The state of insecurity in Benin and other parts of Edo State is sending jitters down the spine of residents amid calls on security agents to perform their role, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE writesWhen the #EndSARS protest was on October 17 hijacked by hoodlums, who unleashed terror on Edo State, especially the capital, Benin, no one knew the dimension and magnitude the violence would take considering that the police, who were expected to provide security, were at the receiving end of the biggest protest against the institution. However, residents had hoped that the violence would subside, giving the police the chance to resume their duty of restoring peace and order in a state that has been thrown into a great turmoil.However, a month after, the state is still in a great security distress with armed robbery, kidnapping and cult-related killings, which have turned major parts of the state capital into a ghost town, becoming the order of the day. Residents are scared to go out at all or leave home early for their places of work or business, while also opting to stay in other parts of the city whenever they stay out late.Many have attributed the rising clashes among rival cult groups, especially Eye and Aiye confraternities, more to the jailbreak that occurred at two correctional centres in Oko and Sapele Road, Benin, where almost 2,000 prisoners were freed by hoodlums, who coordinated the attacks on the centres to free their gang members, who were being held in the facilities.With the street already boiling and arms stolen from police stations in the hands of criminals, it was a matter of time before the dissidents hiding under the confraternities unleash mayhem and take over the street of Benin. And when it started, it became a case of knowing when a war starts and not knowing when it would end.Many rival cult members and innocent citizens have been killed with the number rising daily as over 40 people are alleged to have been killed in the last two weeks with pictures and graphic videos surfacing on the Internet.A resident of Uselu, where the ‘battle for supremacy’ between the cult groups shifted to last Friday, Rose Osaro, was surprised by the sophistication and brutality with which the gangs operated. She was also bewildered by the way they handled guns and other sophisticated weapons, wondering where they got their training from.She told The PUNCH, “I am surprised by the way they operated. They were so brutal and were ready to kill anyone in sight. We had to run for our dear lives and I must advise that you (the reporter) don’t stay too long out here. These guys are dangerous and we can only call on the security operatives to swing into action and save Benin from descending into more chaos. Many people have been killed, while some have been maimed.“I believe most of the problems began when prisoners were illegally freed by their cult members. There had been cult clashes in Benin before, but this one dwarfs any other and I hope that something will be done soon. If not, many people will be killed. I also feel that if the government had handled the #EndSARS protest well, it would not have been hijacked by hoodlum, who are now terrorising the state.”However, before the battle shifted to Uselu, some parts of the city are reputed for criminal activities including, Upper Sakponba, Evbuotubu, Siluko Road, Ukhoro, Medical Store Road and parts of Sapele Road. In these places, rival gangs engaged themselves in open battles with guns and machetes, which also claimed innocent lives.Gabriel Ogiebor, who lives in Sakponba, told The PUNCH that a neighbour’s son was killed while running errands for his father. He said he got home and saw many people condoling with the family over the demise of their son, adding that the late Churchill was an essay-going person.“I was shocked to hear the sad news. I gathered that his father sent him on an errand and he was caught in the crossfire. He was not a cultist. He was an easy-going guy and it is unfortunate that miscreants sent him to his early grave. I feel so sad because I viewed Churchill as a prospect, having finished in one of the tertiary institutions in the state. As it is now, I can say that 38 people may have been killed in these senseless confrontations,” Ogiebor added.However, efforts to end the cult wars and other criminal activities may have taken a dent as some of the escapee prison inmates are already sending threat messages to policemen, who investigated and prosecuted their cases.The Commissioner of Police in the state, Johnson Kokumo, who revealed this, said his men were working within existing limitations to restore normalcy to the state just as he said three policemen shot by hoodlums were recuperating.He said, “You can imagine what it means that three police stations along Sokponba Road were destroyed and burnt and patrol vehicles destroyed in several other parts of the state capital; all the officers in these stations now operate from the headquarters.“The #EndSARS protest was hijacked by hoodlums and it took a violent turn in the state and prisoners were set free; what do you expect? Some of these escapees have been sending threat messages to policemen, who investigated and prosecuted them, while one of the escapees, who was convicted for murder, went on that same day to kill the prosecution witness in his village, but he was immediately rearrested.“Everybody must be part of the restoration of sanity. People who know these escapees should avail us information about them. But I am assuring you that we are not sleeping, but with what has happened to the police in Edo, some of these hitches are expected. But we are not sleeping and we will continue to work to arrest criminal elements in the state.”Last Friday, the army, the police with other sister agencies engaged in a show of force by taking over strategic positions in the state to stem security problems, especially the rising cases of cult clashes and killings.The General Officer Commanding 2 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Anthony Omozoje, said he was in the state to collaborate with sister security agencies to see how to consolidate on the gains being made in curbing the rate of criminality witnessed after the #EndSARS protests.He said the military was embarking on a seven-day heightened security operation to fish out criminal elements in the state, adding, “We need to go actively after these criminals in order not to give them the liberty to operate. The seven-day heightened security operation will involve all security agencies to arrest criminals and recover arms and ammunition.“The operation has been carried out in Osun, Kwara, Oyo, Ekiti and now Edo. We will establish fixed checkpoints at very critical locations within the city. After the operation, an evaluation will be carried out to know the level of success. We have men in Ibadan and Akure, who will reinforce our effort if need be.”Despite facing several battles on the political front, Governor Godwin Obaseki is optimistic that the state government’s effort will yield dividends soon.He stated that the government was playing its part to prevent the state from being thrown into anarchy through the activities of cultists and other criminals in the state. “We have a subsisting curfew in Edo, which is being breached. To support your seven-day heightened security effort, we are reinforcing the curfew from 10pm to 6am daily. The town should be on lockdown and anyone found outside within this period should be dealt with according to the law,” Obaseki told the GOC.The governor lamented that during the #EndSARS protest, Edo was a hotspot as hoodlums took advantage of the heightened anxieties surrounding the September 19 governorship election to cause mayhem.Obaseki, who thanked the Chief of Army Staff and other senior security officers for refusing to be compromised and ensured that Edo had a free, fair and credible election, said their actions had saved and sustained democracy in the state and Nigeria.A former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, said failure to punish past misdeeds had given rise to the present insecurity in the state, noting that the government must work with professional bodies and faith-based organisations as well as understand the need to make community policing organic.He stated, “In 2015, when a similar problem of gang war and criminality took place and I was the IG, we moved into the state to sanitise it and arrested 15 persons, who were the top actors. It took us three weeks to mop up. We halted the state of social disorder and anomie, and then the case files were compiled and the suspects were arraigned.“Unfortunately, the government did not go ahead with the prosecution and there must be consequences for crime. So, what is happening now is because there were no consequences for past misdeeds. We didn’t go for the foot soldiers, we went for the big shots, who were the organisers. “Two years ago, I drew attention to it but nothing was done. Predictive policing shows that if you don’t prosecute people who have committed infractions, you are tacitly encouraging a repeat performance and see what has happened. The same people came out on the street now and took over the state. So, the government should learn to ensure that people who commit crimes, despite their political leaning or standing in society, are dealt with. That is the only panacea for having peace in Edo State. Arase added, “I don’t see a strategic approach the government has put in place to stop the criminals. If you say you are training constables for community policing, I must say that is a pedestrian way of dealing with security and policing issues. What is the profile of those you are training and giving uniforms to?“We have to think outside the box and be strategic. People from the state, including me, are tired of all these. I am particularly worried about what is happening and our approach must change on how we fight crime. Though it is the Federal Government that controls the police, the states must complement by providing patrol vehicles and other equipment to aid the police in doing their jobs.”
A former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Idada Ikponmwen (retd), said security operatives must be provided with the needed tools to secure lives and property, while also calling on residents of the state to give vital tips that would help the operatives to arrest and rid the state of criminal elements.He stated, “I can say that insecurity as well as the killings baffle me and other well-meaning people. It also baffles me that we cannot use our security apparatus to deal with these problems. All I will want to emphasize is that the government must rededicate itself to providing proper security for everybody. It is the primary responsibility of the government to provide security. The security situation has never been this bad and it leaves us all in constant state of fear on the roads, in our houses and everywhere.
So, the government must rededicate itself to repositioning the security system. The people must also see themselves as partners, because security is everybody’s business and the people committing these crimes are not spirits, they live in different communities with the people and a situation where the people are not sufficiently committed, it will be difficult for security to be adequate.”