Who are Bakassi Boys?
By Harry Nwana
THURSDAY, 28th DECEMBER, 2000
IF my life were to depend on telling exactly who the Bakassi Boys are, I will be dead. I do not know who they are and I am not sure that I want to know. But I do know that there is something about them that the police do not like, which is, usurping their functions. No responsible police force will welcome a situation where their relevance is being questioned because of the activities of an ubiquitous body crossing their paths and sometimes moving along parallel lines.
I am a living witness to the fact that for three years before the year 2000, in my part of Imo State, life was made unbearable by the callous activities of armed bandits. They suddenly seemed to have so multiplied that anybody found outside his front door after dusk was risking his or her life. Stories of robberies, torture and car snatching filled the air. Everybody had an experience to share in these orgies. Then something intolerable happened warranting the community setting up local vigilance units. They were assigned the responsibility to stem the rise in crime, identify the criminals and involve the police at Owerri, Urualla and in Okigwe. Before the members knew it, their anonymity was compromised and they were marked for elimination. The activities of gangs of robbers confined royal fathers to their palaces following threats of their being killed for identifying with their subjects in the search for a peaceful community.
It did not take a lot of investigation to learn that the culprits were local boys and that the police collaboration was part of their strength. All information placed at the disposal of the police about suspected dare devil home based hoodlums were passed on to the men of the underworld. At this stage a voice suggested the engagement of the services of the Bakassi Boys whose successes in other communities had become remarkable. How they were reached was another dimension to their anonymity and security effectiveness. They went to work immediately with a dose of discreteness that allowed them to know their employers and be briefed in detail on who the suspects could be. Until they were perfectly ready, nothing happened. Faith and patience were running out as anxiety heightened.
Then suddenly things began to happen. Well known hoodlums who were friends of the police gradually took notice and either fled or stayed at their peril. In a short time, locking and bolting gates and doors in my village became only a matter of habit; nobody needed to. Home was becoming haven again and evening parties and outside engagements returned to the community. It was such a great relief. Asked thereafter to choose between the Bakassi Boys and the police, the village folks preferred the former. Information is perhaps the greatest help the police force needs to combat crime. The same applied to the Bakassi Boys. But whereas police informants were betrayed through the flippancy, irresponsibility and criminal intent of the bad eggs in the force, Bakassi Boys did not have that problem or gloat about their successes. They respected informants but still investigated every case reported.
I once had cause to report a burglary in my house to the police a couple of years ago. To date the investigators are making me to believe that they would have made an arrest had I induced them sufficiently. Even the paper on which I wrote my complaint was paid for by me. I paid for the investigators' trips to Kwara and Enugu States in the course of their investigations. Unwarranted visits were paid to my house in the pretense of bringing me up to date on my complaint. Each visit meant beer and kola in an envelope. I have since given up on them.
The Inspector General of Police will be lacking in candour if he denies awareness of these malpractice. Of course, he does not deny them any more. He blames them on his bad eggs. A situation where bad eggs out number the good ones suggests a characteristic that earns collective guilt. Ill equipped yes; ill clad yes; ill paid yes and ill trained yes. But there is no guarantee that given all they need the police bully mentality and aggressive orientation will change. The situation on the ground is that only criminals and potential criminals seek the friendship of the Nigerian police, not honest decent men and women. The inferiority complex every policeman wears is their greatest undoing. We will be relieved to hear that the contemplated ban of Bakassi Boys is shelved. That is not to say that the "Boys" should usurp police duties in a triumphant manner. The police should device a way of working with them. It is also up to the police to decide that the "Boys" can conversely use useful facilities of the force for the common good. To achieve maximum result, goodwill and mutual trust must be enthroned. And above all, the Bakassi Boys must see themselves as an ad hoc outfit on a special assignment and be ready to fold up when and if the police are fully prepared to assume their full responsibilities. Finally they must always act responsibly and show more common sense than zeal.
Vanguard: THURSDAY, 28th DECEMBER, 2000