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Blasphemy: Police arrest Bauchi lady whose WhatsApp post triggered violence

The Commissioner of Police in Bauchi State, Umar Sanda, speaks about the security situation in the state in this interview with ARMSTRONG BAKAM

You’ve been in Bauchi State as Commissioner of Police for about a year now or so. How will you describe the experience so far?

It’s just seven months since my resumption as Commissioner of Police in Bauchi State. The experience has been good given that when I came I found a lot of problems associated with kidnapping and other crimes on the ground. But thank God, we’ve been able to bring it (crime rate) down to a certain level. This, to me, is a great achievement and we are still on it; we are still putting in our best. Human behaviour is dynamic, so we cannot completely eradicate crimes; we can only reduce crime rate to the barest minimum. And that’s what we’ve been able to do in the past seven months and thank God we are somewhere today.

What do you consider as your biggest challenge or toughest case in these seven months?

Well, there are a lot of cases that have come and gone except you are specific about a particular case.

An example will be the recent incident when gunmen killed four persons and injured many in the Alkaleri Local Government Area where the state governor hails from.

Alkaleri is one of the largest local government areas in Bauchi State and we have a lot of space and a lot of activities, such as mining – legal and illegal – taking place there. Therefore, there is always movement of people and money around that place, so you cannot rule out these kinds of things happening. But it’s unfortunate what happened some weeks ago when four persons were killed. They (hoodlums) went to kidnap a fellow and the villagers resisted and in the course of resisting them, they killed four villagers and successfully abducted one person. But after some time, they discovered that he (the person abducted) was even the Imam of the village; so they released him; but they had already committed a crime, they had killed four persons and it’s unfortunate.

Are there other areas in the metropolis or state that the police consider as hotbeds of criminality and are being given special attention?

Well, in every given settlement or society, you’ll always have what the police regard are black spots. The Bauchi metropolis is generally peaceful except for some few areas like Yelwa, Gudum Sayawa and Gudum Fulani. On a general note, Bauchi is very peaceful even though you cannot dismiss pockets of problems here and there and these have to do with human behaviours and existence. Things like “sara suka” (political thuggery) will always come up but we are always prepared for them. Even the day before yesterday (June 20, 2022), there was a serious problem in a village around Bauchi where some people prevented some people from going to the farm. We had to move in swiftly and we made some arrests and took them to court and that gave those villagers and their neighbours some sort of relief and they now go about their normal activities without any fear. So, that’s the strategy we’ve been employing and I think it’s been working out fine for us.

Do you have adequate manpower and enough equipment, particularly patrol vehicles, to make your job very effective?

There is always a room for improvement. When I came in, we had logistics problems and I pleaded with the governor and he made some money available to me and I was able to put about 13 vehicles in place (repaired them), changed their tyres, batteries, etc, and those vehicles are really helping us a lot. We deployed them in patrols, in operational logistics and that has also been of great help. The Inspector-General of Police also recently gave us five new vehicles and we have been using them very well in patrols and that has also helped us in bringing down the crime rate, particularly in the Bauchi metropolis.

For manpower, it is something that we have to just make do with what we have. It’s a known fact that we have manpower constraints but we are still using what is available at our disposal.

Do you get other kind of support from the state government?

The state government has been very supportive to us because sometimes, the state government pays some token for the upkeep of our men out there. Like when the problem in Yelwa and Gudum Hausawa happened, the state government doled out some money, which we used to pay our personnel out there. And that is why I appreciate the Bauchi State government because without their support, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve some of the things we’ve been able to achieve.

Banditry is a big security challenge in Nigeria of today, particularly in the North here. How much of a problem is banditry in Bauchi State?

We have less of it and we thank God for that but I wouldn’t rule out cases that happened here and there.  On a general note and in comparison to some other states, Bauchi is very peaceful. And like I said, it has to do with human behaviour; therefore, you cannot rule out banditry 100 per cent. We do have such cases, even today (June 22), we had a case around Liman Katagum where someone was kidnapped and his elder brother killed. But what we are saying is that, whenever we receive such reports, we do our best to make sure that we arrest the culprits and take them to court. Sometimes, arresting them might take some time but we see anyone who engages in banditry as someone coming out to fight with us directly and we are ready for them.

You said Bauchi State is one of the safest states in the North but recent happenings in the state, including the Yelwa incident that you just referenced, seem to be casting doubts on this claim. What is your take on this?

No, no. Like I said, it shouldn’t cast any doubts in the minds of people because if you look at what is happening in other states, you’ll see that what is happening here is just a minute part of it. But we are not relaxing because we feel we are making progress, we are still putting in our best to make sure that the little problems we have here and there, we don’t have them again. In fact, I will say that Bauchi is not just the most peaceful state in northern Nigeria but the most peaceful state in the whole of the country, if you make comparisons.

There was a recent case of violence that erupted over alleged blasphemy in a part of the state and several houses were set on fire. How were you able to de-escalate that?

You see, once this type of thing comes up, you’ll have to be very careful and make sure that you do the needful as and when due. What happened was that a woman posted an article on a WhatsApp group, that has both Christians and Muslims and before you knew it, tension mounted and there was a breakdown of law and order. She was arrested and immediately moved from Warji to Bauchi, to save her from the mob. We then went round to quell the disturbance and we thank God that we were able to arrest the situation and got the understanding of the people that what we did was the best in the circumstances. But before we were able to bring the situation under control, some houses and shops were torched and that’s the repercussion of this type of thing. On a general note, investigation has already been conducted; we’ve charged her (alleged blasphemer) to court and she is now in the Correctional Service facility, awaiting trial.

Were other people arrested besides her, for instance, the people who burnt houses?

Well, our investigation did not indicate that some people were behind her; she did it (allegedly blasphemed) by herself and there are no co-conspirators around her and therefore, we charged only her to court.

That case happened about a week after the blasphemy case in Sokoto where a student was lynched by a mob. What do you make of that pattern?

It is quite unfortunate that some people are always mischievous and it is part of the society because you’ll always have the good and the bad. But we’ve always preached that our peaceful coexistence means a lot to us; we are a society that has Muslims and Christians, living together and sharing things, including public infrastructure, such as roads, or even live under the same roof, so, we must learn to tolerate one another.

What I will want to tell members of the public is that we should restrain ourselves from reacting to issues abruptly in a way that is capable of inflaming public sensitivity. It is also important for members of the public to abide by the law. If you think someone has trampled on your rights, there are laid-down procedures for seeking redress. In such a situation, the right thing is to call the police. If there is any issue, just call us; we will step in. It’s not right for anybody to take the laws into their own hands and then, we begin to have regrets.

What are you doing to reassure residents of safety in the face of increasing mob actions over alleged blasphemy?

Well, it is really something to worry about because once you have a society where people will react to issues without looking at reasonability, then, you will always have chaos here and there and that is not what we desire. What we preach is that people should always lodge complaints when they have been wronged.

Have the police developed a strategy to tackle or check blasphemy-related jungle justice?

We have, because, apart from deploying our intelligence in churches and mosques, we have also spoken to community leaders and religious leaders of both divides and that has really helped us in dousing tension. Just a week or so thereafter, there was a problem in one of the schools in the state, which I wouldn’t want to mention. A little girl was accused of saying something, but in reality, she didn’t say what she was accused of saying. But before you knew it, tension had mounted.  It took the intervention of the DPO of that area to quickly get the girl out of the school and he also spoke to the teachers to calm down the situation.

We are asking for the understanding of the members of the public in cases like this. Once a situation like this crops up, they should immediately let us know so we can step in.

On May 27, another violence erupted in the suburb of the metropolis where some youths went on the rampage, killed three persons and burnt several houses and cars. Was that case brought to your notice and has anyone been arrested in connection with that?

We have not been able to make any arrest yet, but we are following up on some tips, this I can assure you and very soon, we will narrow down to the persons that ignited that. We have put some valves in place with the hope they would lead us to who the perpetrators are. It’s quite an unfortunate incident because it all started because a lover went to drop his girlfriend and on his way back, some youths molested him and then, some other person who was not in the know of what was happening, was attacked, beaten to death and set ablaze. This is most unfortunate.

Some of the people whose houses were burnt complained that security agents were nowhere to be found while the hoodlums had a field day. How do you respond to that?

It’s not true because even when tension was mounting, policemen were already there and as we were calming one area, the other area was boiling and so, there was nothing we could do apart from deploying more policemen there. We deployed the Rapid Response Squad immediately; we deployed the mobile units immediately and even our men on standby at the headquarters here, we deployed them immediately to that area and that was exactly what calmed the area. As early as 5pm, I was in the know that there was something happening in Yelwa and I was receiving calls from my intelligence outfits that so-and-so problem was happening and there was a likelihood of a breakdown of law and order. And that was what informed our deployments, once we perceived that there would be that problem and we immediately made the deployment and God saved the situation; otherwise, it would have escalated beyond what we could have imagined.

How safe is this state under your watch for residents, if hoodlums can kill people and burn houses at will like that?

Oh yes, Bauchi is still safe. These reactions are very minor part of the society and that should not be used as criteria to say that Bauchi is not safe. We still consider ourselves to be in a safe environment because there is not part of Bauchi State that you cannot go about your lawful activities at any hour of the day. We will continue to put the necessary machineries in place to make sure that Bauchi is peaceful.

Will you say you enjoy cooperation of residents in terms of intelligence information sharing?

Very well. In fact, the Yelwa incident that I spoke about earlier, it was members of the public who gave us information and we commend them for that. On so many occasions, you find members of the public volunteering such information to the police and this has really helped us in the discharge of our duty.

What roles do you think traditional and religious leaders can play in this?

The traditional institutions have a great role to play because they are closer to the people and when they speak to them, they listen and understand more. The traditional institutions in Bauchi have been of great help to the police in the discharge of our duties. Religious leaders have also been doing their part; we enjoy a great deal of support from them because once we have such issues and we contact them, they quickly engage to their subjects and that also helps us in curtailing and arresting some of these things from getting out of hand.

We are now in the period of the elections, very soon, campaigns will start and there is a possibility of the resurgence of criminal activities, especially political thuggery popularly called “sara suka”. What are the plans by your command to checkmate this?

Again, the dynamism of society comes in but speaking from the depth of my heart, the major problem is the use of drugs by the youths. The second aspect is our politicians. They should learn to play the game by the rules, otherwise, we’ll have problems across the board. We need to do more to educate the public. However, the police are prepared; people should behave themselves. In the event that they don’t, we will not fold our hands to watch them do unholy things.

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