By Daniel S. ISMAILA [OON]

Recent reports emanating from Gombe and Numan in the North East region of Nigeria indicate the involvement of either criminal impersonators or government security officials in provocative actions and outright criminality leading to loss of many precious lives.

And because these two devastating incidents happened simultaneously on Easter Sunday, involving the same alleged Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Police personnel or their impersonators; and because these crimes were perpetrated against the same religious groups in different states and on Easter Sunday while adherents were marching on the streets, appear to be more than a mere coincidence. The incident carries a semblance of planned and coordinated acts of provocation or even terrorism considering the avoidable loss of many innocent lives. Both actions were also alleged to have been carried out deliberately because the drivers of the two vehicles were warned to slow down but they, instead, further accelerated before ramming into the crowd of marching congregations.

This action is utterly wicked, destructive and highly condemnable, irrespective of who is the victim. The constitution of Nigeria as it stands today guarantees every Nigerian the freedom of worship – to worship anything he or she chooses to worship. Denying this freedom by actions that put fear in adherents is injustice which could in turn breed conflict; and silence on the part of those who should stand against such unjust acts is an act of desecration of the said constitution.

I would therefore call on all well meaning Nigerians from every walk of life to rise against religious intolerance and injustice in any form or coloration. Actions such as this tend to put our unity and indeed our nascent democracy in danger; and our collective safety and security in great jeopardy. We must not allow this to happen: not now, and not at any other time. What has happened in far away Sri Lanka during the same Easter period which cost the community over 290 lives and properties worth billions of dollars, started like this. When society ignores and overlooks little but dangerous signals, they grow up to be huge monsters to consume us.

What appears even more disturbing in the whole of this violent saga is the use of policing and security uniforms to commit crimes in broad daylight. In these two instances, the uniforms of the NSCDC was allegedly used [in both Numan and Gombe], and that of the Nigerian Police was also used [in Numan]. I do not intend to preempt the outcome of any likely investigations into these two important incidents, because I know that these cases will indeed be investigated. My concern, however, is about the rising incidence and proliferation of service uniforms in the hands of suspected criminals. There is the need for urgent action to ensure that official uniforms are not readily available to all and sundry, and are not used for unofficial activities that tend to portray the involvement and complicity of government security services in heinous crimes and other actions against the people. The immediate impression created by such acts is for people to conclude that government is directly involved. Government or security services should not only avoid involvement in crimes with official uniforms, but should be seen not to be involved at all. These actions impugn on the integrity of services and put their loyalty in question.

In order to hinder such criminal actions as well as to exonerate the services from allegations of complicity, there is need for very serious sanctions against violators of uniform policy for men and women in service; and severe punishment for violators who are not entitled to have access to or use official uniforms. Something serious should be put in place to serve as a deterrent to persons who are fond of parading in official uniforms while not being government officials, or to those who are contemplating such criminal actions.

In addition to these suggestions, agencies of government should ensure proper control of uniforms through modern and effective Uniform Policy which should, in addition to existing controls ensure that:

a]. Uniform is always complete.
Every official wearing uniforms for official duties should ensure that every element or accessory is worn with the uniform including service numbers, ranks, service insignias, full name (where applicable) and other accessories. No official should be exempt from this requirement otherwise it will be difficult if not impossible to identify who is truly an official of government.

b]. Uniform is always uniform.
Uniform should as much as possible be uniform: same colour, texture, tailoring and design. This is not the case today as officials are sometimes compelled to purchase uniform materials in the open market and to sew their uniforms by themselves in order to meet up their uniform requirements. This situation encourages using of multiple colors of textile materials instead of just one color. It encourages private tailors to venture into private business of making and selling service uniforms; it promotes availability of uniforms in the open market which criminals take advantage of. Many kidnappers have been arrested using full military regalia for their illegal business. Besides pursuing the investigation of the main crime (Kidnapping) it is equally important to investigate and unravel the source of these uniforms.

c] Uniform is always complemented
To complement official uniforms in any policing or security service, those who wear uniform or those who have authority to wear uniform, should be made to always carry a valid service identification card. It’s good to also have a national identity card, but it should not be a replacement of service identity card.

A lot of Nigerians have no regard for men and women in service because of the way they are dressed when in uniforms. Some uniforms are faded due to poor quality and age; some are torn in many places; some are worn in incomplete manner by men wearing bushy beards, slippers shoes, not tucked in and sometimes with folded sleeves and pants. These attitudes should be discouraged.

I call on all the relevant agencies and authorities whose personnel were involved in the accident saga in Gombe and Numan to go to every length in investigating the incidents, and where necessary, to sanction the erring staff in a manner as to send appropriate signals to the victims that justice has been served; and to the community to understand that uniform is not a license for reckless behavior and that no one is above the law.

Failure to address unruly conduct by service personnel erodes the confidence of the public in such institutions, and this is not good for Nigeria.

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