Comments and Issues
How the police and us aid and sustain bandits and kidnappers
Revered Father Michael Ifeanyi Asomugha, a priest of the catholic diocese of Okigwe, in lmo state was kidnapped on the evening of Saturday, April 15,2023. Father Ifeanyi from childhood, wanted to be a priest and was overwhelmed when he was ordained on September 18,2021 and posted as assistant priest of St Paul’s parish, Osu, lsiala, Mbane local government area of Imo state. But as fate would have it, he was kidnapped along Ofriagu-Obodo road while on his way back from a Diocesan Diaconate ordination. He was kidnapped while trying to remove a huge stone right in the middle of the road, an innocent act of a good citizen that could have cost him his life. His brother priest who was in the driver’s seat managed to escape and reported to his superiors and later to the police. It took some time to find the appropriate police unit to report to and of course in his words, l spent money.
The Nigeria police reaction to the incident, was not like its counterparts any were in the world. There was no sense of urgency. Rather than activate the system, first alert other police formations in the state, appoint an investigator or hand over the case to a team of experience crime busters like police in advanced countries would do, to begin to track the kidnappers, the Catholic Church was advised to ‘start putting money together’. Nothing more was done.
As the church broke the news to the family of the kidnapped priest who had given his life to serve God through the church, it advised the family to start looking for money as the church of Christ, as a policy do not pay ransom. This perhaps is the marked difference between the Catholic Church and the Baptist whose Primate was rescued from captivity at the pricey sum of a hundred million Naira. Unlike governments around the world which occasionally pay ransom but denied paying, the Baptist church action in reveling the ransom paid to rescue its leader did not escape the attention of bandits and kidnappers operating almost throughout the country. They couldn’t believe they have been so stupid over time asking for peanuts when they could make the big bucks and retire to live of luxury like our governors some of whom as state governors could not pay salaries to state civil servants but in retirement could donate N250 million at a book launch. No sooner thereafter, the Abuja- Kaduna train was attacked, captives taken and ramson of a hundred million demanded for each head in captivity.
Families scrambled to pay to recue their loved ones, and so when the news of father Ifeanyi began to spread, the family practically got the same message from everybody including retired and serving police and intelligence officers, army generals, friends, and coworkers, with an additional information that everyone pays. Even the lmo state governor’s office was not left out in encouraging them to ‘get money ready’.
Indeed, when the kidnappers called, they asked for hundred million Naira. When the family made it clear that it was in no position to meet their request and pleaded for the life of their son whose parents were retired civil servants, they were declared unserious.
Father Asomogha was in captivity for a little over two weeks. But for a period of four days that the kidnappers did not call, they engaged the family in telephone negotiations over how much would eventually be acceptable to them. In all these negotiations, the police was no where to be found. On the night of his release, to evade the police who were fast asleep, the kidnappers did what they do best, took the family on a merry go round until they were sure the police was not tailing the family before they finally named a spot where the ransom was deposited and father Ifeanyi released, battered, bruised and traumatized. If the police knew of his release, they probably read about it from the media and no police investigator had called to talk to the priest.
The sad reality of today’s Nigeria is that because of the weakness of the Nigeria police force and other related agencies especially the Directorate of State Security, Nigeria’s equivalent of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation we have encouraged, sustained, and made banditry and kidnapping a very lucrative business. It is almost impossible to believe the police has no nationwide tracking system to listen to the chats or negotiations between family members and criminals and to be able to locate their hide outs. Even worse is the growing police ineptitude or sheer lethargy in the discharge of their core mandate which is essentially to prevent crimes and maintain law and order. The truth we must admit to ourselves is that the Nigeria police has lost it soul, it’s bearing and needs to be recalibrated for the good of all of us.
Thanks to our leaders and elites, we have watched the police loss it’s bearing. It’ is estimated that the strength of the Nigeria police is close to or a little more than 400,000 police officers of which almost half work as personal security details for politicians and all kinds of businessmen and women. The few that are left to do real police work spend more time devising means of making money either from harassing motorists, Keke riders or from cases brought to them.
You only have to visit police stations or barracks in Nigeria to appreciate the myriad of problems confronting the police, the least of which is money or funding. The Nigeria police like most agencies in the country suffer from poor leadership, corruption and mismanagement of resources, poor training, indiscipline , lack of accountability and poor recruitment. It is slow like most government agencies in embracing technology and where it had acquired some equipment to aid its work, lack of adequate training and commitment continue to affect officers’ sense of responsibility. These ills have become so ingrained that police personnel cannot even recognize when they are accomplice to crime like we saw during the last general elections where they contributed to the credibility problems of the elections. If you doubt it, take time off to read the reports of both domestic and international observers that monitored the election. I cannot recall which of them did not roundly condemn the police and other security agencies for the role they played in scuttling the people’s will. And this is what makes reforming the police difficult. Those that should be expected to reform the police are praising the police for helping them win power.
There have been some reforms since 1999, funds raised for the police, vehicles donated in hundreds by state governments, companies and public-spirited rich Nigerians (most of which have either been destroyed or cannot be accounted for) not to talk of almost annual promotion of police officers. All these plus constant public outcry against police behavior and brutality including the ENDSRS# protect which the Buhari and the Lagos state government suppressed at the cost of young innocent lives have in no way affected the police or convinced it’s leadership of the need for self-introspection and reform. This simply means either the police is incapable of reforming itself or it is reading the body language of its political masters whom they serve more than the general public
Despite this, it is in our collective national interest to do something about the police and other security agencies. It is to our peril if we continue to ignore the situation of the police or indeed other security forces. Whether the police assisted the incoming government to win the last election or not, reform of the police and reorienting its officers must be treated as priority. First is to decentralize the police command and devolve more powers, authority, and resources to state commissioners and subsequently to the divisional officers. A situation in which the IGP, from Abuja had to order the arrest and investigation of Seun Kuti for assaulting a police officer should compel us to appreciate that the police structure created by the colonial administration and reinforced by the military regime is overdue for change, especially if we believe in a federal structure. In doing this, the state police commissioners/divisional police chiefs would be held responsible and accountable for the protection and safety of lives and property in the states not the IGP who unfortunately bears the responsibility for all what is wrong with the Nigeria police. In almost all federations except Nigeria, there is no where you find a man/woman running a national police force.
Second, the police needs and to review its recruitment policy. All kinds of characters have been recruited into the police in the last couple of years including criminals and area boys engaged in drugs. A new recruitment standard needs to be put in place, including background checks. Third, a lot could change in our police if for the next five years a group of middle level officers, inspectors, assistant superintendents of police, superintends, are sent abroad, to some commonwealth countries for training especially in police management and investigation with particular attention paid to crime investigation, detection, and utilization of technology to do police work.
Fourth, and indeed the whole civil service needs to imbibe, embrace, and utilize technology. The police l understand have trackers and the question then becomes why they’re not put to effective use in incidents of kidnapping and banditry. It will be interesting to find out if police vehicles stationed at various junctions round Abuja and Lagos have communication gadgets. Once upon time up, the police had the best communication system in this country. Fifth, police facilities throughout the country, police stations, offices, training schools, barracks and hospitals must be upgraded and properly managed. How officers can live and work in an environment not better than a pig’s den beats me. And the system of asking complainants to go and purchase papers and pens to write their statements must be stopped immediately. It is difficult to believe that police budgets do not include stationaries. The opaque system of our police must give ways new methods of policing utilising technology.
I am reluctant to talk about police renumeration not because it is not important or that civil servants do not deserve better pay but more because l fear that the culture of greed and corruption in Nigeria, perpetuated by the political class is such that no matter what you pay the police or civil servants, it will not change anything, until there is a general attitudinal change in our society and people pay for their actions.
Amb Joe keshi writes from Abuja