Eleven months after they were deployed on peace enforcement duties in Somalia as Formed Police Unit (FPU) to assist the Somali police maintain law and order and provide cover for the country’s first democratic elections holding tomorrow, Nigerian troops have not been paid.
Superintendent of Police (SUPOL) Theophelius Eze is an epitome of tough cops. As the commandant of the 140 strong contingents of Nigerian mobile policemen deployed in the war blighted Republic of Somalia on peace enforcement/support duty, Eze and his men are the last line of defence between the dreaded Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen otherwise known as the terror organisation Al-Shabaab and the government troops.
Eze and his men, referred to as the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in Somalia have their duties spelt out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). They are to, among others, provide training and logistics support for the newly formed Somali Police Force (SPF); secure and restore civil order in all territories retaken from Al-Shabaab and provide security for the Individual Police Officers (IPO) specially recruited by the African Union (AU).
In the police unit of the AMISOM troops, only the officers in the FPU are permitted to bear arms.
“Before coming, we were trained for six months, we knew it will not just be peacekeeping but peace support operations, we were trained by the Nigeria Police in all manners of operations including crowd control and Very Important Personality (VIP) movement,” Eze said.
He and the other officers are not the first Nigerians to be deployed in Somalia. They are the fifth batch of 140 mobile unit contributed by the Federal Government AMISOM operations to bring lasting peace to Somalia.
Five other African countries, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti also contribute military troops to the mission.
The first batch of mobile policemen, who touched down at the Mogadishu Airport in Somalia in September 2012, was holed up for almost half of the six months of the tour of duty at the base camp, a gigantic military fortress built by the AMISOM.
In 2012, much of Mogadishu and the rest of the vast Somalia geography were still in the hands of Al-Shabaab.
The police worked behind the lines as the military began to take more territories, pushing the terrorists back into the countryside. Slowly, the Nigerian police began to enforce civil order, training and supporting the ragtag undisciplined and totally unprofessional Somali Police.
There was nothing to prepare the fifth batch of Nigeria police contingent for the shock that awaited them in Somalia. Not even the training in the country. The team suddenly realised they will not be keeping peace and controlling crowd, their presence alone made them prominent targets for Al-shabaab. “When we got here, we suddenly realised we were fighting terrorism and we have to adjust to that reality,” Eze said.
The police were camped at the Stadium barracks, situated in Yawshid District, one of the most undesirable neighbourhoods of Mogadishu. The stadium, where the policemen are accommodated, has a not-too-sterling record. Before Al-shabaab took over the capital city, it was where sporting activities held and talents discovered, but Al-shabaab turned it to its slaughter lab where offenders were routinely beheaded. All over the buildings, one could see the handiwork of bullets, mortars and rockets.
The camp is heavily guarded, but not fortified enough to ward off terrorists’ attacks.
“They (terrorists) usually attack us from the air,” said Muhammed Sani, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), who is FPU’s Operations Commander.
The terrorists have are delighted shelling the camp of the Nigerian troops. Earlier this month, four of such of such bombardments killed two civilians but none of the officers was affected.
The Nigerians are also put in harm’s way any time they go on patrol. In August, during a tour of duty, a female cop, Ladi John, a Sergeant, was shot at close range by the terrorist.
“She was shot at close range, the bullet missed her heart by the whiskers. She was rushed to Nairobi where she spent two months recuperating. Thank God she is back and she is alive. This is one of the hazards of the job. We have seen worst things,” Sani said.
But Eze said his team has devised a method to checkmate the terrorists. Not fool-proved though, the method has helped in the past to avert greater tragedy.
Eze said: “We are proactive about security here; we do not allow them to bring the fight to us; we have been successful using the cordon and search approach which we do majorly on intelligence. We do that twice a week with our mentees – the Somali Police. Recently in Bakara Market, we recovered large cache of materials used in making Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs).”
But the gallant Nigerians face a lot of challenges from explosions daily.
“Since we recovered the IED materials, we just realised that bombs have been going off indiscriminately in Mogadishu. This country is highly unpredictable, anything can happen anytime” he said.