I witnessed Nigerian civil war, I’m too scared to experience another one – Tsav, Former Police Commissioner by Punch Newspapers

Today, Lagos is an embodiment of a cosmopolitan culture. It is a cosmopolitan metropolis with a multitude of cultures stemming from its multi-ethnic population. It is also the commercial hub of West Africa and therefore, anything that threatens its security will also threaten the economy of Nigeria and that of the West African region, by extension.

But there are reports that on the night of June 2, 1967, some days before the Nigerian Civil War, also known as Biafra war, officially started, unidentified men tried to bomb the police headquarters in Lagos. There was an explosion in which an unspecified number of persons were said to have been killed. It was learnt that some hours later, there was another explosion at Yaba area of Lagos.

Lagos was reportedly thrown into panic but the details of the incidents were sketchy. A former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, in this interview with JOHN CHARLES, recounts the sad incidents

There are reports that in June 1967, there were two bomb explosions in Lagos, which killed four persons and injured 14 others. Can you recount what actually happened?

Well, l was posted to Lagos during the course of the civil war in 1967 and there was one man, whose name l can’t remember now, who was trying to set up a bomb in a room in lkoyi when the explosion went off. I think he died in the bomb explosion. There was also another bomb explosion around Casino Cinema (in Yaba) and l was then a Sub-Inspector of police, working at Mainland Police Station and I was living around that cinema house.

A fuel tanker loaded with fuel and explosives parked just in front of the Casino Cinema, when people were going inside the cinema. l had just walked past the cinema when the thing went off and many people died. I cannot say the number of people that died because we went to neighbouring houses and discovered dead bodies and body parts. Lagosians were very angry about that incident and l think that changed their perception of the Biafra war (Nigerian Civil War).

But why do you think the perpetrators planned the attack?

Yes, it was at the beginning of the civil war and it was a war situation. I’m not a soldier but from the little l know about fighting wars, you try to intimidate the enemy. So, their intention was to put fear in the people of Lagos, which was the nation’s capital as of that time and to compel their allegiance to the people of Biafra. The explosions made people angry because they were strange as we had never had such before.

Where were you stationed when the incident occurred?

l was stationed at Yaba police station; the place is close to the present location of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti.

What if you were unlucky to have been too close to the source of the explosion?

No! You know, when you are fighting a war, you will try to intercept the enemies. They thought they could frighten everybody and that everyone would be afraid and would want to team up with Biafra. This is my personal perception; I’m not saying that was the reason.

That means that those explosions occurred as a result of the Biafra agitation.

Yes, there is no argument about that, and even worse, the tanker involved passed roadblocks. As of that time, policemen and soldiers did not have sophisticated arms. We did not have detectors and could not know which vehicle was carrying explosives or not.

What was the mood like in Lagos after the explosion?

Lagosians were very angry because of the explosions and some of them were frightened.

Were those believed to have masterminded the explosions ever arrested?

No, nobody was arrested.

Did the police not investigate the matter?

We did investigate the matter but nothing came out of it.  It was a situation whereby somebody drove a tanker to a place and it went off in flames. The bomb explosion destroyed the evidence that the police would have needed to get more information. Also, the man who drove the tanker died. So police had no evidence to prosecute anybody, but we knew it was the handiwork of Biafra agitators because they themselves announced it on the Radio Biafra.

Before the war started, they (Biafra agitators) sent their people to Lagos because their intention was to capture Lagos. And if they had captured Lagos, that could have been the end of the civil war. So they sent people like spies to find out what was happening in and around Lagos.

We heard that some people also tried to blow up the police force headquarters with a car loaded with explosives. What do you remember?

It is true that a car loaded with explosives was coming towards the force headquarters that time, but luckily, it was detected and the people escaped.

Did you play any role in the hunt for the culprits?

No, l was a junior officer, a Sub-Inspector, a registration officer in Yaba attached to Adekunle police station. There were many senior officers; there were also trained and seasoned investigators. I was not involved at all. I was only involved in maintaining security within my police station.

What was the response of the police and the military to the explosions?

At that time, we had very few police officers and the population in Nigeria was not as large as it is today. The police were very efficient. The military set up a situation room at the police headquarters, where we had the police, soldiers, navy and Air force, working together in a joint operation and we had Land Rovers fitted with wireline going on patrol. At the time, we were just about four – one in Apapa, one on the Mainland, one on the Island and one in the area. So you could easily control them. The traffic on the roads was very light and movements were so easy to coordinate. What you needed to do was to call them, Rodgers, there is an incident, proceed there and report and they would go there and control the situation. Now our population is too much with lots of congestion and few roads.

What lessons do you think the war has taught us or do you think we have not learnt any lessons?

Those who witnessed the Nigeria Civil War and are still alive learned so many lessons, so they would not want to go into another civil war. But it is those who were born after the civil war and have never experienced any war that their blood is boiling. They are the ones itching for war and no country fights two civil wars and still exists. A war is  terrible because when it starts, you never know who would be consumed. So the people who are agitating for this war don’t know the evil in it. But for someone like me who witnessed the Nigerian Civil War, l’m too scared of experiencing another war.

Since that time, do you think the level of insecurity has increased or reduced in the country?

The level of security could have improved, but what have worsened insecurity in this country are corruption and the fact that we are not united as a people. Somebody from the East thinks like an easterner, somebody from the West thinks like westerner, somebody from the North thinks like northerner, while somebody from the South thinks like southerner. We are not united, and therefore, the level of security is nil. There is no security in Nigeria at all.

What people want to have now is money. Corruption has spread to every facet of our society. People who are supposed to fight corruption are not fighting corruption; rather, they are making money for themselves. They are making money as though when they die and go to heaven, they would need the money to live there.

So the level of security now is nil, and worse still, we have modern technology like telephone. As soon as we finish here, you can transmit what you have to another person on the phone. So there is no security at all and we can only have security if we think more as Nigerians than ourselves, if we think of rendering services to the benefit of Nigerians. Due to corruption, you see people building estates in Abuja, but nobody is living there.

So the situation is very bad and no one wants to change the situation.

Some Nigerians fear that the high level of insecurity in the country may gradually lead us to another civil war. Do you foresee such a situation?

I am praying that we should not go back to that level but the situation is very frightening. I’m praying that it should not happen because arms have found themselves in the hands of many people in this country. There is proliferation of arms everywhere in this country. So if there were to be an outbreak of war now, it would be very bad because you wouldn’t know who you are fighting. Your next-door neighbour may have guns; and they may have a score to settle with you, so they may attack you. So I’m praying that God Almighty should help us.

We are responsible for what is happening in this country. We are after money, we are not thinking of salvation, having peace and loving one another. We are only thinking of prosperity and making money, so every one of us is to blame because when you go and start cursing people and saying: Fulani are murderers; Tiv people are cattle thieves, and so on, it is not good. We should not preempt and curse one another. We should pray together and ask God to forgive us all our shortcomings.

God should have mercy on us so that this country can develop, but the number of arms which people possess now in this country is alarming. If anything happens, it is going to be terrible. Well, some of you are still young, but for old people like us, if anything happens now, we will sit still and they will come and gun us down. Then, we will join our ancestors in heaven or hell, but l pray that God should pity me and take me to heaven.

People largely blame the police for the level of insecurity in the country. Why have the police failed in their obligation to the people?

During the tenure of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President, the then Inspector General of Police equipped the police well. It is the military that came and disorganised the police. They said that with the equipment that the police had, they could challenge them (military) if there was a coup d’état and they took all those things away.

Before the first coup in this country, those in the Nigeria Police Force were earning more than those in the military. A police inspector was earning more than a lieutenant in the army, but when the military took over, they prepared their own condition of service and paid themselves. So they overshot their limit and left the police behind. That was the beginning of the fall of the police efficiency.  President Shagari bought equipment for us very well, but immediately after the military took over, they removed everything we had. For instance, the late Brig.-Gen. Benjamin Adekunle, the Black Scorpion, was the man given the contract to equip the police. He bought so many pieces of equipment for the police, including those that could be used in water. But l understand that a serving police officer, whose name I will not mention, told the military that it was preparing the police to oppose it whenever there was a coup, because he wanted to attain the rank of IG. Then, as time went on, corruption came and now, it is worse because the whole thing is politicised. If you attach a policeman to a politician as escort, he gets better treatment, he gets allowances, the man gives him money, but looking at the real police service, the allowances are not paid regularly.

Whereas during my time as an investigator, if you investigated a case and the case got to court, you would be summoned to give evidence. The day you arrived there to give evidence, they would start calculating your entitlements and by the time you finished, they would pay you your money, including money to cover your transportation. These types of benefits for the police are no longer there. Some policemen buy their uniforms themselves, so they are not being encouraged. Let me take you back to the police academy – a few years ago, there was a fanfare regarding the police academy that it had been turned to a degree producing institution. Now, the students are there, they only feed them and don’t pay them allowances. They buy their uniforms and no senior police officer has visited them in the school.

Officers posted to that institution are posted there as punitive moves. When they post you to such training schools, they post you there because they don’t want you and just want to get you out of the way. They post you there on punitive grounds; if you go to an institution to teach and you are not interested in teaching, what can you impact on the trainees other than to teach them hatred for the institution and for the police organisation completely? So that is why the service is failing. If government wants to improve on the police service rather than to create more security agencies, it should try to recruit more policemen, look after their welfare, and give them all the necessary incentives and allowances that would help them to do their jobs very well. Also, people are agitating for state police. If we have state police, then civil war is looming in this country because governors will misuse the police. If the commissioner of police were to work under the governor, any person that the governor wanted the police to arrest would be arrested.

When Governor Samuel Ortom alleged that he told the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who is also a lawyer, that some people were coming to attack the state and that those people should be arrested, the VP said it was not true. The VP said one could not just see anybody on the road and arrest them without any proof that they did something wrong. But with state police, anybody he (the governor) feels should be arrested would be apprehended and kept in custody.

For now, we are not ready for state police. In future, when we are properly enlightened, when everybody knows the value of human liberty and justice, when people are against greed, then we can introduce state police. But if you establish state police forces now, you are creating more problems because a state police force would fight the one in another state.

But in those days, didn’t we have local police? How then was the local police successful?

If you look at the history of regional police in the West, you will find out that the trouble started from them. It started from the West; they worsen the situation. When they sensed trouble in you, they would just douse you with fuel and set you on fire. Their own Inspector General of Police was a brigadier. In the West, it was like state police; but in the North, every local government had its own police. We had Tiv native police, Kano had its native police and Idoma had its native police, and so on. But they were inferior to Nigeria Police.  As a matter of fact, the Nigeria Police served as an adviser to them and it is what the adviser tells you to do that you do. As of that time, there was no governor, so they had no one to give them executive order. But now that we have governors, it will be too terrible, they will use their power.

Since the 1967 explosions in Lagos, it has not witnessed any bomb attacks of that nature. What do you think has worked well for security operatives in that regard?

l remember that when l was commissioner of police then, we detonated  bombs that were said to have belonged to the National Democratic Coalition. But the bombs did not belong to NADECO; they were bought by security agencies. Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa was even targeted, but fortunately for him, he escaped. And you know Lagos is like home of every tribe.

So Lagos is a cosmopolitan state and that is why it is very difficult for you to go and start bombing there. You cannot walk many yards before you meet somebody who is from your town. That is why the security situation in Lagos State is better than that of every other place, unless you go to the creeks, where kidnapping and cult activities go on. And that is understandable because in the creeks, you only have indigenous people occupying there. I will only hope that we follow our constitution that wherever you find yourself to live in this country, you would be accepted as an indigene of the place. In Lagos, it is quite easy to maintain security and also in Abuja.

What was it like serving in the police force at the beginning of the civil war and during the war?

At the beginning of the war, it was very challenging but we were lucky that we were in Lagos; nobody targeted us and people respected the law. We were happy to be police officers, people admired us. During the civil war, people still cooperated with us and we had few bad elements in the police. They taught us the job the way it should be done. Corruption was not as high as it is now and everything was strictly on merit. When you hear what happens in the police force now, you feel like crying. On the road, they take bribe and give balance. I have seen it myself but when you say it, the police authorities will not agree with you; they will think that you are just trying to destroy the institution. Some of us had a very good time in the police and we enjoyed it, the government took care of our welfare. It gave us free uniforms unlike now that policemen buy their uniforms.

If you were given another chance, would you still go for police work again?

Now, there is too much hatred for the police; people don’t like the police. Anyone who likes the police force in this country derives some political benefits from them. So we hope that the young men in the system now will help change this situation. Now, when you post a policeman from one beat to another, he goes there in mufti; it is when he gets to the duty post that he wears his uniform because he is afraid of being mobbed or attacked.

During our time, nobody dared go towards the police station, let alone try to burn it down, but it is happening now. I will advise that senior police officers, especially officers commanding the states should not be armchair administrators; they should go out to the field and supervise their men. When l was in Lagos, my last duty post before l retired, l always went out to check the activities of the policemen on duty.

At that time, if a policeman stopped you and you mentioned my name, they would allow you go because l wasn’t cruel on people. My style then was that if I caught a policeman doing something wrong, if it was the first time, l would advise him; the second time, l would warn him; and the third time, l would discipline him.

Also for the men that did very well, l promoted them. In Sokoto State, where l worked, there were so many of them that l promoted. Today, when they see me, they will say, ‘Oga, you promoted me to this position or that position,” and l feel happy about that. So that was exactly what l did and if the officers in service adopt similar measures, it will help a lot to reduce corruption. People want to make money by all means. A time will come that the money you have accumulated will not save you or speak for you; it is the integrity that you have that can help you.

I will not pray to go back to the police force again except for specific reasons. If I was young and the situation was like it was then and I met the same people who were in the service with me then, I would. But if it were this present society of wicked people, unbelievers, greedy and corrupt people who don’t believe in God, l would not want to go back. If the situation were like it is now, let me remain where l am.

What do you think the government should do to secure the lives and properties of people across Nigeria?

Let us begin to love one another as God says in the holy books – love your neighbour, be honest, be straightforward and have the fear of God. If we do that, it will be good. But as long as we breed envy, greed and jealousy, peace will not be maintained. And what has brought this about is injustice. Running helter-skelter would not help us. You hear our politicians talking about 2019 elections and none of them is sure whether he will be alive to witness the event. These things depend on God and God Almighty has given us everything in Nigeria, but we are wicked, corrupt, and envious. That’s why God has turned his back on us and that’s why we are experiencing all these evil things.

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