by Sani Tukur
On Saturday, March 21, President Goodluck Jonathan and his campaign team flew out of Abuja in two aircrafts for another round of vote solicitation in Kano and neighbouring Katsina ahead of the March 28 national elections.
Four hours before the President left his home at the Presidential villa that Saturday, over 200 police officers and about a hundred soldiers were withdrawn from their beats around the nation’s capital and made to line the about 40 kilometres route to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, some standing with their rifles on their shoulders, some sitting on pavements, stones and bare ground and others snoring away in patrol cars.
The police wouldn’t say how many officers are deployed daily to patrol and secure Abuja, but residents believe the nation’s capital is under-policed, with some saying they have never seen a police officer patrol their areas.
Yet, that Saturday, hundreds of officers, who could have patrolled streets to check crimes were mandated to line Mr. Jonathan’s route for hours, a practice security experts believe routinely compromises the capital’s security and exposes residents to robbery, abductions, rape, assaults and other criminal acts.
A team of PREMIUM TIMES reporters, who monitored the president’s airport shuttle that Saturday, found that nearly all the patrol vehicles attached to the city’s police divisions and major intersections in the capital were withdrawn and used in transporting officers to locations along the major expressway from the State House to the presidential wing of the airport.
The team counted at least 40 police patrol vehicles parked along the expressway from the Bolingo Hotel junction up to the Presidential wing entrance of the Airport.
Each vehicle had at least five well armed police officers.
That was aside the numerous other police officers stationed along the route, without vehicles by their side.
The team’s conservative estimate suggested that at least 200 police officers were withdrawn from the city centre to guard the expressway that day.
Presidency insiders say that practice is routine, and that there is no plan to review it.
Apart from the policemen, the reporters also saw troops from the Guard Brigade in some strategic locations along the route, especially by the several suburb localities.
“We saw at least one armoured personnel carrier with some soldiers near the intersection leading to Kuje Area Council before the Airport gate,” one reporter said.
Analysts believe it costs Nigeria several millions of naira whenever the President shuttles to airports.
The numerous vehicles lining the expressway and the ones on the president’s convoy would have to be fueled, while the police officers on guard duty along the route are paid allowances,” a security official familiar with the working of the presidential villa told PREMIUM TIMES. “Presidential movements are expensive and that is one thing Nigerians must learn to live with.”
A resident of one pf the estates along the Abuja Airport expressway, Emmanuel Ogala, said the security official deployed to guard the president’s routes at times molest innocent civilians.
“The roads are closed for like 30 minutes before the President passes, God help you if you have an emergency and the president is traveling,” he said.
Between the President’s travels and compromised security
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos recently blamed the president when armed robbers attacked residents of Lekki Peninsula on March 12, killing six.
Mr. Fashola said police officers who would have helped in repelling the bank robbery were deployed to protect Mr. Jonathan when he visited the state that day, an argument the presidency described as unintelligent and irresponsible.
“Perhaps what would be would have been, but it’s sad to see all our security personnel, all our security vehicles deployed to protect one man,” said Mr. Fashola, who spoke at an event, An Evening with Buhari and Osinbajo, in Lagos.
“All the vehicles we bought for the police were stationed to receive the President in Lagos. Those policemen have children and tonight their mothers will have to explain to them why daddy is not coming home.”
The presidency however described Mr. Fashola’s statement as “grossly and utterly irresponsible.”
“We expect that a man of his status, who is the Governor of a state should speak more responsibly,” the presidency said in the statement.
“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever that the entire police formation in a state would be deployed to protect the president of Nigeria.
“The visit of the President (to) any part of the country does not necessitate the depletion of the police force active in that particular state or its environment.”