On the 20th of May, it will be exactly seven months since the Nigerian government reached its nadir in its high-handed approach to citizen displeasure.
Thousands of Nigerian youths trooped out to the streets in protests against the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a now-disbanded rogue section of the Nigeria Police Force.
The results of the protests led to the disbandment of SARS but also saw one of Nigeria’s heaviest clampdown on the Police Force, even if it was illegal.
As street urchins took centre stage and snatched control of proceedings from the peaceful protesters, a bitter onslaught on various Police formations and officers across the country, most notably in Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of Southern Nigeria, gained footing.
The precedents set by the dissidents were always going to show and expose the weaknesses of the force meant to protect Nigerian citizens. It showed that the Police itself needed protection.
For so long, Police reforms were discussed and mouthed but none was seen until the #EndSARS protests and the results of the reforms remain to be seen; and the Nigeria Police officer, long thought to be an enemy of the average citizen, now lives and works in greater danger.
A walk into any Nigeria Police Station will expose the discrepancies of the most popular police slogan yet; the “Police is your friend”. The actions of the Police officers are in clear contrast of the words their office walls project.
Without a doubt, Nigerians do not think the Police are their friends; they are seen as the most tempestuous of citizens always awaits an opportunity to strike. In the absence of clear protection from the government, this has been witnessed at an alarmingly consistent rate, particularly since the turn of 2021.
In Southern Nigeria where militant group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is pushing for a secession, different Police formations have been under siege in the last three months with various degrees of damage, from arson to murder inflicted on correctional facilities and officers. In other parts of the region, angry youths have taken up arms against the Police and are charging scarily and ferociously.
A timeline of infringements on Police formations and officers shows that the attacks are usually unprovoked and the attackers are often tagged as “unknown gunmen”.
In the latest attack on Nigeria Police officers in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria, seven officers were killed after gunmen opened fire on Policemen at a checkpoint before going on to burn two stations and patrol vehicles.
Local reports noted the Police killed two of the attackers but are unsure where the attack came from. While that happened late on Friday night, two Police officers were killed on Thursday in a station in Anambra State by men believed to be members of IPOB.
Since February 2021, at least 10 Police officers have been killed with various vehicles and stations razed within the same period. The constant attacks on the Police have attracted worry from the citizenry as the man who should protect them are also in need of great cover at this point in time.
On Friday, the Nigerian Army announced it killed 11 IPOB members who laid siege on another Police formation in Orlu, Imo State, Southern Nigeria.
Army Spokesman Mohammed Yerima remarked that “the Nigerian Army remains committed to a united Nigeria that is safe for all law abiding citizens and will continue to support the Police in maintaining internal security.”
There have been calls for community policing as a means of helping to improve and better secure the Police but those calls have so far fallen on deaf ears. With the military battling enemies on several fronts, it may not be always on hand to rescue Police officers from the clutches of adversaries who hold better weapons and are more vicious.
Although the Police are not favoured by Nigerians for very clear reasons, they still offer some protection and need to be safe to save millions of other Nigerians.
As attacks on the Police take centre stage in Southern Nigeria, the question locals are asking is “who will save the Police?” Has it been a worrisome trend to the government of the day which has so far acted like all is well? Instant reactions are required as Nigeria struggles to stay peaceful, particularly when its ‘guardian angels’ are crying at the feet of daredevils.