There were about 30 houses on the street. All of them received the crudely written letter from the armed robbers. Stating the date and time, the armed robbers informed all the landlords that they were visiting them. They warned them that should they find any of the houses empty or too difficult to penetrate, the house would be set ablaze. They further warned them of the futility in going to the police, telling them that if they did, they (the armed robbers) would find out and punish severely whoever alerted the police. To cap it all, they told the landlords that had meiguards (personal guards) to give their guards the day off. Any so-called guard found in any house would be killed.

On D-day, the armed robbers came. They arrived not a minute too soon, nor a minute late. For three hours, they shut down the entire street going from one house to the other, collecting their loot. Wherever they received less loot than envisaged, they butt-stroked, butt-whipped and knifed some of the residents.

At the conclusion of the “operation”, the armed robbers left, leaving in their wake wailing residents, everybody consoling everybody. The police soon arrived and took statements. Sooner or later, residents replaced stolen properties and prepared for the next visit by the armed robbers.

This was before the advent of cellular phones. Most households did not have land lines, and if they did, the phones did not work. If the phones worked, residents did not know the emergency number to call in order to alert the police. And if they got through to the police, the police usually did not have fuel in their vehicles, or rounds in their weapons, or enough personnel to confront the armed robbers. The entire system was broken. It was just a tad better than living in the 12th century.

In those “dark” days too, armed robbers stormed banks in broad daylight, when they were sure to get some money either from customers, or cashiers, or both. They put the gun to the bank manager’s head and forced him to open the vault.

Today however, as with everything Nigerian, the armed robber has gotten more sophisticated - or cruder, if you will. They organize themselves into a small “army”, equipped with welding machines (!), power generators (!) and an assortment of weapons with bullet-resistant vests to match, and descend heavily on a bank. If the police shows up, rather than flee, they hold their fort, fighting the police until one side runs out of ammo or personnel.

The effrontery and bravado displayed by the armed robbers are now limitless. Only in our society could a whole neighborhood be held on a lockdown while it is being pillaged by men of the underworld with impunity. You have to wonder what gives the armed robber such confidence that he could take his time while robbing an entire household, street or neighborhood of their belongings.

Recently, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, the acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP) who succeeded corrupt Tafa Balogun, expressed his outrage at the inability of the police to combat the ever-growing scourge of armed robbery. Hear him:”These cases have become rampant. Some commands are complacent. They just sit down and can’t take initiatives…In some commands, the commissioners of police are not aware of some crimes, and in some cases the AIGs are not aware.”

Lagos is arguable the headquarters (or center of operations, if you will) of armed robbers. And to convince Nigerians that he is serious, Ehindero has renovated the old Kam Salem House in Lagos, and moved his shop down there (temporarily) to personally supervise the war against armed robbers. It is about time the police woke up from their slumber.

Ehindero’s frustration is not misplaced. In fact, I think that beyond chastising his officers for cowardice and laziness, he should also seriously consider looking at the Force for brazen and subtle complicities with armed robbers, and actual participation in armed robberies by police offices themselves. Ehindero has alluded to this much already when he admitted that the Force was not in proper control of its arms and ammunition inventories. In other words, there is no proper accountability for the weapons and ammunitions issued by the Force on a daily basis to its men and women. And those men and women know this.

So, if a police officer signs for (that is if there is a signing system in place) 100 rounds (bullets) on assumption of shift, but turns in 80 at the close of shift, there is no accountability for the missing 20 rounds. That is a huge problem right there, considering how many police officers are issued rounds all across the country. The problem becomes even more compounded because many of those officers are authorized to take their weapons home. We can even discountenance the problem of non-accountability for rounds because they can be easily purchased on the black market. (A box of 5.56m round containing 30 rounds costs less than N30 to manufacture.) But we cannot ignore the problem of weapons that the Force cannot track. Ehindero knows that there are no ballistic testing centers, (where weapons can be tested to ascertain whether they have been fired or not) in Nigeria. Our police officers know this as well. So, a police officer can actually use his weapon to rob last night, and bring the same weapon to work today with nobody suspecting anything.

Another reason Ehindero might want to focus more on police officers is the fact that ordinary people â€" civilians â€" cannot just pick up a weapon and become proficient in its use. Even if you are handling the primitive Dane gun, there is a firing mechanism with which you must be sufficiently familiar before you can properly employ the weapon. And no one, but few local hunters, uses the Dane gun anymore. All guns are equipped with one degree of safety mechanism or the other. To load a gun with rounds, aim and fire it, one must first defeat its safety mechanism. I am sure that civilians cannot get to the point of firing a gun unless they have been trained. Armed robbers use sophisticated, full and semi-automatic rifles and hand guns. With those weapons, you need to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of their “characters” and “behaviors.” And to be familiar with the weapon, you need to have practiced using and repairing it more than a few times. For instance, many people would be surprised to know that one can easily miss, by as much as 10 feet, a man-size stationary object at about 50 meters distance, using a 9m weapon! With a full automatic weapon, you can miss by a mile! Various weapons have various “kick” and “jerk” degrees that only a professional, or one quite familiar with the weapon can actually aim and score as often as you see in the movies.

Ehindero must look within his force for those armed robbers because soldiers are not allowed to take their weapons home. They are not even allowed to draw weapons from the armory unless there is a mission. Civilians on their part can bet on getting the camel through the eye of a needle more easily than they can get a license to own a gun in Nigeria. That leaves the police as the largest group of people that carry weapons during peace time in Nigeria, and know how to use them. There have been proven cases of police renting out their weapons to armed robbers. In many cases, those armed robbers happened to be former (or serving) police officers. Whichever way you look at it, the signatures of the police are not too far from the guns used in robbing Nigerians.

Ehindero appears eager to leave a better record than his immediate predecessor. That should be an easy task. All he has to do is avoid stealing N13 billion. But he can do much better. He can root out those armed robbers in the ranks of the Force and save Nigerians huge expenses in salaries of meiguards, most of them guarding with machetes, sticks and charms. He can save them the extra cost of building those high-walled fences that disfigure an otherwise beautifully designed mansion. Have you seen some of those houses? They look like fortresses, with multi-layered concertina and barbed wires, rigged with electric current.

Armed robbers hold too strong a sway over Nigerians. The seemingly intractable nuisance they pose can only be eradicated by a police force that is incorruptible, bold, well trained and well armed. The Force also should invest in “good old” investigative police work. Armed robbers do not live in the jungle. They live amongst us in the cities. They drive those nice cars and display such obscene opulence. They hide in the open. They are our next door neighbors. Let’s flush them out.

Abiodun Ladepo
Wiesbaden, Germany
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