As we reflect soberly during this festive period let us see the possibility of a New Year resolution by the Nigeria police. The word rebranding is derived from the word brand. Brand simply means “a particular quality or way of doing something” (Longman study dictionary). Rebranding therefore means a change in attitude, character, packaging, service and dedication and not a change of uniform. It is with this that I assess the police. The Nigeria police is an institution meant to protect and defend the common man, but I grew up with the understanding that the institution is a scarecrow to the people it was meant to protect. Ask the least Nigerian to mention the most corrupt and dreaded institution and the police is readily produced. Is it that corruption is inherent, or inherited in the system, or part of the ethic in the institution? These are questions that I ask myself seeing the antecedents of the Nigeria police. Nigerians can no longer go to police station to report matters because they don’t trust them and cannot build their confident in them anymore.
Why is this institution so corrupt? Is it that they are lowly paid; want to live above their status; trying to meet family demand or because of pressure from their superior? The answer is no but greed have overtaken them and competition among themselves to acquire properties mostly second hand cars. An SSCE holder in the police earns better than a graduate (level 8) in Cross River State civil service. I ask a police officer the meaning of beats and I got more than what I bargained for. He told me that a beats is a place where police officers are posted temporarily for duty and this is determined by the officer in charge and other superior officers, but for you to be send to a place where you get good money you must make regular returns to the DPO who also does same to his superior. Shocking to mention, in Calabar Police men move round Ashawo (prostitutes) quarters between 6:30-8:30 collecting 500 naira everyday as remittance from harlots in their quarters. Any day they refuse to comply their (harlots) quarters are raided and they are arrested which always ends in a bail for all arrested.
The endemic corruption which has turn into a historic way of life in Nigeria foundation can be attributed to the Nigeria police before they were joined by the politicians and high placed civil servants. Early writing of Professor Achebe recorded extortion by the police but the different is that then it was done in hiding and not openly as obtainable today. Meaning that they is elevation on the foundation of corruption in the police system today. These signal a dangerous trend to security of life’s and properties in this country. Words like “roger” are very popular in this country as a pass for drivers in every check point mounted by police officers. Some police officers use plain words like “wetin you bring for us” “wetin dey for the boys” “wetin you carry” “bros I dey under the sun for you, arrange the boys pure water” and even if this words sound like optional demands, they can lead drivers to very serious charges when they refuse to comply. Refusal to comply changes the status of the policeman into a safety officer who will even want to know the age of the car engine to detect weather it is not posing a tread to other road users. But once you comply you can even pass with fresh human head whose blood is dripping on the road for everybody to see. Extrajudicial killing are no longer news in Nigeria as trigger happy police officers open fire on cars whose drivers refuses to part away money on check points. We even hear stories like one stranded and going to the station to spend the night and is not seen again by anybody the following morning if he was carrying large money in his possession. The most shocking aspect of the police and citizens relationship is when one go to the station inorder to report a case only to be asked to fuel the car for them to effect an arrest of the matter reported even if the officers will trek to make the arrest. I can go on and on mentioning their vices because they are so numerous. How many times in this country that the police have arrive scene of armed robbery while the robbers are there? They will always blame unavailability of fuel in patrol vehicles or unavailability of officers in the station at the time the crime is reported and will end up arresting innocent people found on the crime scene after the robbers have gone and brand them suspects banishing guns that will be stock on them by the same police.
The police invented this slogan “the police is you friend” as a way of buying back the confident of the masses yet the masses still look at them as a scarecrow. It is not words that buy back confident but action and change of attitude. They must be a review of that pre colonial doctrine of extortion that has been passed for one generation to another in the police institution. The pre colonial extortion was calculated based on ignorant on the part of the colonial masters and on the part of locals. The colonial master created a situation where the police is believed to be their mouthpiece and above the law and no instrument of check was instituted to curtail their excesses. For example in Achebe novel “Nolonger at ease” he described a situation where the police make sure no passenger is looking his direction before he collect the money and if any passenger continually looked his direction, creating no opportunity for him to collect the money the driver is quickly booked and he will have to pack a great distance from the check point for his conductor to pay about ten times the amount he will have normally pay. But the revert is the case now, as officers openly collect twenty or fifty naira from motorist without caring who is looking at them or if it is the federal highway patrol that charges motorist from hundred naira and above by asking the driver to park and go and to meet their ogar (boss) who will always sit in the car and bill motorists depending on the size of the vehicle. How long shall these abnormalities be allowed to continue?
I will first give kudos to the inspector general of police Mohamad Abubakar for dismounting road blocks which I had called a forceful extortion and execution ground for innocent suffering Nigerians. But there is still more to be done by him. For effective policing of the country there is need for his men to regularly patrol the streets and highways and this can be done when those on duty are always monitored by their superiors. This is so because if you pass our highways you will see patrol vehicles parked by the side with police and sometimes with the military, occasional stopping some motorists and extorting them especially in Akwa Ibom state, Imo state and Abia.
In Cross River state the military have completely taken over roadblock extortions. Let me say here that the dismantling of roadblocks only addressed one aspect of corruption within the police force. Now the police have become hunters who set traps for citizens and charge them heavily to cover the money lost on check points. I witnessed an incident on the 26th of December where a man tried to revere his car around Diamond hill were Cross River State police headquarter is situated and was quickly blocked by the car in his rear driven by a police officer who quickly called his boys to come and charge the man. I looked around and did not see any inscription like “no turning”; “keep moving” etc. and I pitied the man who has fallen into their trap. I remember two years ago when I became a victim of 419 in Abuja how shockingly I was told that the police gets remittance from 419 operators for every successful operation. My experience that day was unpleasant although the police gave me back the two thousand naira after much drama and abuse on me and later told me that tomorrow I will be one of those that will present them badly to the public.
The police force is a responsible institution that is supposed to be of high repute and good standing in the society. They are supposed to protect the life of people and their property and not to degenerate to a societal menace, were there is no trust because of the unpredictable nature of the men in the force. The truth of the matter is that there is still hope for the force if only Government is willing to correct it. It will involve a total overhauling of the entire system beginning from their command structure/composition.
Firstly a system of check must be created by the Government where the activities of the police are monitored. This can only be done by setting up a monitoring unit made up of only plain clothed detectives and civilian of reputable character. There should pose as motorists and obtain identity of officers extorting money on checkpoints. The civilians will do a better job because the detective will weep sympathy for their colleagues. Once an officer is caught by this monitoring unit he is to be trialed by the court of law and made to face the law.
Secondly it should be clearly stated that on no account is any arrested persons suppose to pay money for bail in the police station and if there is any demand of money it should be reported to a tasks force setup by the government to immediately investigate and punish the officer that made the demand. If Government intends to use SERVICOM for this noble task, they need to be empowered in such a way that they can effect an arrest of defaulting officers and also prosecute them.
Thirdly heads of police formation should be punished when incident of armed robbery occur within their jurisdiction even if it is not reported to them. This will make them intensify patrol and response to sound of gun fire within their jurisdiction without waiting for a call from somebody who is been robbed under gun point. In this case there is need for Government to provide communication gargets and adequate vehicles to all police formations in the country.
Fourthly, police recruitment should be based on merit and not on greasing the palm of senior officers and Godfatherism as it is widely practiced. It will include background check on those recruited or we will continue to recruit unreformed village thieves and make them professional robbers with official permits and uniform. When recruitments are made open, character and mentality of recruits will be tested and only well behaved, intelligent and morally reputed persons will be recruited into the system. This will also reduce incidents of bribery and corruption which has become a practice in the system.
Fifthly, senior officers need to be monitored closely by a monitoring unit, because most of what is done by the junior officers is a result of pressure from their superiors. There must be no hesitation in punishing defaulting officers as it will serve as deterrent to others.
This overhauling will restore sanity to the force and incidents of crime will be reduced since officers on check points (if brought back) will carry out search on vehicles passing thereby reducing illegal movement of arms and ammunitions on our roads. Let me just mention here that officers are so interested with 20 naira collection that kidnappers with their victim pass through checkpoints by giving them their normal offering (there invented the pay as you go system). A rebranded police force will raise the hope of the common citizen so my submission is for a complete overhaul of the system. I wish all my readers happy Xmas and merry New Year.