by Babatunde Rosanwo
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, every Nigerian has a story to tell about the Nigerian Police. In these our stories, police officers constantly come across as the enemy.
The slogan: ‘Police is your Friend’ was the most sarcastic phrase I heard in all my time growing up in Nigeria. It was always uttered with so much cynicism. Subtly, it meant that the Nigerian Police Force was an establishment that could not be trusted and was better associated with everything bad starting with corruption and running the whole nine yards down to abuse.
I grew up seeing the Nigerian Police as tool of oppression in the hands of the government, politicians and the rich. In fact, if you could bid the highest, anyone could use the Nigerian Police as a tool for their own selfish gain or purposes with the wag of a few Naira notes so even the not so rich could intimidate others.
My experiences with the police as a student union leader and private adult citizen were never nice and left a bitter taste in my mouth. The same goes for a good number of friends and associates. You could hire a Nigerian policeman for personal services at a small fee. The force has become known as a profession without dignity and respect. Yet these are the men we entrust with our lives – the very men who are the first line of action in enforcing the rule of law.
I had the opportunity 15 years ago to visit a Nigerian Police barracks in the city of Ibadan. It was a horrifying experience. I made a mental note never to make friends or acquaintances with anyone from such a place, and that decision was not because I was born with a silver spoon of some sort and needed to look down on their predicament.
I grew up in a community where joining the police is a taboo/curse. The Police barracks was a sore sight with every atom of lawlessness crawling up its walls. In the first few hours I spent on this visit, I witnessed police kids run into the haven of the barracks where they remain untouchable after committing atrocities in nearby communities. None of the men had the audacity to complain to their superiors about the living conditions; it’s about obeying to the last order. They weren’t allowed to have a union or association for the very fear that they will stand up for their rights and it was foreseen that people providing such essential services could not be given any chance to go on strike. The average Nigerian Policeman is a reflection of the Nigerian State – with no proper training or education, they oppress innocent citizens because they carry guns, the symbol of their power. Half of them probably do not know the relevant laws of the country and the mantra they can conveniently go by is arrest, charge and bail.
The recent exposé on the Nigerian Police College Ikeja by Channels Television is a commendable one; the TV station has done what is expected of the fourth estate in any country. I now am able to sincerely apologize to every policeman who has had to go through that torturous experience and from whom I demanded any service. It is unfair to demand anything from anyone put through such an inhumane system and the revelations that Channels TV has brought to the fore now gives a clearer picture on why the average policemen treats us badly at every given opportunity.
They have truly been through hell and back; they have been abused and dehumanized under the shroud of required training. Apparently, most Nigerians are shocked by the revelations from the video series. Thinking that there was nothing else about Nigeria that could shock me, I confess that I am now even more taken aback at how deep corruption has eaten cleverly into the fabric of our society – we are a beautiful ankara cloth that has gone loose at the seams. While the college has not been neglected in terms of budgetary provisions over the last decade, implementation has been sub-zero.
Channels TV and associates have taken it upon themselves to renovate the Police College as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) for 2013. Once again, this is a commendable effort that must be met with support from all and sundry including the government. The President’s swift visit to the college after the first set of videos came out is second to none since the advent of this administration. Hopefully one day this same President of ours will be granted the needed visa to visit other parts of the country where he can physically assess the situation on ground and stop relying on the sweet stories his aides pass on to him. Surely there is a disconnect between the reality that Nigerians are enduring and the fantasy that our President has been living and believing: the Police College is one.
With a Minister of Police Affairs, an Inspector General of Police and a sitting committee on Police reform, one wonders how the presidency is not aware of the prevailing conditions of the men in the force.
How come the Police gets the worst treatment of all the para military institutions we have in Nigeria? In the same Ikeja vicinity, the Nigerian Customs has its Lagos training camp with better facilities, feeding and accommodation.
In the last 6 years we have had the Police Reform panels, Presidential Committee on Police Reform headed by retired Muhammed Dan Madami in 2006, the Mohammed D Yusuf Panel in 2008, and most recently the Osayande Panel in 2012. The CSO Panel on Police Reforms also submitted its report to the President sometime in 2012. It is not possible that all of these panels have missed out what is fundamentally and glaringly wrong with the Nigerian Police or skipped the need to make recommendations to the present government on the way forward. But this government has no political will to effect any change with respect to the Police force and the many other diseases plaguing Nigeria. One is yet to see any recommendation from these numerous panels which has actually been taken up by the present government for the purpose of making a selfless difference.
The irony is that the government consistently abdicates its responsibility to the private sector and the civil society (with support of donor agencies). So, we end up with Channels TV and partners renovating the Police College Ikeja while absolutely nothing will happen to the individuals responsible for misappropriating the funds meant for the Nigerian Police. Hold on, the Channels Forum on the Police College, Ikeja scheduled for today has been postponed, surely vested interests are out to protect the image of the government at all cost.
Of what purpose then was the President’s visit to the college? To confirm the Channels TV exposé or to protect the image of his government? President Jonathan needs to do more than visit the Police College Ikeja – he must visit corruption in his government with the same alacrity. 72 hours after the President visited the College, the cadets are still sleeping in a shabby 3-4 walled space that does not befit dogs. One would expect that the presence of the President on that day would signal the last time those cadets would spend the night there. Worst case scenario, maybe we should give them another 48hours but apparently our transformation agenda does not work that way.
The President has security votes which he does not need to account for. I suppose this could be one of the situations that require him to take a pinch from that largess. Import containers can be delivered to the college within 48hours to provide temporary shelter with mobile toilets until the halls and rooms are properly renovated and well equipped.
Alhaji Maina who sits on the pension funds task force (including Police Pension Funds) has remained evasive and accountable to no one, including the senate house. What is the outcome of the Kenny Martins and N7.7 billion Police equipment fund case in the courts? There is so much going on that it’s becoming difficult to keep track of all the associates and fake companies who have fleeced the state.
There is a growing trend which follows from the ill state of our society – every time the inadequacies and corruption of the government is exposed, Nigerians embark on the “what can we do to make a difference?” discussion. And this has inadvertently become a subtle endorsement of corruption. We no longer ask for the rule of law nor ask further questions on what happened to funds appropriated for public projects. We should proffer solutions as though the present government is ready for change. How many committees and reports have been swept under the presidential carpets?
Why were they elected? Why are they living large at the expense of the whole nation if they have nothing to offer only to turn around to ask one to offer solutions they have no intention of implementing? We are subtly turning engagement into docility and one day, Lagosians will pay higher taxes and still be required to abandon their jobs and deliberate on solutions on how the governor should run the state.
The conduct of our police will always be a key part of what defines our democracy. If we want the police to be respected and accepted as an authority figure and not a tool of intimidation, the clamour for state police should be suspended for now while the focus is shifted to the proper training and welfare of the present policemen on our streets. There is no guarantee that those states which are not economically independent can cater for the training and welfare of their local police force.