This year’s New Year festivities did not go without some alluring side issues. One of them was the gesture extended to ‘suspects’ in police custody in Lagos. On New Year’s Day, Umar Manko, the Lagos State Commissioner for Police, ‘disarmed’ himself and put aside his uniform in order to cater for the needs of suspects in his custody. He transformed into a Father Christmas, dishing out food and drinks to suspects brought out from the cell of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, (SARS), at the Command Headquarters, Ikeja, Lagos.
When asked for his comments on the unusual gesture from equally unusual quarters, Manko said the suspects deserved to celebrate the New Year like others. According to him, policing the society is not limited to crime prevention and control, but uniting people. He added that being a suspect should not deprive one the enjoyment of his fundamental human rights. Manko further said that the gesture would be extended to other suspects in police custody across the state, adding that Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and Area Commanders (ACs) had been given instructions to that effect.
In all, no fewer than 125 suspected robbers, kidnappers, arms dealers and receivers of stolen goods, among others, were hosted by Manko. Some of the suspects who spoke to reporters at the occasion thanked Manko for his gesture. This ‘social interaction’ between the police boss and the suspects was the first of its kind in the command’s history, and I doubt if this had happened anywhere before in the history of the Nigeria Police.
Since he was posted to Lagos as Commissioner of Police, I have watched Manko’s activities on the sidelines with keen interest. In the first instance, I knew he must possess some outstanding qualities to deserve such a posting to a state regarded as the commercial capital of the country. In addition, Lagos is undoubtedly an irresistible attraction to criminals, which is why the government cannot toy with the issue of security.
In my curiosity, I had inquired from some of his colleagues those qualities that stood him out as a person to police a state like Lagos. One of them, Leye Oyebade, Deputy Commissioner of Police who once called the shots at the state CID, Panti, Lagos and now with Zone 5 Police Headquarters in Benin, spoke glowingly about him. He described Manko as a peaceful, easygoing and hardworking police officer. In terms of policing, he said, the police boss is a tactician, a master strategist who can hold Lagos successfully when it comes to fighting crime and criminals wherever they are.
Not quite after my ‘inquisition’, late last year, daredevil armed robbers struck on a bright Sunday afternoon. From Agege to Gbagada, Anthony to Mile Two to Surulere and almost everywhere, the rampaging armed robbers left their signature mark – sorrow, tears and blood. It was a day the hoodlums momentarily took over Lagos with little or no resistance from the police. Worst affected by the onslaught of the hoodlums were bureau de change operators who lost huge sums of money and some of their members to the melee that ensued.
That ‘coordinated’ operation by the hoodlums jolted the police hierarchy. Mohammed Abubakar, the Inspector General of Police, who quickly dashed to Lagos to assess the situation, described his men as “sleeping on duty” on the fateful day. Manko, who later addressed the press, did not betray any emotions. Rather, he ordered all Divisional Police Officers, DPOs, in the command to be on their toes. He warned that any DPO who allowed criminals to have a field day in their areas of jurisdiction would be severely dealt with.
But Manko did not stop there. He went about diligently to match his rhetoric with actions. Pronto, some members of the gang were apprehended. From there, the Compol spread his dragnet to many states outside Lagos. At the end, almost all the hoodlums who participated in that orgy of violence were reined in. This was followed by the police’ seizure of the cache of arms in the custody of the criminals. The way and manner their ‘armoury’, which included many dangerous weapons and even grenade launchers, was uncovered is a testimony to the job of a “master strategist”. Their chief ‘armourer’ or arms supplier was also taken in.
From then on, the police boss had recorded streaks of success in his exploits against crime and criminality in the state. I am not saying that crime has totally been wiped out of Lagos, but the fact remains that wherever the call of duty demands, Manko has been able to rise to the occasion.
‘Manko’s gesture is worth emulating by his colleagues all over the country, many of who are known to be ‘goalkeepers’. As goalkeepers, they grab whatever money or anything that comes their way without any inclination to give to the less privileged or even their subordinates who are usually shortchanged.
However, this is not to say that only Manko deserves to be singled out for commendation for policing Lagos. Security, as we all know, is a collective responsibility. The Lagos State government has made it one of its topmost priorities to ensure the safety of lives and property in the state. Through the Security Trust Fund initiated by the state government, corporate bodies and other well-meaning individuals in the state have, through their collaboration, been sustaining the fund. This is probably why the security agencies in the state have been living up to expectations in recent times. Besides the police, there are other security agencies like the Army, the State Security Service, the Navy, Air Force and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, to name a few. These outfits are toiling day and night to ensure the safety of lives and property in the state. The relative peace in the state is due to the synergy between them.
But there could be a few slips here and there. If we all live to our responsibilities in the society; if we all volunteer prompt information to the security agencies; and if we don’t engage in any cover-up, whether of our neighbour, relation or even children who may have been lured into crime and criminality, the state and the country will be a better place to live in. This is because criminals live amongst us. They are not visiting ghosts from any other planets. If we turn a blind eye, they could endanger the lives of our neighbours, our relations, our friends or acquaintances, our children and even ourselves. Criminals constitute an intolerable nuisance to the society. That is why they must be exposed and stopped in their tracks at all times.
Back to the main gist. Manko’s New Year’s gesture is a novel development. This is because suspects in police custody all over the country are usually treated as sub-human beings. Whenever a suspect is arrested, in most cases, when he appears in public, you see a half-clad person almost stripped to the pants. The suspects look unkempt. Some are battered in the course of interrogation to the point that they give up in police custody and are buried as unknown persons.
Therefore, what Manko has demonstrated is that we should treat the unfortunate ones in our midst with human face. If this is so, perhaps, we might soon be living witnesses to a situation where the police will refrain from extra-judicial killings of suspects; where innocent people will no longer be framed up or railroaded into jail on trumped-up charges; and where policemen will not brutalise innocent people and even suspects in the name of extracting confessions from them. No doubt, this will engender a situation where policemen will respect the fundamental human rights of all regardless of status in the society.
Manko’s gesture is worth emulating by his colleagues all over the country, many of who are known to be ‘goalkeepers’. As goalkeepers, they grab whatever money or anything that comes their way without any inclination to give to the less privileged or even their subordinates who are usually shortchanged.