Aside highlighting rising insecurity in the country in all its various manifestations, the recent coordinated robbery attacks on five banks in Offa, Kwara State during which no fewer than nine policemen were killed raised serious questions about the capacity of the Nigerian Police Force. But it is comforting that two of the four gang-leaders whose images were captured by Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) footage have been apprehended. We hope efforts will be made to arrest the remaining two suspects.
As we stated in a recent editorial, in other climes, criminals would only attack or kill a policeman as a last resort because of the realisation that the governments of those countries would unleash all security apparatus to apprehend the culprits. Even Mafia members avoid killing policemen. In Nigeria, this is not the case. That such a calamity could befall the Nigerian Police is rather pathetic, considering the fact that this is the institution that the public looks up to for protection. But even more worrisome is that if the decimation of the police force continues at this rate, then the United Nationsí recommended ratio of one police officer to 400 citizens would be jeopardised in our already grossly under-policed country.
However, while the welfare of the police remains a critical issue, we must also examine the alertness of Nigerian police officers, the kind of training they acquire, their dedication to duties and how equipped they are for what ordinarily is a difficult job made even more so by the operating environment in our country. An average policeman should be alert to his environment, he/she should be tutored in intelligence gathering and be properly equipped with modern weapons and gadgets to be able to function effectively. But as they get ready to recruit, emphasis should be both on training in weapons handling and in character.
In condemning the attack at plenary, members of the House of Representatives called for a total overhaul of the national security architecture. "If armed robbers can enter a town, drive in a convoy of about 10 vehicles, sack a police station and raid banks, it calls for an urgent enquiry," said Hon. Oluyonu Tokpe. For starters, most policemen, while on duty, never seem to be battle ready. They carry bags and briefcases or run errands for people they are supposed to guard while those in banks occupy themselves attending to wealthy patrons, saluting and opening doors for them. Visiting a Nigeria police station, one is likely to encounter officers sleeping behind the counter while some treat themselves to alcoholic drinks even at work aside walking around in slippers while in uniform with their guns dangling from the sides.
It remains unclear what sort of security intelligence training our policemen receive but the desperation for gratification most often clouds their judgment. There are reports that during a recent kidnap, a stranger approached the four policemen on duty, engaged them in a friendly conversation and then bought drinks for them. After the first round of beer, according to the report, the man bought the policemen another round and as they got tipsy and dropped their guns, bandits came in and shot all of them.
To the extent that most of the ills in the police are deeply rooted in the recruitment process and politically motivated manner of promotion where merit is often by-passed, we align ourselves with the position of the House of Representatives on the need for a total overhaul of the police as an institution. But the authorities, as we stated recently, must ensure that those who executed the brazen attack on innocent citizens in Offa are made to face the full wrath of the law.