May 6, 2021

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Burnt police stations remain in ruins

9 min read
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Four months ago, many police stations across the country, especially in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, were set on fire. The incident, which was the aftermath of the ENDSARS rallies, has left policemen with unorthodox facilities to operate from, write MIKE ODIEGWU, PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU and GBENGA OMOKHUNU

The Police Area Commander in Oyigbo Local Government Area, Rivers State, Nuhu Abdulkareem, has no office. He sits under a tree on the premises of a fenced private pub to do his work daily.

Abdulkareem only has a set of plastic chairs arranged around a plastic table on dusty ground to discharge his functions as a police chief in the volatile local government area. He has no patrol vehicles, no logistics and no electronic devices to facilitate the execution of his job. But Abdulkareem shows up every day at his duty post. He attends to issues with a quiet disposition. No complaints. He sometimes uses his personal vehicle to undertake official assignments.

Like Abdulkareem, the Divisional Police Officer of Oyigbo, Maina Ngari, is not faring better. He has no office, no patrol vehicles and no facilities including information processors to undertake his assignments.

He converted one of the stores built on the Aba-Port Harcourt Road for the Police Officers Wife Association (POWA) to his office. The office, which could be likened to a cubicle, has no electricity, no chairs and no electronic gadgets. It is empty. But like Abdulkareem, the DPO is passionate about his job, which he discharges with uncommon equanimity.

Police documents expected to be highly confidential are processed in privately owned business centres. The officers in charge of such documents only appeal to the business centre owners to delete them from their system.

Apart from Ngari and Abdulkareem, other police officers and operatives on duties are vulnerable. Outside the POWA stores, they could be seen sitting around plastic tables to attend to complainants. Persons plying the Port-Harcourt-Aba road might mistake the scene for a mini marketplace. All the policemen are on mufti apparently to disguise themselves from possible invaders.

Indeed, the Oyigbo Area Command and the Oyigbo Divisional Police Station, which share the same premises and fence have remained shadows of themselves since the end of the EndSARS protest. They are still in ruins as all the evidence of the destruction stare everybody in the face.

“Nothing has been fixed, but we need to work. There is nothing to work with. No patrol vans, no logistics, no equipment, no electricity and no offices, not even a typewriter to work with”, a disgruntled policeman, who spoke in confidence, said.

The destruction is massive. Hoodlums, later identified by security agencies and the state government as members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), hijacked the EndSARS protest and visited a reign of terror on the police and their facilities.

A female policeman in mufti, who also spoke in confidence, said: “On that fateful day, over 1000 hoodlums invaded our premises at night. They took us by surprise. They came from the back and they came on trucks. They set all the buildings ablaze and looted everything including our private properties.

“All the vehicles including the ones we seized from civilians as exhibits were burnt. But before they burnt them, they dismantled their engines and other valuable spare parts and loaded them in a big truck. The invaders came with auto repairers popularly called mechanics, electricians and other technicians. It was a planned raid”.

The hoodlums had no mercy. A storey building housing the Area Commander’s Office was burnt down and looted. The entire structures of the divisional police station were destroyed and pulled down. The Human Rights building was pulverised from its foundation. Nothing was left. Even the uncompleted buildings were deroofed and vandalised.

“They came with Odeshi (charms that protect the bearer from bullets). We shot all the bullets we had but they could not penetrate them. Most of us ran away but others, who were not fortunate were captured and butchered by the hoodlums”, another police officer said.

There is still a heavy military presence around the destroyed police stations. Soldiers erected checkpoints and cordoned off the affected areas. They built tents with heavy weapons inside the ruined police station. Though they are scaling down their operations, their presence commands awe.

But about four months after the destruction, there is no effort by the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police to rebuild the structures. Policemen are compelled to do their jobs in such an unsafe and unprotected environment with foreboding written on their countenances.

Another officer, who spoke in confidence said: “It is about four months now but we have not seen any effort to rebuild the destroyed facilities. There is no effort to acquire new patrol vans and other vehicles.

“Most times the DPO uses his private vehicle to go and make an arrest. We are all vulnerable because we stay on the road to do our work. The area commander sits under a tree in a private pub to do his work.

“We are wearing mufti to disguise and protect ourselves. We don’t have even a typewriter. No electricity. At night the whole place is dark.

“We are calling on the Federal Government, the Nigeria Police and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, to quickly come to our aide. We are appealing to them to rebuild our barracks. We need the station back. It is a security matter and should be treated with dispatch.”

Lagos

Like Port Harcourt, many police stations in Lagos were also torched. Like an abandoned stucco, the charred remains of Orile Police Station towers from the bus stop, a reminder of the devastation caused by hoodlums who hijacked the #ENDSARS protests last October. From a distance, it appears nothing could be happening inside a closer look thought the makeshift gate, revealed policemen and women, some standing under the scorching sun to attend to people.

While many Nigerians may have put the October incident behind them, these cops and their colleagues across the 25 burnt stations are daily reminded of those violent attacks that led to the death of their colleagues, rendered them homeless and without offices, tools to execute the daunting task of securing lives and properties.

Like Orile, 24 other police stations, three barracks and 20 patrol vehicles were set ablaze, firearms and other items looted while five stations were vandalised by armed hoodlums.

Before the attacks, Orile Police Station was a pride of the service in terms of infrastructure. It was one of few police formations in the country built in compliance with the Department for International Development (DFID) standard.

The station boasted of adequate and well-equipped office spaces, constant electricity, standard statement room with electronic gadgets and clean cells with running water, toilet facilities for suspects…all destroyed by an irate crowd.

Our reporter, who visited the division yesterday, discovered that the Divisional Police Officer’s (DPO) and the Station Officer’s offices (SO) have been temporarily moved to a tent erected inside the premises, while work was ongoing to erect another makeshift structure to accommodate more personnel.

While there was still debris in some of the rooms upstairs, those being used for policing duties have been cleaned and all broken bottles, glasses previously scattered around the compound removed. It was observed that there was no electricity on the premises, neither were their computers or any gadget to help them perform their duties.

The story was slightly different at the Police Post at Daleko, as not a single policeman was seen. There was also no sign of repairs being done as the burnt remains of the building neither had roofs, windows nor doors. The premises was deserted save for the few businesses operated in the shops outside.

At Ebute Ero Police Station, our reporter observed that things were still the same save for a newly erected fence.

Asked why repairs were yet to commence at affected police stations, Commissioner of Police (CP) Hakeem Odumosu said the government was planning to rebuild not repair them.

“What is happening is that the government wants to completely rebuild all the affected police stations and it wants uniformity. Some people and organisations have signified interest to assist but were told to hold on for an approved building plan.

“Once it is out, they will be able to allow those who want to assist the government in rebuilding the stations. What we have been doing is makeshift arrangements so that there will be no gap in securing lives and properties in the state.

“Also, some local governments have assisted us by providing temporary locations for divisions that were completely destroyed. Some donated their town halls.

“At Pen Cinema, we have a new post. They have given them a place after the Local Government secretariat which they are using because the police station was completely destroyed, same as Igando and Alade Police Stations.

“For Ajah, the Area Command has moved to its permanent location at Elemoro. So, the state government wants to build unique and standard police stations.

“You know government project and how it goes through various stages for approval before it will be passed to the Ministry of Works for implementation.

“But the good thing is that once they start, they won’t stop. It is not just the building, they will equip them as well. They have to provide the necessary tools for the police to work.

“Yes, you saw my men using Orile because it is still manageable. Some of the affected stations including Isokoko and Ajah that are manageable have policemen deployed to them. But those that are not, with the help of the local governments, we got temporarily spaces for them.”

 

Abuja

Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, suffered only one attack on a police station: The Dutse Makaranta Police Station, Kubwa was set ablaze by suspected hoodlums on October 20. The station and a church were said to have been razed during a clash between security operatives and hoodlums. The incident led to the death of three persons. It was the only station that was burnt in Abuja after policemen clashed with suspected thugs in the area where Anthony Onome, a protester, was stabbed. Onome later died at the National Hospital, Abuja. The mob was said to have set the station on fire after a policeman reportedly opened fire while trying to disperse the crowd that converged outside the station. A bullet reportedly hit one of the persons at the scene, resulting in pandemonium. The victim was said to have died on the spot.

Few weeks after the incident, the FCT Minister Muhammad Bello, inaugurated an 18-man committee to assess the level of damage and loss of lives resulting from the crisis that followed the #EndSARS protest in the territory.

The Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Assessment of Damages and Loss of lives During the #EndSARS Protest, who is also the Director-General, FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Alhaji Abbas Idriss, commenced tour and verification of affected places. The committee visited the burnt police station and expressed sadness over the level of damage done to the outpost police station.

The committee took inventories of the burnt police station and assured that the committee would do justice to all the affected persons and institutions. The Chairman, therefore, appealed to those who are directly or indirectly affected in the area councils to remain calm and have confidence in the committee and the FCT Administration. The police station that was burnt coupled with the attack on police by the youths created fear within the officers and men of the force especially those on patrol.

Almost a month after the crisis, the FCT minister, Bello received the report of the Ministerial Committee set up to assess losses and damages occasioned by the #EndSARS protests in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Bello said the report would guide his administration to do the right thing.

He said: “We will look at the report and use it as a means of ensuring that we don’t allow such to happen again in the future. I am sure the content of the report will guide the Administration to do the needful”.

After four months, the Dutse Makaranta Police Station, Kubwa is still left unattended to. The FCT Command Public Relations Officer, ASP Yusuf Mariam, said efforts were in place to ensure that the police station was rebuilt to ensure the safety of the people in the area.

Her words: “Just one police outpost at Dutse Makaranta was burnt down and efforts are already in place to ensure that it is up and the people of Dutse Makaranta enjoy safety”.