THE Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, recently lamented the loss of 128 policemen in the line of duty in the last three months. The IGP was concerned that the deaths of the policemen were “occasioned by unwarranted attacks by religious bigots, bandits, hoodlums and militants”, calling for a reversal of this ugly trend to enhance the security profile of the country. It was his contention that these deaths were also related to the continuing destruction of police infrastructure and public assets with recent cases happening in Dankamoji village in Maradu, Zamfara State; Abagana in Anambra State and in Okrika waterways in Rivers State where personnel were killed, arms carted away, and structures and equipment destroyed.
Evidently, the IGP’s concern speaks volumes about the continuing expansion of insecurity in the country in spite of the efforts of the security agencies, particularly under the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari. The growing killing of policemen and other security officers betrays an increasing sophistication of the forces arrayed against them, calling into question the determination of the government to prioritize security as part of its platforms for development. We obviously support the government’s commitment to security, given that it is the first condition for all other efforts in society. But the failings of the current efforts, as epitomized by the IGP’s lamentation, demands a fundamental review and transformation of the present strategy.
The government’s efforts to secure the country are organised around the law and order approach. It prefers to deploy soldiers, policemen and other security agents in such high numbers as to overwhelm those intent on disturbing the peace of the country. This approach has seen the deployment of soldiers to the North East to curtail the activities of the Boko Haram terrorists, the President himself going to Zamfara State to launch the security operation to combat rustlers and other criminals, and the deployment of soldiers to the Niger Delta and the South East to rein in the activities of militants and those clamouring for the establishment of Biafra.
It is, of course, true that no meaningful security could be achieved without strengthening and deploying security agencies. Yet, the point has to be made that the limit of the law and order approach is shown by IGP Idris’ lamentation which suggests that more than the deployment of soldiers is needed to maintain peace and security. The IGP is not saying that the police would not do their duty because many of their men are being killed in the line of duty. Rather, he is lamenting the unusual number of those getting killed, with this perhaps pointing to the insufficiency of the current approach. For in spite of the death of these policemen, bandits continue to roam the country, while militants continue to wreak havoc on petroleum infrastructure. And there are new reports of Boko Haram terrorists getting new and more sophisticated weapons. The implication of all this is that insecurity persists in spite of the deployment of soldiers.
This situation, we believe, would continue until the government initiates a more holistic approach to security. The truth is that bandits, militants, and even terrorists would not continue to increase in influence without some form of support and enablement by the immediate societies in which they operate. Where those who engage in perceived criminality do not enjoy support, it is not difficult to isolate and deal with them successfully. Thus, there is the need to find the root causes of the various breaches of security in the country in order to engage such dissatisfaction creatively.
The idea that the clamour for Biafra would go away just because of the deployment of soldiers and the President insisting that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, is simply mistaken and unrealistic. There must be a deliberate effort to calm nerves and address elements of dissatisfaction as suggested by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in order to present the government as being for the benefit of all Nigerians. Where some Nigerians, rightly or wrongly, perceive that they are being marginalised, the reaction cannot and should not be to suppress their agitation.
The more effective response would be to engage with such disaffected people and regions in order to fully understand the basis of their agitation and be in a position to give assurances to mollify the protests. Such engagement would not necessarily satisfy all protesters but it has the potentiality to remove support for the remaining agitators. This way, agitations would not be widespread and the possibility of peace and order would be enhanced as it would not be difficult for the security agencies to cope with the remaining pockets of protests.
It is, therefore, important for the government to use the opportunity of the IGP’s lamentation to consider a fundamental overhaul of its security strategy away from the lone plank of law and order, and incorporate engagement with the diverse elements in the country to assure it of success. It should also be concerned with adequate compensation and care for the families left behind by all the security agents who lost their lives in the line of duty.