Last week, a soldier and three anti-riot policemen reportedly died during a shootout between members of the two security forces. Several others on both sides received gunshot wounds in the encounter that took place in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital. Some of the critically injured were said to be battling for life at the General Sani Abacha Hospital in Damaturu.
Several civilians were hit by stray bullets in the clash which lasted over an hour. Residents said it was not the first the two had been engaged in clashes. According to them, it is a regular occurrence in the area. Of course, clashes involving different arms of the security forces have been too frequent in the country. One wonders if the spirit of comradeship espouses by esprit de corps has not died among the security forces.
On October 4, 2005, a clash between the police and soldiers resulted in wanton destruction of lives and property in the Area ‘C’ Police Command, Surulere, Lagos. Also, on May 24, 2011, ‘unidentified’ soldiers shot and killed two senior police officers – a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and a Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) – and six others on ASCON Road in Badagry.
Trouble started between the soldiers and policemen two days earlier when some policemen, at a checkpoint on Badagry Road, confronted a man in mufti, later identified to be a soldier. The soldier, who was riding a motorcycle, was accused by the police of contravening traffic rules. When he resisted arrest, a police corporal shot him. He later bled to death.
The policemen at the roadblock and those at the police stations on the road removed their uniforms and fled their duty posts. Soldiers on reprisal did not see any policeman at the stations. But two days later, the DPO, DCO and other officers headed for 242 Battalion, Ibereko Barracks, for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. They were allegedly ambushed by some soldiers.
At the end of the encounter, the DPO, DCO and six others were dead. A few weeks ago, two naval officers reportedly mercilessly beat a female traffic warden for daring to stop their car at an intersection in Lagos. They also forced her into their car and drove away. It took the intervention of a police patrol team to rescue the female cop. But it was only possible after a shootout. The list is endless.
There should not be supremacy battle between two arms of security forces, especially between soldiers and the police. No single arm is superior to the other. The Nigerian constitution recognises and stipulates duties of each organ of the security forces. The police, traditionally, are mandated to provide internal security for lives and properties while the military – the Air Force, Navy and Army – is to protect the country against external aggression.
The military is reputedly a disciplined institution. Military men’s clash with the police detracts from the avowed discipline associated with that institution. Reacting to the latest incident, Brig.-Gen. Aminu Lamde, Commander, 27 Task Force Brigade, Buni- Yadi in Yobe, urged that the incident should not be seen as a conflict between the two institutions, but between unguided individuals.
In line with his submission, we want to believe those involved in the skirmishes are not the true representatives of the security forces. Lamde gave an assurance that the matter would be investigated and handled appropriately. A joint investigation team had been constituted by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonishakin, to harmonise the findings from the preliminary investigations carried out by the police and the Army in respect of the unfortunate incident.
But to curb such unpleasant occurrences, recommendations of probe panels must be complied with. Up till now, the report of the Justice Emmanuel Adegbite-led independent panel of investigation into the October 4, 2005 clash between the police and the military at Surulere, Lagos, has not been attended to. The security operatives found culpable in the Damaturu clash must be severely punished.
Whatever the level of provocation, the display of raw power by the soldiers and policemen is unfortunate. Security operatives without discipline are not only dangerous to the military/police, they are also a threat to the nation. These elements have no place in the nation’s security agencies. They must be flushed out. If they could engage their fellows in shootout, where lies the fate of armless civilians?
The existing rapprochement between the military and police should be encouraged and intensified to ensure mutual understanding and respect among the arms of the security forces. Also, the military and the police must understand that armless, defenceless and hapless civilians deserve respect. They earn their emoluments from tax paid by the civilians.