Still reeling from the shock of a series of daring armed robbery attacks, the seismic breach of the Lagos security landscape is a reminder that criminals have circumvented the system again. Apart from attacking private households, there has been a resurgence of bank robberies, which many business outfits had precipitately thought had been subdued. Being Nigeria’s business capital, the police have to seize back the initiative from the bandits.
They have enough to build on after the arrests of members of the gang that carried out the recent bank robberies in Ajah and Ikorodu areas of the state.
Alarm bells started ringing shortly before the last general election when robbers staged an audacious daylight offensive in Ajah in March in which they made away with millions of naira, killed three policemen and a passerby. After operating unchallenged for about 30 minutes, they escaped in a speed boat. The robbers launched two more attacks in quick succession on Ikorodu area in June.
They also escaped in speed boats on each occasion. The second operation succeeded largely because the police did not expect the robbers to return so soon. This presumption was costly and shocking because the attacks occurred opposite a police station. The attacks gained notoriety because, apart from the injured victims, one of the banks reportedly lost about N80 million.
Although the attacks commenced at about 9am, security agents only arrived at the scene at about 1.30pm. Unchallenged, the robbers set three Sport Utility Vehicles ablaze to incapacitate security agents on their trail. A bank official said, “They shouted, ‘Open the door, open the door,’ but none of us answered them. Suddenly, we heard an explosion and the glass went down. They packed everything in the strong room.” It takes immense audacity for robbers to operate in the daytime, but it also takes a structurally deficient police force to allow open brigandage without mounting a stern riposte.
Crime is a strong disincentive to business. With the economy in need of all the investment it can muster, the response of the police and the state government in the days ahead will determine the economic fate of the state. And, it is apparent that the state’s security system needs to be rejuvenated. Criminals are constantly reinventing their modus operandi in order to strike at their targets. But it is a step in the right direction that Solomon Arase, the Inspector-General of Police, has replaced Kayode Aderanti, the Commissioner of Police, on whose watch the robbers rendered the once solid security network prostrate.
It is not only banks that have suffered losses. In April, a 20-man armed robbery gang invaded Iju, on the outskirts of Lagos around 2am, robbing residents of Nelson Cole, Iyabo Williams, Alafia and Hope streets. They killed a guard. A resident said there had been repeated attacks in the area. In February, bandits murdered Srivastava Kumar, a 45-year-old Indian in Ajah, after robbing him. These days, residents wake up to stories of robbery attacks in different parts of the state, a phenomenon that had been reduced significantly before. Just last week, a five-man robbery gang killed one Sonye Chukwudi, 32, who operated a taxi cab at a public garden in the state.
We urge the new CP, Ajani Owoseni, to inject fresh ideas into policing the state. His short- and long-term remit is to make Lagos safe from all forms of banditry by bringing uncommon passion, dexterity and modern crime-fighting methods to bear on the system. This was achieved when Marvel Akpoyibo and Mohammed Abubakar were the CPs in the state. So, with the support from the state government, Owoseni has his work cut out for him.
In terms of crime-fighting resources and welfare of personnel, gone are the days the police in Lagos could complain. Apart from Federal Government funding, the figures cited by the Lagos State Security Trust Fund said it supported police operations with N2.04 billion in 2011 and N1.54 billion in 2012. The state government and other government agencies also contribute to the funding of police operations in Lagos.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode should demand top performance from the police chief in Lagos, as he explores further ways to strengthen security operations. This might include the provision of helicopters for aerial surveillance and well-equipped boats for operations on the waterways. Beyond that, the IG should make it a priority to set targets for police commissioners. The appointment of a new CP in Lagos is a welcome development, but it must be reviewed in line with the set targets. Failure to meet targets should not be tolerated.
But we cannot fight crime in this era without the aid of technology. In Sri Lanka, the police employ different methods like profiling, fingerprints technology, surveillance cameras, DNA sampling, telephone calls monitoring and digital photos and videos to combat crime. Recent data from the United Kingdom authorities stated that Britain is monitored by four million Closed-Circuit Television cameras, making it the most watched society in the world.
In contrast, Lagos, in conjunction with the Federal Government, was able to install only 1,200 CCTVs as of early 2014, though it planned to add 1,000 more. At the national level, the plan by the Federal Government to install 10,000 CCTVs has become embroiled in controversy and has yet to become functional. We need to step up on this to aid the security agencies.
Crucially, however, Nigeria is deficient in forensic investigation, a major part of the police repertoire in other climes. For the police to be ahead of criminals, they must deploy this resource. Training and re-training are also important for the police, but it is also critical that criminals that are apprehended be prosecuted to deter other potential ones.