From Joe Keshi
Revered Father Michael Ifeanyi Asomugha, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Okigwe, in Imo State, was kidnapped on the evening of Saturday, April 15, 2023. Father Ifeanyi, from childhood, wanted to be a priest and was overwhelmed when he was ordained on September 18, 2021 and posted as assistant priest of St. Paul’s Parish, Orsuu. He was kidnapped along Ofriagu-Obodo road on his way back from a diocesan diaconate ordination. He was kidnapped while trying to remove a huge stone right in the middle of the road, an innocent act of a good citizen that could have cost him his life. His brother priest who was in the driver’s seat managed to escape and reported to his superiors and later to the police. It took some time to find the appropriate police unit to report to and of course, in his words, he spent money.
The Nigeria Police’s reaction to the incident was not like its counterparts any were in the world. There was no sense of urgency. Rather than activate the system, first alert other police formations in the state, appoint an investigator or hand over the case to a team of experienced crime-busters, like police in advanced countries would, to begin to track the kidnappers, the Catholic Church was advised to “start putting money together.” Nothing more was done.
As the church broke the news to the family of the kidnapped priest who had given his life to serve God through the church, it advised the family to start looking for money as the church of Christ, as a policy, does not pay ransom. This perhaps is the marked difference between the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church, whose Primate was rescued from captivity at a pricey sum. Unlike governments around the world, which occasionally pay ransom but deny paying, the Methodist Church’s action in revealing the ransom paid to rescue its leader did not escape the attention of bandits and kidnappers operating almost throughout the country. They couldn’t believe they had been so stupid over time asking for peanuts when they could make the big bucks and retire to live of luxury like our governors, some of whom could not pay salaries to civil servants but in retirement could donate N250 million at a book launch. Soon thereafter, the Abuja-Kaduna train was attacked, captives taken and ramson of a N100 million demanded for each head in captivity.
Families scrambled to pay to recue their loved ones, and so when the news of Father Ifeanyi began to spread, the family practically got the same message from everybody, including retired and serving police and intelligence officers, army generals, friends and coworkers, with additional information that everyone pays. Indeed, when the kidnappers called, they asked for N100 million. When the family made it clear that it was in no position to meet their request and pleaded for the life of their son whose parents were retired civil servants, they were declared unserious.
Father Asomogha was in captivity for a little over two weeks. But for a period of four days that the kidnappers did not call, they engaged the family in telephone negotiations over how much would eventually be acceptable to them. In all these negotiations, the police were nowhere to be found. On the night of his release, to evade the police who were fast asleep, the kidnappers did what they do best: took the family on a merry-go-round until they were sure the police were not tailing the family before they finally named a spot where the ransom was deposited and Father Ifeanyi was released, battered, bruised and traumatised. If the police knew of his release, they probably read about it from the media and no police investigator had called to talk to the priest.
The sad reality of today’s Nigeria is that, because of the weakness of the Nigeria Police Force and other related agencies, including the Directorate of State Security, Nigeria’s equivalent of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, we have encouraged, sustained and made banditry and kidnapping a very lucrative business. It is almost impossible to believe the police have no nationwide tracking system to listen to the chats or negotiations between family members of victims and criminals to locate their hideouts. Even worse is the growing police ineptitude or sheer lethargy in the discharge of their core mandate, which is essentially to prevent crime and maintain law and order. The truth we must admit is that the Nigeria Police Force has lost its soul and needs to be recalibrated for the good of all of us.
Thanks to our leaders and elite, we have watched the police lose bearing. It is estimated that the strength of the Nigeria Police is close to or a little more than 400,000 officers, of which almost half work as personal security details for politicians and all kinds of businessmen and women. The few that are left to do the real police work spend more time devising means of making money either from harassing motorists, keke riders or from cases brought to them.
You only have to visit police stations or barracks in Nigeria to appreciate the myriad of problems confronting the police, the least of which is money or funding. The Nigeria Police Force, like most agencies in the country, suffers from poor leadership, corruption and mismanagement of resources, poor training, indiscipline, lack of accountability and poor recruitment. It is slow like most government agencies in embracing technology and, where it has acquired some equipment to aid its work, lack of adequate training and commitment continue to affect officers’ sense of responsibility. These ills have become so ingrained that police personnel cannot even recognise when they are accomplices to crime, like we saw during the last general election, where they contributed to the credibility problems of the elections. If you doubt it, take time off to read the reports of both domestic and international observers that monitored the election. I cannot recall which of them did not roundly condemn the police and other security agencies for the role they played in scuttling the people’s will. And this is what makes reforming the police difficult. Those that are expected to reform the police are praising the police for helping them win power.
There have been some reforms since 1999, funds raised for the police, vehicles donated in hundreds by state governments, companies and public-spirited rich Nigerians (most of which have either been destroyed or cannot be accounted for), not to talk of almost annual promotion of police officers. All these, plus constant public outcry against police behaviour and brutality, including the #EndSARS protest, which the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the Lagos State government suppressed at the cost of young innocent lives, have in no way affected the police or convinced its leadership of the need for self-introspection and reform. This simply means either the police are incapable of reformation or they are reading the body language of their political masters whom they serve more than the general public.
Despite this, it is in our collective national interest to do something about the police and other security agencies. It is to our peril, if we continue to ignore the situation of the police or indeed other security forces. Whether the police assisted the incoming government to win the last election or not, reform of the police and reorienting its officers must be treated as priority. First is to decentralise the police command and devolve more powers, authority and resources to state commissioners and, subsequently, to the divisional officers. A situation in which the IGP, from Abuja, had to order the arrest and investigation of Seun Kuti for assaulting a police officer should compel us to appreciate that the police structure created by the colonial administration and reinforced by the military regime is overdue for change, especially if we believe in a federal structure. In doing this, the state police commissioners/divisional police chiefs would be held responsible and accountable for the protection and safety of life and property in the states, not the IGP who, unfortunately,bears the responsibility for all what is wrong with the Nigeria police. In almost all federations, except Nigeria, there is nowhere you find a man/woman running a national police force.
Second, the police need to review its recruitment policy. All kinds of characters have been recruited into the police in the last couple of years including criminals and area boys engaged in drugs. A new recruitment standard needs to be put in place, including background checks. Third, a lot could change in our police if for the next five years a group of middle level officers, inspectors, assistant superintendents of police, superintends, are sent abroad, to some commonwealth countries, for training especially in police management and investigation, with particular attention paid to crime investigation, detection, and utilisation of technology to do police work.
Fourth, and indeed the whole civil service needs to imbibe, embrace, and utilise technology. The police l understand have trackers and the question then becomes why they’re not put to effective use in incidents of kidnapping and banditry. It will be interesting to find out if police vehicles stationed at various junctions round Abuja and Lagos have communication gadgets. Once upon time up, the police had the best communication system in this country.
Fifth, police facilities throughout the country, police stations, offices, training schools, barracks and hospitals must be upgraded and properly managed. How officers can live and work in an environment not better than a pig’s den beats me. And the system of asking complainants to go and purchase papers and pens to write their statements must be stopped immediately. It is difficult to believe that police budgets do not include stationaries. The opaque system of our police must give ways new methods of policing utilising technology.
I am reluctant to talk about police renumeration not because it is not important or that civil servants do not deserve better pay but more because l fear that the culture of greed and corruption in Nigeria, perpetuated by the political class is such that no matter what you pay the police or civil servants, it will not change anything, until there is a general attitudinal shift in our society and people pay for their actions.
•Ambassador Keshi writes from Abuja