Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why It Was Easy to Bomb the Nigerian Police Headquarters

Onyekakeyah: Why it was easy to bomb the police headquarters .

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 00:00 By Luke Onyekakeyah
Courtesy of the Nigerian Guardian

THE massive car bomb that ripped through the parking lot of the Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja last Thursday, June 16, 2011 wrecked such havoc because of the porous security at the edifice. The police headquarters is supposed to be a high security area where every movement is monitored and only authorised persons are allowed in. But that wasn’t the case as at the time of the bombing. The Boko Haram sect, which claimed responsibility for the bombing took advantage of the porous security to perpetrate the act.

Going by the large number of vehicles destroyed (more than 77), it was clear that the building, which is supposed to be a sensitive and high security area was turned into a market place where every Tom, Dick and Harry could easily drive in. Since the place was turned into a market place, then, terrorists could drive in, knowing full well that there was no hindrance, whatsoever. And, that was what the Boko Haram insurgents exploited to wreck havoc.

The police headquarters isn’t the only sensitive place that is virtually open. There’s hardly any place in this country where highly connected people can’t enter. We have many big and powerful men and women in this country who are above the law. They and their powerful cronies who associate with those in authority will be given way to enter anywhere as they like without restriction. You don’t stop such people from entering anywhere. They will buy their way.

If a security officer who wants to do his or her job tries to stop them, the one might lose his or her job. The big man inside, under whose umbrella they’re covered would even frown at the security officer for “insulting” his visitor. That being the case, the security man at the gate won’t like to lose his job. He therefore allows anyone driving a big car in. Movement and persons are not monitored in places where they’re supposed to.

In the case of the police headquarters bombing, it’s pertinent to ask what were the owners of those vehicles doing there at the time? Were they undergoing high-level criminal interrogation or investigation, for that is the only business that could take anybody to the police headquarters? There are, according to records, some 1,300 police stations nationwide that could handle any matter without it getting to the police headquarters. What it means is that before any case gets there, it would have been a very high profile and very serious case, in which case, it gets to the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Otherwise, there is no case, including very serious ones, that can’t be handled along the line starting from the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), through the ranks before getting to the IGP. The IGP is the highest authority in the nation’s police force. Any case that gets to him should be a very serious one, of which the president should also know. So, were all those visitors at the police headquarters at the time of the bombing involved in such very serious matters that warranted their presence at the edifice? If not, what else were they doing? The large presence of people shows the porous nature of the place.

Ordinarily, a police station is not a place to have fun that should attract crowd. It’s not a stadium where you watch soccer. It’s not a TV viewing centre or any other thing of the sort. It’s a place where complaints are laid and dealt with. Starting from a local police post anywhere in the country, nobody ordinarily strays into the place uninvited. And, even with invitation, scores of people are afraid to go to the police station. I had a personal experience some time ago. Someone very close to me was once locked up at a police station by someone who was unfriendly and I was expected to go and negotiate her release. I refused to go, insisting that after the legal 24 hours, the police will release her since the matter was domestic. And it happened like that. The person was released.

Against that backdrop, I am wondering what on earth made the Nigeria Police Headquarters a free for all place. Not until the authorities unravel what the entire crowd was doing at the place at the time and why it was easy to drive into the place would there be an iota of security at the place and elsewhere like that. If the place was unwittingly turned into a market place where contractors and businessmen go to negotiate business leaving the issue of security to the winds, then, the police should blame themselves for the attack. The police headquarters is not alone in this anomie. Several strategic government buildings are exposed to the same security risk. The National Assembly Complex, Aso Rock, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), among others, are equally exposed. People drive in and out of these places almost unrestricted.

Worldwide, even in peace time, there’re certain places and buildings that are high security areas where no one goes under no circumstance without being led and monitored by security operatives. The presidential palace, the headquarters of all the various arms of national security, including the police, army, air force, navy and the ancillary security agencies and certain areas of the airport, etc. It’s unthinkable that members of the public would be allowed to be streaming in and out of the headquarters of the FBI or the White House in the United States, or the headquarters of the KGB in Russia. These places are high sensitive security areas and therefore restricted.

Whoever and whatever turned the Police Headquarters into a rendezvous for all manner of visitors is to blame for the bomb blast. The perpetrators exploited the loophole in security and it worked. The authorities should learn a bitter lesson.

The other thing is the unprofessional practice by the Nigeria police to join a motorist who is being interrogated on the road in his or her car. Anyone who drives regularly on Nigerian roads would have had the experience severally. It goes like this: You’re driving on the highway and suddenly meet a police road block. The police flag you down and you stop. The next thing, the policeman or woman will ask for your vehicle particulars. Before you open your mouth to say anything, he or she will open your door and jump in and then tells you to drive forward and park properly.

By the time you present all your particulars, s/he will then ask you for “something’’ (money). If you refuse to dish out “something’’, s/he will seize your particulars and ask you to come down. You could be delayed as long as they wish, until you dish out “something’’ and only then would you be released.

The point being made here is that it’s absolutely wrong for any police or traffic officer to jump into someone’s car (a strange person for that matter), in a bid to compel him or her to obey simple instructions.

If the police act professionally like you have in the developed world, motorists will obey them without being forced. It’s unfortunate that the traffic warden, Mr. Mangor Dangton, an Assistant Superintendent of Traffic (AST), died in the bomb blast along with the driver of the deadly car conveying the bombs. The lack of a proper way of adjudicating on erring motorists, as you have it in the developed world, makes the police and other law enforcement personnel on the roads to press for instant settlement for traffic offenders.

Otherwise, why was it difficult to simply direct the driver to move to the parking lot without having to join him in the car? The police and the other traffic agencies should learn from the ugly incident and re-orientate their officers. It’s obvious from what happened that it’s no longer safe for the police to jump into anyone’s car just like that, as the action could prove deadly.

Judging from the eyewitness accounts, it’s certain that the driver simply wanted to park the car at his chosen location and leave before he was intercepted by the police and handed over to the traffic warden, who wasn’t in a position to search the vehicle before it exploded. Now that the entire country is apparently under siege from the activities of terrorists, the police and other law enforcement agencies should readjust in the way and manner they handle situations. Anyone who is surrounded by enemies guards his life by remaining at alert always.

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