By Tochukwu Ezukanma
In response to my earlier article, Dismantle these Roadblocks, an irate policeman called me on the phone. The article was on the need to dismantle the police roadblocks across Nigeria because they have failed as a crime fighting strategy. They degenerated from their intended role of crime prevention to cesspools of police corruption, harassment and violence. The article recommended a form of community policing as a replacement for the failed roadblock strategy.
The police man that called me was very angry. In a very harsh but somewhat restrained voice, he lectured me. He thought that my article was grossly misconstrued against the Nigerian police. As far as he is concerned, the Nigerian Police Force is doing a good job. They are professionals and are committed to doing their work. They are arresting criminals and engaging armed robbers in gun battles all the time. But Nigerians do not appreciate them and their praiseworthy work. So, he raved against what he considered my ingratitude to the Nigerian Police Force, and my articles unfair disparagement of the institution.
He wondered why people ignore all the good works of the police and only dwell on the periodic glitches in their performance. According to him, the Nigerian police are unjustly cast as a corrupt establishment. After all, the police are under paid. And although they have families to take care of and other responsibilities to uphold, nobody talks about the pittance they are paid or of the need to increase their salaries. People only talk about the police’s demand and acceptance of bribe.
He continued, in Europe and America, the police are well paid. They have sophisticated crime fighting gadgets and equipments and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. Still, there is crime in their societies. But in Nigeria where the police are ill-equipped, and underpaid; people expect a crime free society. It is true that the policemen at these checkpoints do extort money from motorists but the checkpoints and the police presence at them deter crime. He asked me to imagine how terrible the crime rate would have been without the police at these checkpoints. As he spoke, I, on one occasion, wanted to speak and he bellowed: wait till I finish. So, I waited till he finished.
I thought that his complain was as comical as it was nonsensical. It was like the nagging of an employee over being reprimanded for lateness to work, whereas, over the years, nobody ever applauded him for his punctuality to work. Or the fulmination of a man arrested for robbery for being pilloried for robbery, whereas, all the years he did not steal, no one congratulated him for being a law abiding citizen.
I told him that people do not generally sing praises of the police for doing their work because of societal expectations. The society expects the police to do their work of upholding the law and serving and protecting Nigerians. In doing their job, they are expected to fight crime, arrest criminals and engage armed robbers in gun battles. Their doing their job and all that attends it just conforms to people’s anticipation. Therefore, it is considered normal. And when did normality start eliciting a standing ovation? It is only when they fail in their responsibilities that people get disappointed, and consequently, complain.
I gave him an example. I told him that all my life, I have taken my bath every day and dressed up before stepping out of the house. Nobody has every clapped for me for being a regular, cleaned up and dressing up man on the street. But if for one day, I walk out of my house naked, there will be uproar. I will immediately become the talk of the neighborhood. I will automatically become the butt of every joke in town. People will deride me, despise me and castigate me. They will invariably be heaping invectives on me. They will dub my behavior lunacy, insanity, etc. Some will feign spiritual insightfulness and diagnose it as the indecorum of a man haunted by the forces of darkness emanating from his village. And others will arrogate to themselves the powers of spiritual vision and then pontificate on how nemesis finally caught up with me for the multifarious evil I did over the years.
But why am I being excoriated for going naked just for one day? After all, I have clad my self every day of the year for so many years. This is because there are universally accepted standards of behavior. And behaviors that fall unbearably below these standards are odious, and therefore, subject to universal censure.
In being clothed, I met societal expectations. It was expected of me to be dressed, but in being naked, my behavior fall grossly below acceptable standards of behavior. Therefore, it deeply offended the society’s sense of decorum. As I spoke his phone went off. I did not know if it was a network problem, if he ran out of credit or was just too exasperated by my logic to continue listening to me.
If the views of the policeman that called me are, in any way, representative of the Nigerian Police Force perception of itself, then, the institution must be in denial. It must be refusing to objectively grade itself. It must have refused to allow facts to get in its way in its assessment of its own performance.
The performance of the Nigerian Police Force is not, in any way, commendable. It is an inefficient, corrupt and brutal organization. It respects neither the law nor the Nigerian citizens it purportedly serves. It is in a desperate need of a total overhaul, so that its activities can correspond to its motto of “to serve and protect”. For now, if its motto is to accurately capture its role, it should read as “to neglect and abuse”, for that is what they, for the most part, do to the Nigerian masses. .
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.