Fighting crime the hard way
By Ochiaka Ugwu
Recently concerns were raised by Nigerians over the resurgence of armed robbery in the commercial cities of the nation. Armed robbery or robbery with aggravating circumstances, as it is officially known represents a particularly feared form of violent crime as it usually associated with severe trauma or injury to victims, and sometimes even outright death.
Consequently, and with the recent wave of it in major cities, there is understandable concern about safety from the public. Foreigners are equally worried: informed circles regularly receive enquiries from abroad about the risks of visiting and shopping in Nigeria.
Before now, we as a nation have seen less and less crime, even in the face of high unemployment and economic stagnation, only for it to resurface in quantum this time around.
A one form of business robbery that is currently particularly disturbing in the South East is armed robberies targeting bank customers and in Abuja here, it is car theft in all most parts of the city centre. With these not-too-good situation, life, it would appear, is increasingly becoming nasty, brutish and short for business people and their employees given the increase in the number of armed robberies targeting them.
Although police statistics indicate that crime has been on the decline year on year, but verifiable evidence appears to suggest otherwise. This could be as result of the fact that most crimes in Nigeria go unreported.
These days, the number of people who have been attacked by armed robbers after making huge withdrawals from banks appears to be too high, raising suspicions that some of these cases are well-planned with the connivance of someone with knowledge of the victim’s financial transactions. Business owners have also fallen victim at their premises especially when they withdraw money or are about to make huge deposits.
And in many cases, the attackers ride on motorcycles, whip out their guns and brandish them in the faces of their victims before robbing them and disappearing into thin air. In the more serious cases, those who resist are shot.
Only last month in the commercial city of Onitsha, it was reported that armed robbers who have adopted the strategy of laying siege on unsuspecting bank customers swopped a woman who withdrew money from a new generation bank at New Market road and dispossessed her of her cash. The case is endless as this woman’s own was just one among many robbery attacks in the city.
This was followed by well-organized gangs and heavily armed criminals who attacked two banks successfully in Lagos and carted away huge sum of money. These deadly armed robbers that held a certain community in Lagos hostage, were said to have operated unchallenged for about two hours as they robbed two major banks in the area. The most unfortunate thing was that the scene of the robbery operation was just a stone’s throw to a Divisional Police station. The policemen, who engaged the armed robbers, were, however, overwhelmed. It was reported that the operation saw three persons injured, while the robbers also set five vehicles ablaze and damaged an armoured tank as they escaped from the scene.
Going by this, one would be forgiven for thinking that our society has suddenly become the middle of a lawless jungle without police, mobile phones and security response services.
However, bank robberies overtime, have been decreasing since when only few incidents were recorded. In 2012-13 only few bank robberies were reported. This is quite an achievement considering that in 1999-2004 bank robberies in the nation peaked at an alarming rate. It is therefore of great concern that there was a renewed increase in bank robberies in recent time as most Nigerians have heaved a sigh of relieve.
There is no doubt that the new wave of armed robbery is not good for our nation at this material time especially now we are doing our best to woe foreign investors to our soil and trying to make our nation investment hub of Africa. We all know that business finds it increasingly difficult to absorb the direct and indirect effects of crime in every clime. Indeed, with the plummeting oil prices in the world, Nigeria would be left with no alternative than to focus in other means of sourcing revenues to boost the economy. With this prevailing reality, the business sector will remain the main contributor of disposable household income and the country’s revenue base through taxes and levies. The increase in the cost of crime means that less income is available to pay for wages and for contributing to the state coffers.
As the criminal threat increases, so too does the spending by business to secure their interests, their staff and the public. Already plans are being considered to improve security at banks, commercial areas and shopping malls. This will no doubt be extremely costly and may even have an impact on consumer prices. In addition, the ongoing targeting of banks and other businesses may also prove disruptive, and could have a dampening effect on the usual shopping and spending experience.
The real concern, however, was considering that it occurred near police station, which raises questions about the safety of ordinary Nigerians who are living far from security formations, take a snack, or a break in unfamiliar environments under the false belief that they are safe.
What is worrying about the emerging armed crimes trend is that too often, security agencies take too long to respond even when they are alerted on time. It could be that they face logistical problems that make them less efficient than the public expects them to be. But they have a duty to identify these weaknesses and find ways of overcoming them.
For instance, the police must be required to improve their response time whenever they receive distress calls. As it is, they often come hours after the incident and usually, they have no capacity to collect evidence, track down the attackers or gather preliminary information that could help them solve the cases faster. Some of these things will require serious investment in equipment, but most only require greater initiative and diligence by the officers.
Unfortunately, it has become practice for the government to act only when the public resorts to civil disobedience. Many communities have even embarked in building a police station while some have embarked on demonstration to have one sited in their localities. Not long ago, people of Saburi community demonstrated and pleaded with the police authority to occupy an abandoned post. They even threatened to close down their businesses and move out of town if the government fail to stop criminal activities going unabated. Why must it take a threat for the public to get security which is part of their fundamental rights?
This laxity has led to the belief that lynching is the best way to deal with suspects. The result has been that in one or two cases, innocent people have been killed by mobs on the strength of an unfounded suspicion as happened in Aluu community of Rivers State where promising young university students were roasted to death in the most brutal way when they were mistaken for armed robbers.
As a matter of policy, police must find a way of dealing with the supply of illegal guns. The number of armed robberies involving guns has been growing. This was even confirmed by Presidential Committee on Small Arms Proliferation when they described Nigeria as the main destination for small arms in West Africa.
In arresting the situation, Nigerians does not expect the police to tell them where the guns are coming from. All they expect is for the police to ensure that fewer guns end up in the hands of criminals.