I hate to say this but in his fake concession phone conversation with then President-Elect Adama Barrow, former president Yahya Jammeh said it. ‘Without security,’ he said, ‘you can’t do anything.’ This, unfortunately, has turned out to be an ominous prophecy, if reluctantly. Since 2017, there has been a downward spiral in the security of the country. Perhaps there is no threat of an invading army or an armed resurrection but certainly a lack of a general sense of security in the citizenry has been observed.
The number of murders, armed robbery cases and other violent incidents just keeps increasing to an extent that no one feels safe even in the comforts of their houses. Citizens have repeatedly complained and spoken about this but it seems to be worsening daily. In addition to the loss of life in some instances, countless people have also lost their properties. These are usually reported to the security officers but as they say in Mandinka ‘kese mang bo jabato’.
Over the weekend, a brazen attack of armed robbery was mounted in Fass Njagga Choi, in the Lower Niumi District, North Bank Region of the Gambia. In this latest incident, an officer of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) was shot on his left hand and was beaten severely. Two civilians were also assaulted leaving them with serious injuries. All three are said to be responding to treatment at a health facility according to the Police Public Relations Officer.
It has also been reported that one of the attackers – who numbered twenty – has been apprehended and is currently helping the police in their investigations. Thank God for small victories. Some reports indicate that some, if not all, of these attackers came from neighboring Senegal and are believed to have retreated into that country with their loot. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
Firstly, it is important that we diagnose the problem correctly so that we can begin to seek solutions. In my opinion, we have a fairly good police force that has the knowhow and expertise to tackle crime such that the people of the country can feel safe and secure in their homes. Granted, the police, like many other institutions, are beset with numerous problems of their own – the issue of corruption and carefree attitude among some officers and whatnot. That notwithstanding, the police are generally good and professional and can deliver.
This delivery however, depends on certain conditions being met not only by the State but also by the citizens of the country generally. The police are ill-equipped and suffer an acute lack of logistics to be effective in any way. Security is expensive, like everything else nowadays, but not investing in security has such serious consequences that the fallout of not doing it makes every other problem pale away in comparison. The police do not have enough vehicles to make their presence known, and the few they have do not always have fuel. How on earth can the police do their job if they do not have mobility?
The general perception among many citizens is to sit at a corner and lambast the police for not doing their job properly. But how many of us, citizens, make any efforts to find out if the police are given the requisite training, incentives and logistics they need to do their job? How many people know of the constraints of the police in terms of mobility? How many people know, or try to find out, how much fuel is given to the police to do their work? You see, almost all of us sit in the comfort of our homes and castigate the police for not doing x, y or z but we hardly try to advocate for them to be equipped.
My sources inform me that in the past few months, the Ministry of the Interior was being given only five hundred thousand dalasis a month for their running cost. This is laughable! Five hundred thousand is nothing considering the different units under that ministry. You have the Gambia Police Force, the Gambia Immigration Department, Prison Service and others. How can that small amount of money cater for all those outfits adequately? Come on! If we want security, we will have to pay for it.
The attack in Fass Njagga Choi was not the first, though its magnitude and brazenness is unprecedented. A few years ago, when there were a lot of incidents of cross border theft of animals, I wrote to the then Minister of the Interior, the National Assembly Select Committee on Security, the National Human Rights Commission and the Inspector-General of Police. This was taken up and treated with urgency as the Police Commissioner for North Bank Region convened a meeting in one of the villages and each village sent representatives where strategies were put in place to put a stop to that menace. It worked for a year or two, but that is history now as evinced by this latest attack in Fass Njagga Choi.
One of the takeaways from that meeting was that there exists an agreement between the Gambia and Senegal which is for hot pursuit. It means that Senegalese security agents can pursue a culprit into the Gambia and so can Gambian security agents. If this is still the case, then I ask, are Gambian security officers pursuing culprits into Senegal?
So, in addition to thoroughly investigating this incident, the authorities must initiate a sort of a dialogue to bring about mutual cooperation between the security agents of the two countries to nip this menace in the bud. Also, there is a proverb in Pulaar which says that the iron part of an axe would not have been able to harm a tree if a part of the tree (wooden) handle did not take part in the assault.
Criminals, be they Gambians or Senegalese, cannot just come into the country and begin to attack security installations and businesses from the blue. They must have collaborators from this side of the border and this must be thoroughly investigated and those found wanting taken to book.
It will also be useful if the Government can look into ways of compensating the businesses that have been attacked and unknown amounts of money taken away from them. This is not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the communities as well who buy from them on a daily basis.
The National Assembly must allocate enough resources to the Ministry of the Interior who in turn must not only train the police properly but also give them enough incentives to do their jobs which must of the time include risking their lives. Also, the PIU officer who was shot must be properly taken care of and given a worthy compensation as this will serve as incentive for other officers.
Do the police even have a compensation package for incidents like this? That is for another write-up.