Todimu Ifonlaja, a policeman, woke up on Sunday, September 9, 2012. That ‘holy’ morning, he did a few domestic chores, had his breakfast and headed for a nearby church, St Andrew’s Anglican Church, located at Akinyele, Ipaja, a suburb of Lagos, to worship with other parishioners.
Apparently oblivious of what lay ahead of him, as soon as the service came to an end, Todimu left for work at his duty post, the Rapid Response Squad, RRS. The RRS is a security outfit put together by the Lagos State government to complement the efforts of the security agencies in the state in their war against crime. The outfit draws its manpower largely from the police with their operational base located at the heart of the State’s Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja.
Todimu got to work that afternoon around 12 noon. At about 1p.m, he drove out of the base in the company of two others – a corporal and an Inspector of Police. At Oba Akran Avenue, Ikeja, barely 10 minutes drive from their base, tragedy struck. They ran into a group of marauding armed robbers who, on sighting the patrol vehicle, rained bullets ceaselessly on the occupants. Todimu and the corporal died instantly while the Inspector was seriously wounded. The robbers ransacked the vehicle and made away with arms and ammunition.
We all know that this incident was one of the hazards faced by security agents on a daily basis while discharging their duties to the society. But the case of Todimu, like many others before him, is quite pathetic. An indigene of Odogbolu, Ogun State, Todimu lost his father in 1992. That is 20 years ago when he was only 17. Now 37, Todimu was raised by his mother who is now 75 years old. He was working at the Eti-Osa Local Government council in Lagos, until last year when he opted to join the police.
On December 20, last year, Todimu lost his 34-year old wife to some kidney complication. Now, nine months after the death of his wife, he has been dispatched to the great beyond by robbers’ bullets. As he was being laid to rest at Ipaja last Thursday, what was uppermost in the minds of the crowd of mourners, including his family members, was how to take care of his four children – the first is a girl who is just 10 years old; she is followed by four-year-old twin girls and a little son who is eighteen months old.
The inspector is still lying critically ill at a Lagos hospital. So also are others who fell victim to the rampaging armed robbers who held the police dazed and confused on that bloody Sunday. It was like a replay of the days of “Shina Rambo”, the notorious armed robber who, with his gangs, successfully terrorised Lagos and neighbouring states in the early 1990s, and had a peculiar way of escaping from security dragnet. While his terrorist activities lasted, his name drove fears and trepidation down the spines of many a policeman, most of whom usually vote with their feet whenever Rambo is on the prowl.
“This is probably why many people rightly or wrongly believe that the recent upsurge in violent robberies may have been clandestinely instigated by ‘insiders’ who are campaigning for the return of the old, antiquated checkpoints where policemen turn themselves to gold diggers”
That was exactly what happened on that Sunday when the band of robbers foisted a reign of terror all over Lagos- robbing, shooting, killing and maiming innocent people, including toddlers. The robbers left their dastardly signatures in such areas as Surulere, Agege, Anthony, PWD, Oba Akran area of Ikeja, Ogba, Ilasamaja, Ojodu, Ogudu and many more without the police lifting a baton. For the armed robbers, it was a walkover. It was a day when, in the history of policing in Nigeria, a police station – the Pen Cinema Police Station – came under lock and key as the officers and men at the station scampered to safe haven.
By the time the dust settled, many policemen lay either dead or severely wounded. One of the wounded policemen, simply identified as Emmanuel, might have been cut down in the orgy of shooting and banditry when he embarked on extortion spree at the Gbagada Roundabout area of Lagos. Reports say Emmanuel and two of his colleagues had earlier accosted two young boys who were made to alight from their car after it was blocked by Emmanuel and others with a white Golf Volkswagen car with registration number Osun AE 581 GBN.
Just then, the robbers emerged from nowhere and started shooting indiscriminately. Emmanuel was hit. Sikiru Abiodun, one of the two boys held hostage by Emmanuel and his colleagues, was also hit. Both Emmanuel and Abiodun were later rushed to Gbagada General Hospital where they were placed in the same ward for treatment. Abiodun later gave up the ghost. This allegedly infuriated the relations of Abiodun who attempted to lynch Emmanuel on his sick bed before he was rescued and transferred to another ward.
Another victim of that serial robbery at Gbagada Roundabout was Taiwo Lawal, a one-year old baby, who was shot in the head. That afternoon, Taiwo and other children were playing in their compound when the shooting by the robbers suddenly erupted. The other children managed to run for cover, while Taiwo, who is still toddling, was hit in the head by a stray bullet. Though the bullet was removed from his skull, the toddler is still lying critically ill at the Intensive Care Unit of LUTH. The bewildered family was said to be looking for N500,000 to foot the bill for his further treatment until the telecommunication giant, MTN, reportedly came to their rescue.
Of particular worry is the ‘ease’ with which the robbers operated, caused panic all over the metropolis and successfully melted into thin air. None of the marauders was killed, maimed or arrested. Perhaps, Mohammed Abubakar, the Inspector General of Police, who flew into Lagos barely 24 hours after the robbers’ siege, was right last week when he descended heavily on officers and men of the Lagos Police Command and described them as “sleeping cops”.
Abubakar is not known for taking sides with his men when they err. In fact, till date, he has remained the only IG who has come down forcefully on his men in his bid to reposition the force. This is not to say that others before him never lifted their voice. The only difference is that Abubakar has, so far, matched his words with action. Under him, there is a semblance of discipline; or to put it mildly, he has been able to tame his men, most of who have hitherto paraded themselves as “mad dogs” in the society – extorting, brutalising, killing and maiming innocent people at will.
Reading through the newspapers last week, most of the serving police officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity on the robberies seem to have no solution other than to call for the return of the old checkpoints which people derisively refer to as toll gates, cheque-points, ATMs and all that. Certainly, this is the age of scientific policing which the IG has been preaching and trying to nurture. The magnitude of the past horrendous assault, checkpoints unleashed on the people – their pockets and persons – far outweigh the anticipated benefits. This is probably why many people rightly or wrongly believe that the recent upsurge in violent robberies might have been clandestinely instigated by ‘insiders’ who are campaigning for the return of the old, antiquated checkpoints where policemen turn themselves to gold diggers.
Just like the IG rightly said, the Lagos Police Command should wake up from its deep slumber and scamper to the drawing board to evolve new and result-oriented strategies to fight the new scourge of robberies. Now is the time for the police to justify the enormity of expenses incurred on them by the public and the Lagos State Government.