How does one distinguish between a security officer from a highway robber? Given the current security situation in North of Nigeria, the answer to this may mean life, death, loss, pain, trauma or a combination of all. To justify the more-than 1 Trillion Naira budgeted for security, security checkpoints are rampant intra-city and intercity. On the quest to answer the posed question, let me share a story that happened 2 days ago (12/12/12) which motivated this post. It happened to a friend of mine en route Kano, let us call him Maina.
We had arrived Kano around 8:30pm and Maina was behind us with 2 hours. There was hardly any checkpoint (that I recall) between Zaria and Kano until a few kilometers to Kano City; just before a place called “Dakatsalle”. Maina, like us before him, found himself in the slow traffic of a checkpoint; squeezing cars into unlikely spaces to save time and to prevent other cars from cutting the queue. There was a small Volkswagen (Golf) in front of Maina (who was alone in his car). The two cars kept the slow pace. Finally only the Volkswagen stood between Maina and the agents. Maina suddenly heard a car screech and it was not from behind. The Volkswagen took off and bullets followed it. Maina could not tell if the bullets found their mark. The Volkswagen escaped.
A shocked Maina instinctively raised his hands in the air as a sign of submission. But they were not shooting at him; more like protecting him since they are security agents. The revelation only known to Maina at the time was that during the shootings, the true identity of these agents was revealed to him. These are not security agents, they are highway robbers. Maina was made to lie down by the road side and other cars were stopped to be robbed. And so, Maina was dehumanized, threatened with death and robbed.
Interestingly the robbers pulled about three to five cars to the side for robbery while passing other cars through their “checkpoint”. Passing cars through checkpoints is simply what security agents at check points do. So to Maina, they were security agents and robbers at the same time. Another interesting observation by Maina was that there was a “real” security checkpoint about 500m away on the opposite lane but they didn’t respond to the shots fired at the Volkswagen. They are “real” because he later reported to them, then they used their “real” police/military car, took their “real” guns and turned on their “real” police siren.
This true story raises many questions and perhaps it could answer the one we started this post with. Some of the questions it raises are: are the robbers security officers who take shift in being security one minute and robbers the next? Are the robbers colluding with those security agents less than a kilometre away? Did we (who were ahead of Maina) go through this checkpoint while in their “security” shift? Were the robbers those untidy-dressed policemen at a checkpoint we passed around that area? Why did they allow some to pass and others to rob? Didn’t the Volkswagen that escaped shots report to those “real” police ahead?
The robber’s strategy is effective precisely because it is difficult to differentiate between a robber and a security-agent (who is an oppressor anyway). It takes a keen observing sense to differentiate between the two; as in the case of the Volkswagen driver. By having their victims lie down on the side of the road, a typical Nigerian passerby sees no cause for alert because that is a popular scene; where “real” security agents make civilians lie on the roadside. A passing civilian sees the victims and assumes “there goes some people who offended the almighty security agents”. A study revealed that the language in Nigeria Police training curriculum is loaded with the word Power (Power to detain, Power to arrest…) and scarcely the word Rights (citizen rights). An oppressive police is the result of such oppressive curriculum.
Back to the question of How does one distinguish between a security officer and a highway robber? The primitive robbers are easy to identify: they don’t have security uniforms; and their checkpoints look looks temporary (something that can be dismantled easily like stones and spikes but not covering tens of metres). However this new evolved breed of Highway Robbers pose a new challenge; they seem to have security uniforms and use/fabricate genuine security checkpoints. Measures could be taken by security forces to counter some of the vulnerabilities exposed in this story. To answer the question I started with, in the case of these evolved robbers, I will have to get in touch with that insightful Volkswagen Driver to share what tipped him off security-acting robbers. Maina’s moment of realization could have helped but he is traumatized and perhaps wasn’t thinking straight when he got his revelation.