to secure the country adequately.

Egbetokun, who was newly appointed then, regarded his request as one of the ways to address the escalating insecurity situation in the country.

Objectively, with a police officer to citizen ratio of 1:540, below the United Nation’s recommended ratio of 1:450, many security experts insist that Nigeria lacks the required number of police personnel to ensure security of lives and property across the country.

“At present, we have less than 400,000 police officers and men to police a country of over 200 million people with a land mass of 923, 768 square kilometers.

“That is not reasonable, the police is overwhelmed,” the retired police officer said.

With the above persisting lapses, the Army has always come to the rescue, and unintentionally maintaining its influence after 25 years of civil rule in the country.

Available data also points to the worsening insecurity in the country and the reason the military is taking over civil policing from the Police.

Read also: Nigerian military seek collaboration with petroleum ministry to curb oil theft, others

Nigeria ranked 143 among 163 independent nations and territories in the 16th edition of the Global Peace Index, courtesy of the Institute for Economics & Peace Measuring. It moved three places up on the log from the 146th position it was ranked in 2021.

Sadly, Nigeria ranked 144 (after Israel) among 163 independent nations and territories, according to the level of peacefulness in the 17th edition of the 2023 peace index.

As well, a report by Statista, a global data and business intelligence platform, which measured the Risk of genocide in Nigeria between 2017 and 2024, revealed that Nigeria is the fifth country in sub-Saharan Africa at risk of genocide. Worldwide, Nigeria ranked 12th as of 2024. The risk percentage of mass killing stood at 3.2 percent, dropping from 7.9 percent in the preceding year, according to Statista.

Moreover, media reports revealed that 6,931people were killed across the country in the first year of President Bola Tinubu, the deaths included 17 soldiers, and no fewer than 50 people reportedly killed in the Okuama crisis.

In view of the growing rate and new dimensions of insecurity in the country, Ifewodor Ogala, a retired naval officer, noted that whether internal or external, security should be given priority, else the country’s sovereignty would be threatened.

“The Army is doing well and if it requires going outside its constitutional responsibility to ensure security, Nigeria will be better for it. For me, it does not really matter which security agency that is mounting the roadblocks, what matters is achieving the expected results.

“If the Army retires to the barracks and Nigerians keep dying every day in the hands of terrorists, what is the gain? It is a letdown for us because we have families and relatives who don’t live in the barracks,” Ogala said.

The retired soldier, who owns an indigenous hotel brand as well as lectures part-time at the National Open University, Port Harcourt Study Centre, noted that whatever progress the country has made in the fight against insecurity is possible because of the military, which has also suffered the most casualties.

“I have colleagues who have lost relatives and even sons in the fight against insecurity. I lost one of the boys who I helped to get into the Army to an ambush by bandits. When a soldier dies, someone has lost a son; someone has lost a brother, a husband and a father. So, praise the soldiers for taking the maximum risk of securing the country. We are not taking over the responsibility of the police but heavily complementing it,” Ogala concluded.

Pius Obiozor, an Aba-based industrialist, appreciates the Army for risking the lives of its men and officers on Nigerian highways and difficult terrains in order to safeguard the citizenry, but said that the way they go about the security was the issue.

“There are too many Army roadblocks in the country, especially in the South-South and South-East axis of the country, as if Nigeria is at war with itself.

“The officers, especially younger ones, turn themselves into mini-gods at these roadblocks and can punish motorists and passengers any way they like including elderly people. The intimidation is too much,” Obiozor lamented.

Offering ways of returning to the era when the police and not the soldiers policed the country, Hembafan noted that all the security agencies in the country should join forces in taming insecurity now and when it gets to a minimal level, the Army can withdraw and the police can take over from there.

“For now, the situation is almost getting out of hand and we need the Army to show its might.

“But the police also need to improve and do their best with the little they have because most Nigerians think police will compromise unlike the Army. But we have many professionals in the force,” Hembafan said.

In his opinion, Mutiu Adedeji, a strategy and protocol manager, in a blue chip company in Lagos, urged the Inspector General of Police to recall a large number of his men and officers attached to private businessmen, large companies, corporate organisations, government officials and VIPs.

“The IG complained that he needs more officers to adequately carry out the civil policing role, but he and his predecessors have allowed a good number of the officers to idle away and run errands for the VIPs they guard.

“Some police officers are even used as drivers by the people their guard to pick children from school and other errands a gun-wielding man should not run.

“You cannot leave an insignificant number of police men to ensure peace and protect lives and property of the citizens, when the majority are idling away in air-conditioned cars and houses and expect the Army not to step in to cover up those lapses,” Adedeji said.

Meanwhile, with the look of things, the insecurity situation is not a day battle and is beyond the capacity of the police, hence the Army is likely going to live among civilians for long, mounting more roadblocks and possibly having altercations with civilians from time to time.