By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Anietie Akpan (Calabar), Odita Sunday and Tobi Awodipe (Lagos), Osiberoha Osibe Awkas Ogugbuaja (Owerri) – The Guardian
• In Enugu, Anambra, Officers Desert Streets, Checkpoints, Disguise To Operate
• Our Morale Is Low After #EndSARS, Officers Lament
• ‘I Am Ready To Resign If I Can Get Another Job’
• Prepare For The Worst, Retired Officer Warns
Since the #EndSARS protest that rocked most of the Southern parts of the country, especially the South-West and Lagos in particular, as well as lingering attacks on Police personnel and infrastructure in the South-East, banditry and insurgency in the North, life has not been the same for the average Police officer in the affected areas.
Apart from the toll on their morale and apprehension over a public they can no longer trust as before, the situation has also affected their operational effectiveness, as self-survival instincts now precedes security of the general public.
Today, some Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and operatives still work under the canopies, a situation that has affected their morale, efficiency and psychology in the metropolis, as many of them operate without offices.
A visit to one of the stations in Lagos State revealled that most Police officers have become disillusioned and even somewhat angry with the system, the Force and with Nigerians.
An officer, who craved anonymity, blamed last year’s #EndSARS protests for what is currently happening to most officers all over the country and worsening insecurity in the land.
Speaking with so much anger in his voice at his duty post, he said: “You people all agreed that you don’t want Police again, so, nobody should complain about what is going on now. The protests weakened our power and authority so much, which has led to what we are seeing now.
“People no longer respect the Police and see us as easy targets, which is why we are being attacked all over the country. How do you think it makes us feel to see our colleagues being killed in broad daylight and nothing is being done to stem this?
“As I was resuming work today (Thursday), a video was sent to our WhatsApp group showing some officers killed in the South-East and I almost felt like staying back home. You can say it is happening only in the Southeast, but we know how negative things spread very quickly in this country.
“We all feel unsafe and the system is not making things better. I can assure you that none of my colleagues are motivated to do this job and we are just coming here because we must”.
His colleague, who was standing beside, corroborated his position, saying she has stopped working at night. Blessing (surname withheld), whose husband is a lecturer in Kogi State, added: “You will find it hard to see any officer outside at night, because none of us want to die. Even if you come to the station to report any case, you would be told there is no officer on ground, because everyone is afraid that it might be a trap to lure us to our death.
“I am supposed to leave here by 10pm, but as soon as it is dark, I am leaving here and going home”. On the increased crime rate in the area, the officer said everyone is on his/her own now and should call on God for help, adding that: “Luckily, my family is in Osun State, so my mind is a bit at rest.
“As for the rest of you, pray to God for protection, because there is nothing I can do to help anyone. If robbers attack you, please don’t call us, because me personally will not come to you.
“A lot of people have been complaining that crime is on the increase, a situation we are well aware of, but what do you expect us to do really? When we were working, you people were complaining, now you are killing us, you expect us to still work for you? It’s not done like that.
“They have declared war against us and we are just waiting for official ‘go ahead’ to match fire with fire, because we cannot continue like this. The Police have become an endangered specie in Nigeria and if we don’t arrest the situation now, whatever happens should not surprise anyone”.
Blessing decried the situation, but pointed out that it is not peculiar to them alone, saying: “Our colleagues in the South-East and South-South are crying for help and redeployment, but nobody is listening. Many stations were burnt since last year and are yet to be rebuilt, so many officers don’t have a base and nobody is saying anything.
“I understand that there were some excesses amongst some officers, but cutting off the head is not how to cure a headache.”
An officer told The Guardian that the way things are going: “It appears Nigerians don’t want the Police anymore”.
Speaking on the abandoned stations and the general wellbeing of personnel, security expert, Christopher Oji said: “It is quite unfortunate that the Federal Government has abdicated its duties and left the Police at the mercy of State Governors. Yet, it is opposed to State Police. Let the Federal Government be serious with the issue of security; it should come out to say that it has no financial capacity to fund the Police.
“Recently, I went round stations burnt by #EndSARS protesters in Lagos. A philanthropist donated a house to the Police and the one burnt has been taken over as a toilet.
“Other stations and posts are still without repairs. Government should be serious with the Security Trust Fund that has been set up. Through the fund, business entities and private individuals can donate money to assist security agencies.
“Government should also investigate the Police affairs and authorities to know how they utilise the money given out to them for functions, welfare package and equipment procurement. There is no how the Police can perform with what is on the ground today”.
According to a criminologist, Prince Albert Uba, “What is happening to the Police is a reflection of a failed State. In saner climes, all the burnt formations would have been fixed”.
According to spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Muyiwa Adejobi: “The Police leadership and the Lagos State Government are working assiduously on rebuilding the police stations.
“We have a particular prototype for the new model stations that the State wants to adopt. So, we will have them back, even, better, soon”.
In Cross River State, though no known Police facilities have been destroyed, but gunmen have killed about seven policemen on duty between December last year and now, including an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Mr. Egbe Eko Edum, who was serving in PMF Squadron 73 in Maiduguri, Borno State, who was axed to death in Calabar in the early hours of December 2, as he was coming home from Abuja after an official assignment.
Some Police officers, who did not want to be named, said the #EndSARS protest discouraged them “because it was like the public does not appreciate the effort we are putting to secure the people, maintain law and order. If you observed, few days after the protest, some of us were reluctant to respond to distress calls.
“Recent attack on our colleagues is very unfortunate. We know this is coming because of the total onslaught we have waged on criminals in the State and we are not in anyway discouraged, except for the insider killings of the four Policemen at Idundu.
“We do our work accordingly and respond to distress calls. Our only appeal to the public is to continue relying on us and give out useful information that can lead to routing out criminals in the state”.
They urged Police authorities to ensure the Force is well equipped for the work and welfare of personnel taken care of.
“For now, to be honest with you, the Police is not well equipped to battle crime, but we are putting in our best. The State needs tracking system to track minute by minute.
“There is need for intelligence support from the public, as Policemen are not spirits and to make things difficult, we have about 250 sea routes in and out of Calabar; hence there is great need for neighbourhood watch,” one of the officers stated.
Another maintained, “This is not the best time to be a Police officer in the South-East,” a senior officer told The Guardian in Enugu, as Police personnel in Enugu and Anambra States now mostly wear plain clothes to work.
Spotted in his mufti at an eatery, the officer said series of attacks on colleagues and their facilities have brought serious pressure on the Force, such that “we have now asked our men to operate from the stations and if they must go out, it has to be done in such a way that they should be ready for any eventuality”.
But he stressed: “In spite of the challenge, we are poised to continue to do the much we can to protect lives and property. We still arrest and parade criminals; we still do our patrols.
“The only thing you could say now is that you no longer see Police easily like before; that you can now count the number of times you could say you have seen a Police officer fully dressed. But that is part of the strategy we have adopted against the rising killing of our men and destruction of our facilities”.
Indeed, activities of the Police have waned considerably in the State, with a good number of them resorting to dressing on mufti to work, while those who summon courage to wear uniform in the first place do so in their stations, no longer on the streets.
The result of their “absence” is that residents behave the way they like, thus increasing indiscipline. For instance, private and commercial vehicle operators now beat traffic at will, while the 6am to 9pm operation time frame for tricycle operators announced by the state government is flouted, as there are no Police personnel to enforce the order.
In addition, the Police no longer intervene on issues unless they are invited to do so and while handling such issues, they exert minimum force.
Although the level of attacks by hoodlums is low, when compared with the situation in some states of the zone, the checkpoints usually mounted by officers in the city have all disappeared.
Apart from bullion vans conveying cash to the banks, use of siren by the Police has dropped tremendously in Enugu, as they now move discreetly.
Entry to and exits from Police stations in the State are no longer without interrogation and approval, just as roads leading into the stations are barricaded, with those with gates firmly guarded and regulated.
The only time a Police station was attacked in the State since the ugly incident started in the zone about two months ago was early last month, when the Adani Police Division in Uzouwani was attacked and two officers killed. The station has not been rebuilt, but the officers have carried on from what was left after the attack.
An officer, who spoke to The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, stated that cases that come to the Police have reduced, stressing that: “I believe this has to do with the current situation we are facing. They don’t believe the Police are their friends and paid to protect them wherever they are.
“But I know we will get over this with time. We are rebuilding the confidence of our men. The recoveries and suspects we have arrested in the face of these trials are clear signs that we are working for society.
“Those who trust us still call us for one or two things from time to time and we have always assured the people that we are desirous of overcoming the present challenges”.
THE burning of Police infrastructure in the wake of the #EndSARS protests, in which five stations were burnt in different parts of Anambra State, has continued. When it appeared that there was an end to the madness, unknown gunmen took over the centre stage, killing and burning stations.
The Guardian’s efforts to get the view of some Policemen were rebuffed, even though their body language indicated frustration and fear over the killing of Police personnel and burning of infrastructure.
With low morale and motivation, they felt colleagues have been exposed to their untimely death as cannon fodders for allegedly protecting the political class and top echelons of society.
One Policeman, who initially prevented The Guardian from going past a checkpoint protected with sand-filled bag, lamented that he was being exposed and at the mercy of gunmen.
The general thinking among Police personnel is that the violent attacks on the Police and their facilities is part of unfinished job and poor handling of #EndSARS protesters’ demands by the authorities.
As it stands, policing activities in the State is almost nil, as the Police have seemingly been withdrawn from the streets and roads, leaving hoodlums to take advantage of the situation to engage in cult killings, telephone and bag snatching and little thievery.
Like the posture of the Force after the #EndSARS protests, they have become somewhat friendlier and tune their voice while talking to the public, but they don’t respond to distress calls as before.
Unlike before when a victim makes a distress call to the Police, one hardly approaches the station, as their operations are at lowest ebb, and Police vehicles, from investigation, is hardly seen on the roads, except occasionally and mainly in convoys.
Officers, it was gathered, no longer go on full investigation and where they do, they appear in mufti. It was learnt that the public is beginning to see officers as friendly and respectful.
However, the Police still view every man on the street and in cars with suspicion due to continued killings and burning of stations in the State. Above all, both don’t trust each other.
To rebuild trust, Police authorities have advised the rank and file to be friendlier, but keep away from streets and checkpoints until tension arising from killings and arson abate.
In Akwa Ibom State, recent incessant attacks and killing of Police personnel have dampened the morale of rank and file, especially in the affected local councils of Essien Udim, Ikono, Ika, Abak and Ini, with no end in sight.
Today, most officers are not easily discernable, as they go on mufti. Some of them said wearing of uniforms has become unattractive, as that makes them easy targets of gunmen. They are also demoralised and not enthused to protect innocent citizens.
Both officers and men of the Force are afraid. As one of them put it: “We are human beings with families, how can you go out for your official duties with fears of not coming back alive because of nefarious activities of persons one does not really know what their problems are?
“Another issue is that these boys (gunmen) are people one cannot know their operational mood and bullets do not penetrate them and they just kill our men at will. With these, nobody will have the zeal to go out freely as before again”.
At least, the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Amiengheme Andrew, while condoling with the bereaved families, said: “I pray for God’s consolation for the families of the Policemen who lost their breadwinners.
“In addition to the financial support I have given the deceased families, we will do all within our power to support our men in uniform to end the new wave of criminality in the State”.
Governor Emmanuel Udom urged the officers not to be discouraged by the prevailing circumstance, assuring that his administration was solidly behind them in their determination to bring the new wave of attack under control.
While appreciating their efforts in handling security, the Governor urged the Police not to rest in their oars in nipping insecurity in the bud.
Since the #EndSARS protest last October, insecurity has been on the rise in the affected areas of Ondo State, endangering lives and properties of the people.
For the past seven months, Police personnel in affected areas have been displaced and relocated to buildings rented or donated by philanthropists, but which are grossly inadequate for their operations.
Recounting his experiences since October last year, a resident of Okitipupa, Theophilus Akpan, disclosed that crime has been on the increase, just as there is no visible presence of Police officers in the town.
“Cults gangs and armed robbers are thriving here. The bad boys will even taunt their victims to go and report them at the Police station, knowing fully well that the officers would not respond.
“Most times when the situation goes out of hand and we call the Police for arrest, they will retort and ask us if we were expecting them to arrest the suspects and lock them up in their family houses”.
Akpan raised the alarm that people cannot sleep with their eyes closed due to growing insecurity and brigandage in the area due to attack on Police personnel and massive destruction of their facilities during the protest.
Some officers who spoke to The Guardian lamented that the protest has dampened their morale to work for the people, noting that the attacks on the Police station showed the level of ingratitude of residents, despite all their efforts to secure them and maintain peace and order.
“We risk danger every now and then for the people, but they don’t appreciate us a bit. The condition under which the Police across the country operate is pitiful, but we were not discouraged because we feel it is our duty.
“We go through thick and thin to ensure everybody is protected, risking our lives, using unsophisticated weapons and paid poor allowances, yet the people that we protect turned against us.
“Often, when we try to go out of our way to make an arrest whenever we receive a distress call, the suspects will even make jest of us and threaten us with the #ENDSARS protest, warning us not to forget how they dealt with the Police”.
Many officers in Niger State believe the protest against SARS and its subsequent disbandment has created uncertainty in the minds of majority of Police personnel, especially the rank and file, and created vacuum in Police Commands across the country.
They added that SARS was a powerful tool that fought criminal-minded Nigerians to a standstill, including armed robbers, kidnappers and cattle rustlers, who were the brain behind the protest, hoping that one day, truth would prevail and criminals eliminated.
Speaking to The Guardian in Minna, the State capital, the officers, who did not want their names in print, said thought the protest was not pronounced in the north, its ripple effect is affecting the Force in so many ways, as it appears to have dented the image of the Police and emboldened bandits and kidnappers in northern States.
One of them stated: “To us in the North, the action was quite disheartening and worrisome. The threat and intimidation our colleagues are going through in the other parts of the country created fear in our minds, because ordinary persons took arms against the Police.
“During the protest, a lot of damage was inflicted on the Force, but that cannot deterred us from performing our constitutional responsibilities”.
They only hope that the Police would regain its lost glory in no distant future.
The Police in Rivers State insisted that they were undeterred by gunmen attacks on personnel and infrastructure, amid palpable apprehension among officers.
The Guardian observed relative disappearance of officers on strategic posts and junctions, especially at night hours. Also, close monitoring across the State revealed that during the day, few officers are seen doing their usual ‘stop and check’, while some control traffics, but immediately it is 4pm, hardly any officer is seen on the road. The few still on the road ditch their uniforms and wear plain clothes.
Some officers said they were no longer comfortable with the rising attacks on them, with one saying: “Of course, our morale is being affected, we are human beings and we have families too. You can imagine how we feel leaving our families and loved ones in the morning and not sure of returning at night.
“It is a worrisome situation; it kills gradually, so something serious needs to be done about this ugly developing trend”. Another officer added: “There is pressure from my family to resign from the Force due to the sad situation in the country, but I am still thinking about it”.
However, spokesman of the State Command, Nnamdi Omoni, insisted that morale of personnel in the State was still intact, adding that they are equal to the task.
“We are not deterred at all; we are very capable and we refused to be intimidated. So, there is no cause for alarm”, Omoni stated. He told The Guardian that officers of the Command respond more to distress call these days, urging the public to rebuild their trust and confidence in the police, noting: “We are coming out better, so we want the public to assist us with credible information that can lead to the dislodgement of the hoodlums”.
With incessant attacks in Abia State, it has become difficult to know who is a Police personnel on duty, as most of them no longer wear uniforms. The highways have also become lonely and fearsome to commuters, because Police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officers are rarely on the roads.
“I am ready to resign if I can get another job. I am fed up; it has become very risky to remain in the Force,” some Policemen said.
Many officers in Oyo State said morale has become low and they are very careful in responding to distress calls, as they never believed they could be victims of the protest.
To rebuild trust, they are now improving their relationship with the public and lenient with locals. But they called on the authorities to reform the Police with a view to making it competitive globally.
Police officers who spoke with The Guardian lamented low remuneration and welfare packages. A Sergeant, who preferred anonymity, said: “We cannot be with arms all the time. We are afraid of these ‘unknown’ gunmen, who carry sophisticated weapons. The Gestapo style they show up is fearful. We have lost many of our men and this has put fear in us.
“We feel that the #EndSARS protests emboldened the hoodlums to device various ways to challenge the Police and other security officers and facilities”.
Nowadays, officers move in groups and still respond to distress calls only when they are well armed, according to sources. A senior officer in Bodija area of Ibadan said: “The morale has become low and generally reduced since the #EndSARS saga, because nobody expected that something like that could happen to the Police officers and the Force and the attitude of the people in power has helped matters.
“But we have to do the job we have already signed for, notwithstanding that the morale is low and irrespective of the attitude of the people in power.
“During #EndSARS, Government promised a lot of things, including reform, improved welfare and others necessary to carry out our job effectively. It is supposed to have put those things in place, but there is nothing being done; it’s not supposed be so.
“Government needs to reform the Police to make it a world-class law-enforcement and policing institution that can compete globally and Nigerians can be proud of”.
His female colleague added that it is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that officers have lost their morale and their confidence has been punctured. “It is obvious that the confidence and morale of officers have gone down. The burning of Police infrastructure and killing of officers demoralised us.
“It was a nasty and unpleasant experience. One of our colleagues who was roasted in Ibadan here was a Masters degree student at the University of Ibadan”.
But another officer in Ibadan North Local Council declared that his morale is still high, saying he was not affected during the protest because of his cordial relationship with locals.
He, therefore, urged officers to relate well with the people of the community, insisting it is only through a close relationship that they can get vital information that would enable them to do their jobs effectively.
Araoye Adeola, a retired Police officer and lecturer, warned that if the trend continued, Nigeria might pay dearly for it; hence called for a reform to boost officers’ morale.
He stated: “Everyone knows that once security infrastructure are attacked, it will affect the morale of officers.
“The sign for those in service is that they should prepare for the worse. If these are happening and the Government is doing nothing, the morale will be low. Here in Oyo State, Police are hardly seen at checkpoints again. Even the few ones going out are doing so with fear and out of order from their superiors.
“Now, people do not even obey the Police anymore. Gradually, problems are coming. Nigerians are seating on the keg of gunpowder, because if hoodlums come to one’s house, the first point of call is the Police.
“It is high the Government came out forcefully to do something about the situation. It needs to do a lot to help the system and salvage the security institutions”.
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