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Police Go Tough On Militant Groups

By Paul Ejime, PANA, 19 July 2000

LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA)— The Nigeria Police has warned militant ethnic groups that their activities posed a major threat to the country's young democracy and expressed concern over illegal possession of firearms in the country.

What they are doing is unconstitutional because only the police are allowed to maintain law and order, police spokesman Young Arabamen said.

He was reacting to the activities of extra-legal groups such as the Yoruba O'odua People's Congress or OPC, active in Lagos and the south-west, and the Bakassi Boys, now operating in the south-east.

The two groups have virtually wrested security responsibilities from the statutory state agencies, with the attendant risks to public lives and property.

The latest bloody clash last weekend between OPC members and the police left a score of people dead.

An OPC faction leader is wanted by the police following an abduction and alleged killing of a police officer in the sprawling city of more than six million people early in the year.

Without giving details, Arabamen warned that the police would no longer standby and watch the extra-legal militant groups usurp their constitutional role.

On the general crime situation in Nigeria, he said some 3,187 armed robbery suspects were arrested within the last one year.

He disclosed that some 520 suspected robbers were killed, while 271 crime victims and 90 policemen also lost their lives in the incidents.

Arabamen further said that some 1,727 people were arrested within the same period for illegal possession of arms, while some 1,042 arms were abandoned by suspected criminals.

The police spokesman, who said some 115 police arms lost to hoodlums were recovered, expressed concern at the amount of illegal arms and ammunition in circulation in spite of the blanket ban on the illegal possession of firearms.

He said some 2,526 incidents of such cases were reported in the last six years.

Arabamen listed police constraints to include understaffing, saying that the estimated 125,000-strong force was not enough for Nigeria's more than 100 million people.

The government says it is recruiting some 40,000 police personnel yearly for the next four years to address the shortfall.

Arabamen said the recent grant of 2.5 billion naira to the force went into the procurement of vehicles and essential gadgets to combat crime in Abuja, the federal capital, and Lagos, the nation's economic hub.