Security expert X-rays loopholes that made police stations easy targets of hoodlums
Insists October 21 arson was well coordinated, premeditated attacks against law enforcement
Regrets policemen have turned IDPs, recommends future prevention ways
By Evelyn Usman
Dr Ona Ekhomu, is the National President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, AISSON. The renowned security expert was a guest lecturer at a workshop organized by the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of the zone 2 commands, AIG Ahmed Iliyasu , in collaboration with the Police Community Relation Committee, PCRC Victoria Island.
The workshop was designed to work on the psychology of men and officers of the zonal command comprising Lagos and Ogun State Police Commands, in line with the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu’s directive to policemen to take over the public space by heightening safety and security across the country.
Ekhomu, in his paper titled “#EndSARS Mass Action and the Governance of Internal Security in Lagos”, x-rayed the recent mass action embarked upon by hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest and revealed the loopholes which the rioters exploited in breaching police formations. He also gave an account of how 12 policemen who confronted over 300 rioters, were overwhelmed.
The attacks “Southern Nigeria was hard hit by the acts of wanton violence unleashed by hoodlums after the Lekki shootings of October 20, 2020. The rioters looted, burned, pillaged, vandalized, damaged, and destroyed assets throughout Lagos and other states. The difficult events of October 21 and 22, 2020 almost brought the Southern part of Nigeria to its metaphorical knees. Aside from attacks on property and trophy buildings such as the Igbosere Court complex, the Nigerian Port Authority headquarters building, and banks in Lagos State, the rioters targeted police facilities and personnel.
Police as target
The October 21 to October 22, 2020 attacks on police throughout Southern Nigeria was unprecedented and historical. The pattern of attacks, the ferocity of attacks, and the frequency of attacks on police personnel, police stations, and police cars would lead me to conclude that the mass action was indeed an attack on the police agency. Although correctional facilities, COVID-19 palliative stores, and some homes of politicians were attacked, the principal target of the rioters was police personnel, police facilities, and police mission.
Looted arms, ammunition
“The rioters also stole a large number of AK47 rifles and other weapons in police stations–arming themselves and presenting a grave threat to society. It is a known fact that insecurity in Nigeria is aggravated by the proliferation of illicit arms and small arms and light weapons in the West African sub-region. The loss of hundreds of police riffles to rioters is clearly a worsening or exacerbation of the arms proliferation in the country. At the peak of the crisis on October 21, 2020, hoodlums controlled the streets after over-powering the police agency. There was palpable fear in Lagos.
It is heart-breaking that some police personnel are now hanging around their stations like Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. Some have rented tents and plastic chairs to enable them to sit down. It is quite disturbing.
Attacks coordinated, premeditated
“What happened in Lagos on Wednesday and Thursday (October 21 and 22, 2002) were well-coordinated and premeditated attacks against law enforcement using the excuse or pretext of shootings at Lekki toll gate to visit violence on the police. It is not normal for members of the public to mount a large-scale attack on public law enforcement officers. The attacks were unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, where police personnel was systematically hunted and then killed or harmed by members of the public that they serve. I, therefore, wish to present a research hypothesis that the attack on the police formations and personnel in Lagos was intended to dislodge the police and pave way for the looting that followed.
The fall of Ajah division
“The Ajah Police Station fell at about 1 pm on October 21, 2020. The station had been under siege from 7 am to 3 pm that fateful day. The gallant police personnel – about 12 of them fought back more than 300 youthful rioters whose intent was to raze the police station.
The law enforcement agents were boxed in the middle fending off rioters from the Western flank (Liberty Bridge side) and turning quickly to attack the rioters from the Eastern Flank (Abraham Adesanya Estate side). The police personnel would fire shots and push back the rioters alternately on each side. Eventually, it was said that criminal gangs from Victoria Island introduced guns into the theatre of battle and that changed the conflict.
The Ajah police apparently caused casualty among the rioters, some of whom were treated in nearby clinics and hospitals. No fatality was recorded. However, the crowd was overwhelming. Eventually, the firepower from Victoria Island helped to subdue the police personnel. They all successfully escaped from the rear of their compound and then, the station was sacked.
The Police facility was burnt down, alongside apartments behind the station, arms and ammunition were looted, while police uniforms and accouterments, police vehicles and private vehicles in the compound were torched, exhibits were destroyed while suspects in police cells were let loose. The hoodlums recruited themselves into the police force and promoted themselves.
“The fall of Ajah Police Station was facilitated by the lack of backup on a fateful day. Given that Police Stations in Orile (where police personnel was killed), Ikorodu, Surulere, and in other parts of Lagos were also attacked, there was ample evidence that police facilities were targeted.
However, given the widespread nature of attacks against a wide variety of targets in Lagos on October 21, 2020, it became a herculean task to defend the Ajah Police Station. Aside from police stations, media houses, Local Government Secretariats, the family home of Lagos State Governor were all attacked.
There is an urgent need to calculate the design basis threat for police stations. Clearly, the threat of mass action is a grave one that can overwhelm the police facility and then cause irreparable harm.
“The relevant questions are: How many police personnel can defend a police station from the kind of attack at Ajah on October 21, 2020? How many canisters of tear gas do they need? It is worthy to note that no tear gas was fired before Ajah Division fell. How can the armoury be strengthened against looting by criminals? What should be the protocol for calling for OP MESA or OP AWATSE, to give aid to a police division in distress?
Can the police division have a mutual aid agreement with private organizations or host communities that will guarantee help in an emergency? Can the police agency put helicopters to work in support of police divisions that are seriously threatened by hoodlums? Can police stations have a better structural barrier to prevent easy breach by rioters and criminal elements?
Can police managers and executives conduct annual vulnerability assessments of police facilities to determine loopholes and quickly plug them? The Ajah division attack showed that there were several loopholes which the rioters exploited in breaching the station. The police division should collaborate closely with the community it serves as their security is intertwined. After the Ajah division fell, nearby banks, businesses and stores were looted by the criminals, and vehicles were wantonly destroyed.
“The policeman has the authority, as he is the most visible agent of governance. The Police must occupy again for normalcy to return. We must have a Leviathan who must return law and order. That Leviathan (or King) is you – Police personnel. The law-abiding citizens of this country appreciate and love you. We also support you and will give you information that will be important in keeping our communities safe. Please overcome your fears and return to work.
Life is good, but a life of service is meaningful and purpose-driven. One should not go through life without serving or without contributing. Policemen are a royal priesthood. You are a chosen race. The kind of psychic rewards you receive after saving a life cannot be replicated anywhere. You may not be remunerated as well as you should, but your sacrifice and your service cannot be rivalled by any occupational group in Nigeria. Your zeal to serve your community and the nation is appreciated.
Appeals for better welfare
“We realize that the lack of adequate resources is a big drawback to effective policing in the country, yet you stretch the little you have to keep our communities safe. From a strategic management perspective, police executives must find administrative, programmatic, and technological means to achieve more with less. I urge police executives to build trust between the agency and the community that it serves.
The political pressure that will bring about improvements in police remunerations and conditions of service will come from the community. It should be noted that politicians will not give the police what it deserves, but what it lobbies for. The community holds the key to effectively speak out for the police.
The Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, as a leading professional security body will continue to partner with the police in obtaining resources from the government to enable the provision of quality service. We shall continue to champion the cause of the police agency and use our contacts to lobby for enhanced conditions of service. We also will use our vast knowledge and structured analytical tools to interpret the realities that confront the police agency and Nigerians. We belong in an epistemic community that is often not understood. The ontology of policing, the epistemology of policing, and the methodology of policing have to be subjected to dissection, visualization, and empirical examination in order to create new models of effective policing.
“I also urge the various Police Community Relations Committees nationwide to lend the police a shoulder to lean on in these tough times. The PCRC is a natural ally of the police agency that must speak up and speak out now that the morale is low in the agency. We all need the police and they need us.
I also wish to urge the mass media to champion the cause of the Nigeria Police Force. The Police perform a crucial function of crime control and order maintenance. Without safe streets, the legitimate activity cannot be carried out. The media must do its patriotic duty by telling the stories of police personnel callously murdered by hoodlums. No police death should be ignored. Every hero deserves to be honoured. The corporate world has a major role to play. Funds should be mobilized to help families
of fallen police heroes. Injured police personnel should receive first-class medical treatment. This is expensive. The corporate world should also help in rebuilding police facilities destroyed in the October madness that was emblematic of the #ENDSARS protests.
Given the current decline in the Federal Government’s oil revenues, rebuilding the police facilities would be a herculean task. Patrol cars, modern policing equipment, and uniforms are required to rebuild the police service in southern Nigeria. The individual policeman must engage in self-talk that will encourage him to get back to work. The safety net that is provided by the police is torn right now.
It will take courage, commitment, dedication, patriotism, professionalism, perseverance, and the ingenuity of policemen and women, police supervisors, police managers, and other police officials to enable the healing that is required to get things back to normal”.