The mass killing, in one fell swoop, of over 100 serving police officers at Nasarawa-Eggon in Nasarawa state, North Central of Nigeria, by a group of, in plain language, cultists, painful and dastardly as the incidence looked, was certainly a throw back into a long history of police wrong way of starting a just cause, especially in the Northern part of the country, in wrong way.
The mass killing of police and other security officers had earlier been witnessed in Bama, Borno state via the rampaging Boko Haram.
The thread that runs through the manner which police have been handling those considered to be constituting danger to the peace and tranquility of the society has remained the same: from the era of Maitatsine saga in 1981 through Boko Haram that has remained a thorn in the flesh of the country since 2010 to date to that of Nasarawa-eggon.
In the case of Maitatsine, like in almost all other cases, it was an attempt by the police to dislodge the adherents from their Yan Awaki enclave in Kano that sparked off one of the bloodiest battles which armed forces had to be drafted into so as to quell the insurgency. It was the same manner of trying to dislodge members of Boko Haram, resulting in alleged extra judicial killing of its leader by police in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital that sparked off anger amongst members of the group: the anger that has thrown many parts of the North into daily orgy of killing.
Report of what led to the killing of over 100 police officers in Nasaraw-eggon has similar trend: the police went to dislodge the worshipers of Ombatse Deity in the small, hilly town of Nasarawa-eggon but were resisted by members of the cult who lay ambush for the intruding police men, and perhaps women. The rest is now history.
The questions that have continued to linger have been: what kind of danger these groups (Maitatsine, Boko Haram and even Ombatse ) initially constituted to the peaceful existence of the society that would call for police intervention?
In the case of Maitatsine for example, Malam Marwa Maitatsine, the leader, was just doing his own kind of preaching to adherents of his doctrine but seemed to have attracted and infuriated those who were in power: who had ironically benefited from his supposed knowledge and “power” in the past. When police were later drafted in to arrest Marwa or chase him and his members away, they turned their other side, which was deadly.
For Boko Haram too, it is fresh in our memory that Mohammed Yusuf, as a leader of the group, never really attempted to force the doctrine of hatred to anything western education or, in Hausa language, Boko Haram, on anybody. Agreed that members of Boko Haram, the way their historical emergence was related, suddenly realized that western education was an evil they hated to have acquired (as most members were well educated) and they insisted on the Shari’a form of governance, they never, in reality, caused any confrontation to the constituted authorities.
Even if they did, it wasn’t just enough for the police to hunt them and going ahead to kill their leader without the due process of the law.
It really worries one that, it is only in the North the police are always eager to enforce whatever law that exists, on “undesirable” groups, and even going as far as trying to eliminate the leadership of such groups.
Come to think of it, the South West had and still accommodates, such “undesirable” groups as Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), the Area Boys or the Afenifere, one of which is being led by a stark illiterate in the person of Gani Adam: the South East has Movement for the Actualization of State of Biafra (MASOB), the South South has the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and many others in other parts of the country, but police in these zones of the country have never been excited or in a hurry to clamp down on them. Even the Niger Delta militants, represented by various groups, prominent among which are MEND and Asari-Dokubo-led Niger Delta Peoples Frontier Force (NDPFF), who had caused a lot of havoc to the nation’s economy were treated with respect. In fact, the views of some of their leaders on state and national issues, wild and treasonable as they really appear, are tolerated and subtly adhered to.
Of course, it is not uncommon to see some feeble attempts made by security agents to harass the leaders and members of such other “outlawed” groups in the country, but most of such attempts had never gone beyond arrest, detention (of leaders with executive treatment in the detention) and eventual continuation of the atrocity they were accused of responsible for committing in the communities.
From the way things are done in this country, impressions are being given daily that some Nigerians are untouchable because of their noise value while others are easily cowed and maltreated because they are not noisy.
It would not be out of place to say that the Obmatse cultists killed the large number of police drafted to go and pick their leader like a common criminal, out of panic and with fear that their leader might end up being killed the same way Mohammed Yusuf of Boko Haram was eliminated. It is also not too far to suggest that quite a number of “big” people in the society are beneficiaries of the Ombatse cultists and would therefore, not want a situation where the arrest of their leader would lead to their being exposed, which many people suspected was the case with the killed Boko Haram leader.
While the nation sympathizes with the Nigeria Police Force and the Ministry of Police Affairs for this gargantuan loss, time has come for the policing system to be re-directed from being used for settling scores or the divide-and-rule in the same country, to a more purposeful and peaceful one, with the aim of building a truly law abiding citizens of the country.
As the minister of police affairs, Caleb Olubolade said, the challenges before police today are more than before, stressing that what is important now is to restrategise and empower them the more.
I subscribe to that.