AS I sat in my study one beautiful afternoon last week – this was shortly before the Sun Newspaper Awards – my mind just veered off to an incident that happened sometime in 2012. It involved some policemen who were brutally killed by armed robbers while on patrol in Lagos. I recall the outpouring of emotion and outrage by the public. The sight of the incident made me loathe food for some days. I simply lost appetite. The thought of that incident and the risks the police take daily to protect the citizens of this nation increased my melancholy. That they are not properly remunerated for all their sacrifices worsened my agony.
My heart bled, figuratively speaking, as I wrote this piece. Inside me, I felt deep pain. Anybody with blood flowing in his veins would feel the same way. For quite some time now my thoughts have gone out to the Nigeria Police. I have spent quality time thinking about their plights: the dangers they face every day in the discharge of their duties, the disused and decrepit barracks in which they live, the poor salary, the lack of equipment to do their job satisfactorily, the non-payment of their pensions promptly. Oh! God, I cannot go on.
Why should a nation as Nigeria allow its policemen to be so shabbily treated? How do we expect the police to operate optimally when we show no commensurate consideration for all they do to make us save? Instead of pouring encomiums on them we denigrate them – and call them all kinds of derogatory names. Yet, they have continued to serve.
I do not mean there are no bad eggs in the police. That is not the import of this article. Many of them abound just as we have in the other spheres of human endeavour.
All said and done, the bottom line is that the Nigeria Police are an endangered species. They are endangered, and I want anybody to challenge me to the contrary. The most worrisome fact is that our sons and daughters who enlisted into the force are not catered for; even by the very government that employed them to do such a delicate job of protecting its citizens.
I had thought of a suitable title for this piece – a title that would capture the graveness of the situation. I had thought about ‘endangered species’ but settled for what we have today. And truly speaking, are they not an endangered species? Everything points to that. From their salaries to operational environment, it is the same story. There is no aspect of the police remunerative package that gladdens or motivates. There is none. I doubt if they even have an insurance package for them, save for the occasional hand-outs the IGP gives each time a policeman is killed in the line of duty.
The Nigeria Police are the most politicised, paralysed and polarised of all the armed forces – Army, Navy and Air Force. They lack respect, love and empathy from the citizens they are paid to protect. Instead of being their friends the police are held in disrepute by the public. In fact, the mere mention of the word ‘police’ arouses suspicion, fear, or odium in the minds of the citizenry. But that should not be the case. The Police, sincerely speaking, have been reduced to a level that is worse than abysmal, yet we expect them to perform at optimal level.
We all know why the public distrust the police. It is common knowledge. The police are accused of weighty crimes such as receiving bribe to subvert the cause of justice, harass and extort money from innocent citizens, colluding with criminal elements to perpetrate crimes, and displaying inefficiency and apathy in the discharge of their duty. Let me, however, quickly point out that these allegations do not apply to all the members of the force, but to a few bad eggs that populate it.
Nevertheless, it is easy to accuse police of wrongdoings, but has anybody spared a thought about why some policemen engage in these unwholesome and unprofessional acts? Even though there are no reasons justifiable enough for anybody to engage in crime, the police should be given a benefit of the doubt. They work under very terrible and dehumanising conditions, and are therefore compelled to do certain ‘things’ to survive.
How can they deliver the goods with all the barriers placed in their way? They chase armed robbers, operating with sophisticated weapons, with crude, obsolete guns. Ridiculously, many of the policemen engage these armed robbers without bulletproof vests, armoured vehicles or even walkie-talkies. This is why they are killed like fowls, leaving behind their helpless widows and orphans to fend for themselves. What of their insurance? When a policeman is killed in the course of duty his family is handed out peanuts, not even an insurance benefit, as compensation. Even the peanut is not a part of a well-designed, permanent reward system. It is a way that the IGP, who is overburdened with grief, shows solidarity with his fallen men and women.
Let me ask: “How much is the life of a policeman or policewoman worth in Nigeria?” If evaluated realistically, going by what obtains in other climes, it is not worth a farthing. I really do not know the difference between a policeman and a prisoner on death row. This is the truth. The number of their enemies keeps growing by the day: militants, armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists, trans-border criminals, human traffickers, cultists, assassins, election-riggers, drug-addicts and, even, politicians do not like them. There is no guarantee that a policeman will go to work and return alive. I wonder how their families cope with these distressful uncertainties.
Have we forgotten too soon the killing of a gallant Police Inspector, Taiwo Ajetunmobi, by robbers in Apapa, Lagos in 2012? The same gang also shot the Inspector’s colleague – one Sergeant Wale – in the stomach. Ajetunmobi was adjudged by his colleagues in ‘Area B’ Apapa Command as the most gallant crime-fighter. Pained by his death his colleagues vowed to avenge his death, and they did. Acting on a tip-off that the gang that killed the Inspector was holding a meeting at Maracana Stadium, Apapa, the police swooped on them and killed two of the robbers. Ajetunmobi’s spirit was powerful to have avenged his death within a short time. There were many police officers who had been killed in similar circumstances without any clues as to how to arrest their killers. Their families have been left without even a visit from the hierarchy of the force.
The Nigeria Police, as I indicated earlier, work under dehumanising conditions. Their barracks are dilapidated and lack basic amenities. Some of them still use batons, instead of sophisticated guns, to make arrests. In the process they are easily killed or maimed. It was not until recent that they started receiving gifts of operational vehicles and communication gadgets from state governors. Before this time, they used taxis and Okadas (motorcycles) to go for operations. Imagine! I have some friends in the police. Occasionally, I visit their barracks. What I saw recently in one of the barracks made my heart bleed: old building with leaking roof and faeces dripping from a broken waste pipe. God! A majority of the policemen, who could not be accommodated in the barracks, live in remote villages and trek long distances to work. They find solace in the villages, because they could not afford the luxuries of city life. The essence of living in barracks is to ensure easy mobilization in the case of an emergency, safety and remove undue pressure on the personnel.
To make ends meet some policemen now engage in illegal operations, receive bribes, and serve as portfolio-carriers for politicians and other VIP’s. Successive IGP’s made unsuccessful efforts to stop it, to no avail. How could any reasonable person have expected the orders to work when the police are poorly paid and exposed to death without anybody feeling any qualms? Those policemen and women who serve as orderlies and Aide- Camps to top government functionaries and other VIP’s feel safer working with them, without knowing they are gradually killing professionalism and efficiency in the force.
Is it not ironical that top government officials travel abroad without their orderlies and retinue of security operatives and still feel safe? Why can’t we make Nigeria safe, so that we can live in peace and harmony and move about without too many security escorts? The primary duty of the police is to ensure safety of life and property. Sadly, they have continually deviated from this sacrosanct duty to engage in self-serving acts. This is the tragedy of the Nigeria Police. We have enough policemen to take care of the security challenges facing the country, but they are poorly motivated, leaving the citizenry at the mercy of criminals and hoodlums.
I wish to ask: “Does it mean Nigeria cannot afford to build modern barracks for our policemen and women and remunerate its police force adequately?” The answer is capital “NO”. We have the resources to make our police the envy of the world. But what we lack is the person to bell the cat.
We need to tell one another the truth: the way the Nigeria Police are run today, they cannot deliver on their mandate. They are simply in bondage. During my 8-year tenure as governor of Abia State we made conscious efforts to equip the police to enable them to perform optimally. Working in collaboration with the vigilance groups the police were able to maintain all-round security in the state. I am glad that many other states in the country have seen the need to collaborate with the police. But my worry is that some of them go beyond assisting the police to making them malleable tools for the execution of their devious personal agendas. Is it not true that he who pays the piper calls the tune? It is not true also that the call by some politicians for state and local government police stems from a parochial, selfish plot to use them as agents of intimidation, terror and hate. That was why the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution did not consider all the memoranda submitted to it in this connection.
I recall with nostalgia the time Nigeria Armed Forces and the Police were under the command of foreigners. This was during the colonial era, up to 1964 when the first Nigerian – Chief Louis Orok Edet – was deemed fit to assume the elevated position of Inspector General of Police, succeeding the then incumbent, J.E. Hodge. Thus Edet became the first indigenous IGP. It was not until 1965 that our own General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi was appointed to head the Army, which then was under the command of General Welby-Everard. Captain Akinwale Wey (a Nigerian) in the same year was appointed as the Chief of Navy to replace Captain William Skutill. It was in 1966 that Colonel George Kurubo – another Nigerian – was appointed to head the Air Force, which hitherto was commanded by a German, Colonel G. Katz.
That the British colonial masters found Edet fit to head the police showed the depth of confidence they had in him. It also underpinned their vision in making the police the centrepiece of its national security plan.
Interestingly, the police had undergone systematic metamorphosis ever since. From Chief Luis Edet the baton had passed to other capable Nigerians that had done their best to reposition the force. I still remember the tenures of such Inspectors-General of Police as Sunday Adewusi (who died a month ago), Etim Inyang, Gambo Jimeta, Mohammed Coomassie, Sunday Ehindero, Mike Okiro, Ogbonnaya Onovo, Hafiz Ringim, Mohammed D. Abubakar, and now Solomon Arase. Each of Arase’s predecessors did his best to make an impact on the police.
Under the new Inspector General of Police things seem to be looking up. He has introduced far-reaching changes that were aimed at reforming the police, at least attitudinally. So far, he has banned the mounting of roadblocks and setting-up of monitoring teams to checkmate his men who engage in illicit activities. Of particular note was the national conference on security which he superintended. It was a very successful conference and, as feared, nothing tangible has come out of it. I am sure the blame should be heaped on the doorsteps of those that make financial provisions for the police. Bureaucratic bottlenecks have often stalled the smooth operation of the force.
However, I wish to state emphatically that the IGP alone cannot reform the police. The Federal Government and the organised private sector, and indeed all Nigerians, should cooperate to salvage our police from being washed down the cesspit. There is nothing wrong in strengthening the Army, Navy and Air Force, but the same attention should be extended to the Police whose duties have direct bearing to the day-to-day lives of Nigerians.
It is not enough for state governments to donate vehicles and communications gadgets to the police, the federal government should step up its allocations to the force and make the reward system attractive. Of great importance is insurance for the officers and men of the police. This should be established without further delay, and designed in such a way that the federal government take over the responsibility of catering to the needs of the families of policemen killed on duty. In addition, efforts should be made to re-equip the police by purchasing sophisticated weapons to beef up its armouries to fight increasing waves of crimes, build modern barracks to accommodate officers and men, train and retrain them in new methods of crime-fighting and prevention.
In short, nothing is too much to sacrifice to make the police the pride of all. After all, if the police are reformed, life will be safer, investors will flood into Nigeria, and peace will reign supreme – a vital ingredient Nigeria needs to reach the apogee of development and global stardom.