Members of Nigeria’s police special forces on deployment in Southern Kaduna have accused police authorities of neglecting them, and failing to provide needed equipment as they confront skirmishes that have killed hundreds in the area.
Members of the unit, trained in Belarus, were drafted to check the persistent clashes between herdsmen and residents of Southern Kaduna communities.
But many told PREMIUM TIMES exclusively that their operational condition had become so unbearable that they now rely on extorting motorists in the area to survive.
“Before we eat now, we need to be tapping vehicles for N50 and N100,” one of them said. “Imagine, we special forces that are not supposed to be seen anyhow.”
Asides the poor living conditions they are subjected to, the officers, who spoke on the condition of strict anonymity, also alleged being poorly equipped to bring the situation in the restive Southern Kaduna under control.
Police denied the claims. Its spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, said all personnel deployed to the area received their salaries and allowances regularly.
“Even more logistics were provided for them,” Mr. Moshood told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday.
The special forces are part of 96 police personnel sent to Belarus in 2014 to receive training as snipers, rocket-propelled grenade experts, rangers, bomb disposal technicians, amongst others.
Upon their return to the country, they were temporarily deployed to Maiduguri to support their counterparts in the Nigerian Army, Navy and the Air Force in the war against Boko Haram.
In February, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered the deployment of 71 of them to Southern Kaduna to help quell the incessant clashes between herdsmen and residents there.
Over 200 people have been killed in the area in the last one year, and thousands more have been displaced in the latest violence between Fulani herdsmen and southern Kaduna residents, according to official estimates.
But the forces said they were not given enough weapons in line with the trainings they received, and that they lacked even uniforms differentiating them from other “regular policemen.”
“How do we go into the bush to chase herdsmen without weapons?” one personnel asked.
They also said all the 71 of them are currently putting up at places of worship inside the police area command headquarters in Kafanchan.
“We’re just sleeping on the floor inside the church and mosque attached to the area command,” an officer said.
Abandoned in Abuja
The officers said they were told ahead of their deployment that the Kaduna police commissioner, Agyole Abeh, and Governor Nasir el-Rufai would handle their allowances and welfare.
Days after the personnel were deployed, the Kaduna police commissioner, Mr. Abeh, visited them in Kafanchan, but the meeting nearly turned bloody after assembled troops complained of neglect.
The officers threatened to down tools until their demands for weapons, uniform and welfare were met, but the commissioner quickly drove away after suspecting the meeting could turn violent.
Towards the end of February, the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of operations visited the disgruntled officers, and promised better living and working conditions.
“But since he left, we have not seen anything,” the officers said.
The officers said 15 of them were recently taken to Abuja to receive new weapons training.
“But more than a week since they took them to Abuja, they just abandoned them there and no one is even talking to them about what they invited them for,” an officer said.
The officers also countered a recent announcement by the police that Special Forces have been deployed to Benue.
“We just heard news recently that IG has deployed Special Forces to Benue State, yet we the special forces are here in Kafanchan.
“Who are the special forces they deployed to Benue when all of us are here?
They called on Nigerians to prevail on the police leadership to immediately address their situation.
“Not only because Southern Kaduna is a very serious matter for the country but also to prevent some of us who have received special training from dumping the police profession for negative activities,” the officers said.
‘Food and water discipline’
Mr. Moshood, a chief superintendent of police, said the officers were duly and regularly remunerated.
“Their allowances are being paid, only this month has not been cleared, but the month has not ended,” he said. “I know authoritatively they’ve been paid.”
But the officers said they were being owed backlogs in allowances, although they admitted the specific amount was unclear.
“We were only paid N20, 000 cash on March 16,” the officers said. “We don’t know how much they’re supposed to be paying us as our allowances, but we know that it can never be N20, 000 since we have been deployed here weeks ago.”
Mr. Moshood said the officers have enough equipment and denied claims that a commotion occurred during the visit by the commissioner.
“There’s nothing like that, I have asked the commissioner.
“If something like that happened, I would have been informed during management meeting as the spokesman for the force,” he said
He described the situation of the 15 officers allegedly abandoned in Abuja after being told to come for weapons as “in-depth operational issues” that should not have been disclosed to the media based for the “national interest”.
On the allegations that the IG did not deploy Special Forces to Benue, Mr. Moshood said the forces were actually deployed and on ground, although some of them might be operating as undercover agents.
“They’ve been deployed in compliance with the IG directive and they’re on the ground there.
“Some of them forces are working as undercover operatives so it might be difficult for people to know they’re special forces,” he said.
Mr. Moshood said the police leadership “deeply” appreciate the service of the officers, but added that their perseverance was not enough.
“They’re doing their best and we deeply appreciate that, but part of their training is endurance,” he said. “It’s just like someone fighting a war.”
“There’s something we call food and water discipline during training.”