By WALE SOKUNBI
Between March 27 and 29 last week, two federal security agencies – the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) – treated the nation to an embarrassing supremacy battle over responsibility for protection of the nation’s oil pipelines.
The NSCDC, which first drew public attention to the face-off, alleged that policemen, in a bid to release oil pipelines vandals arrested by its officials in the dead of the night on March 27, shot dead two Civil Defence men identified as Assistant Inspector of Corps, Adaji Gabriel, and Innocent Akegbe, an Inspector. The incident occurred at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines in Ikorodu, Lagos State.
The police, however, claimed that they were alerted by the Deputy Manager, Security of Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) about a drop in pressure along the pipelines in Ikorodu area, and the possibility of a leakage or vandalism of the lines. The authorities said they, therefore, dispatched police operatives to patrol the vandals-prone areas in Ikorodu.
The patrolling officers claimed to have heard gunshots at the Konu axis, where men of the NSCDC questioned their presence in the area and engaged them in a confrontation. The policemen reportedly called for reinforcement and the ensuing gun battle with NSCDC officials resulted in the killing of the Civil Defence men. While the NSCDC, through its National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Emmanuel Okeh, insists that policemen actually ambushed its men, shot two of them dead, injured others and allowed oil pipeline vandals they had arrested to escape with their loot, the Deputy Inspector General of Police ‘
A’, Suleiman Fakai, who briefed President Goodluck Jonathan on the matter, was reported to have claimed that the policemen on patrol at Ikorodu were harassed by the NSCDC men, leading to their call for reinforcement and a gun fight during which the Civil Defence men were killed. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the confrontation between the Police and NSCDC, it is appalling that two agencies of the Federal Government engaged in a gun battle for any reason. This incident amply demonstrates the trigger-happy disposition of our security operatives and the glaring lack of coordination in the efforts to secure oil pipelines in the country.
This disorganized approach to securing of oil pipelines is condemnable. It is responsible for the situation in which officials of the two agencies opened fire on one another. The charge of NSCDC that policemen ambushed its men and freed the vandals they had arrested on the night in question is very serious. It suggests that there may be complicity of the police in pipeline vandalisation in that part of the country. The killing of the two NSCDC officials is also condemnable. The face-off between operatives of the two agencies is unfortunate and unhealthy. The task of securing oil pipelines is a serious one that should not leave room for any conflict between the agencies responsible for the assignment.
The present case in which the Civil Defence agency is accusing the police of collaborating with oil thieves is very bad. Under this situation, it does appear that at least one of the two parties has vested interest in the vandalisation of the pipelines. The conflicting stories emanating from the two agencies suggest that at least one of them is being economical with the truth. Nigeria cannot afford to toy with the task of securing oil pipelines.
Vandalisation of these pipes has led to loss of billions of naira in recent years, with attendant loss of lives when there are fire incidents. The agencies that are charged with their protection cannot, therefore, afford to work at cross-purposes. In the present instance of the murder of the two Civil Defence operatives, the attempt by the police to exonerate their men involved in this incident is unhelpful to the resolution of this case.
Instead of this bid to downplay the matter of responsibility for the killing of the Civil Defence officials, there should be concerted effort to identify the killers and prosecute them. The matter of determining the killers cannot be rocket science. They can be identified through examination of the bullets that killed the men by ballistic experts, who are available in the country. It is very important to determine the killers of these men not only to ensure justice for them and their families, but also to teach all security operatives in the country not to be trigger-happy. The police must be careful not to create the impression that it does not want Nigerians to know the people who actually killed the Civil Defence men.
Let this incident be properly investigated and the killers apprehended and brought to book. While not pre-judging the outcome of this investigation, it is not good for operatives of the nation’s security agencies to be at loggerheads. Apart from the very poor picture this paints of our security efforts, such disagreements give room for the people the security agencies are supposed to monitor to get away with their criminal activities.
The Police and the NSCDC should stop this needless squabble over supremacy. The two agencies should stop washing their dirty linen in the public. There should be better coordination of activities targeted at protecting oil pipelines. A proper investigation should be conducted to unravel all the puzzles surrounding the killing of the NSCDC men.
When incidents like this occur in advanced countries, the investigating authorities are usually able to come up with both the circumstances surrounding the killing and the motives within a matter of hours. Our investigating agencies can do this too if there is sincerity in the efforts to resolve the killings. Let our security experts give the nation answers to the actual circumstances that led to the killing of the Civil Defence men.