The robbery incident in Offa had everything to do with policing; and we better sort the police out now or keep running round in circles.
Accounts of the incident vary from person to person but some parts of the chilling robbery need retelling.
The robbers were about 15 in number. They blocked the Ilorin and Osogbo entrances into Offa at about 4:41pm and fired away as they marched to take over Union Bank, Eco Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, First Bank, Zenith Bank and Ibolo Micro Finance Bank.
Everyone who came into their line of sight was immediately gunned down. They bombed security outposts at the banks after shooting the guards from point-blank range.
Once they had carted all the monies they could carry from the banks, they shot their way out again, got hold of motorbikes whose owners had fled the scene and sped out of Offa—unchallenged.
Eyewitnesses say the robbers operated for an hour with not a soul standing in their way.
When the people of Offa converged to take stock after the fumes from gunfire had dissipated into the air, some 30 lifeless bodies were found strewn all over the community.
To kill over 30 persons in one robbery incident makes a complete mockery of our nation’s security architecture and calls to question the capability of the police to watch over the rest of us.
I leave home in the early hours for work daily and return a little before midnight. There are police officers stationed every 500 meters on my drive home--gun totting fellas with trousers falling off their buttocks; who sometimes look bedraggled and who look like they could use a decent meal or two.
The police officers ask you to wind down.
Once you are wound down, the next thing you hear is: ‘Happy weekend Sir. Anything for your boys? Na your men dey here o!’
After you dole out a few bank notes, they wave you on. It doesn’t matter if you are a robber, kidnapper, ritualist, cultist or yahoo boy—as soon as you hand out that crumpled N200 or N100 note, they would salute you and off you go.
Once you hand out that paltry sum, no police officer cares if you have a trunk full of guns and knives. You are hailed as ‘Chairman’ and waved on to proceed with your drive. 'Chairman, carry go!', they scream, with a wide grin on their faces.
The robbers who drove to the bank belt in Offa were probably waved on with their arms and evil intentions after they handed out filthy bank notes to police officers at checkpoints.
While you can't flag down all the cars on the roads for routine checks, guns and bombs are allowed unfettered passages on our roads on a daily basis.
We have a police force that is heavy on extorting motorists and light on actually policing a country with an unhealthy proliferation of small arms.
The robbers who struck Offa spent months or weeks plotting the operation, moving guns and personnel from place to place and studying the terrain. Yet none of our intelligence outfits could nip the operation in the bud.
Some have said that State police is the answer to the kind of robbery that was carried out in Offa, but I would want to believe that it goes beyond whether the police receive their orders from Abuja or Ilorin.
Our police officers are poorly paid and ill-motivated. They are also ill equipped. I have seen police officers duck for cover or take to their heels at the slightest hint of a robbery on the highway. Sometimes, they even throw their Shakabulas to the robbers before fleeing the scene as fast as their legs can carry them.
As I drove to work this morning, our vigilante security operatives narrated how they engaged robbers who had stormed the neighbourhood to loot homes. There was no police officer in sight, they said. This is the same neighbourhood where police officers patrol with trucks all day, looking for which ‘Okada’ man to harass and extort or which motorist to bark at.
Until we reform the police institution or erect a new one in place of the joke we have now, Offa will keep happening.
We have to alter the mindset of the police from an alms soliciting one to a professional outfit capable of engaging robbers who are at the moment operating with all the freedom in the world.
And beyond suggesting State policing as a panacea, our police officers have to be trained to encourage community folks into being more open toward them. You can't hand tips or volunteer information to officers who look like they are always at war with ordinary civilians.
And you don’t earn the trust, love and respect of the people by harassing them every step of the way. It's time for the police to wear a new face and we should all help them.