[The widely-reported dastardly killing of young people at an Abuja police check point (Apo 6) some years ago was revisited in Bolaji Odofin's " The other side of Nigeria's Policing" in 234NEXT three days ago because nothing really has been done about the prosecuted policeman. It just coincides with an essay I present today which, added to the ever-present police problems in Nigeria, will show that corruption in the Nigerian Police is intractable. This introduction and the postscript become necessary to tie this and the other sent by the same person to mine; the links were received yesterday afternoon after my return to web access area.
Successive administrations – with perhaps the exceptions of Murtala & Buhari regimes – have not shown the interest nor will to take it seriously. There are outright denials of the corruption or, at best, a wink-wink to the status quo.] Tola. Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
It would not be surprising if this title sends many scampering for their dictionaries to look up the word ‘oxymoron’. Two of the words are not spoken in the same breath in Nigeria because ‘honesty’ is not a side that people see when they have dealings with this agency. There may be a few honest policemen and women in this country but I have not been lucky to run across one and like most (non-armed forces) adult Nigerians, I’ve met more than my share of the real Nigerian Police. And they were all ugly. I will recall but a couple.
About twenty-five years ago, we were coming from a night party and had just merged with Iwo Road towards Gate (at Yidi) in Ibadan when we were stopped by soldiers manning a check point. Before you could say “officer”, we heard a loud crash from a truck driven by an inebriated driver and our car was spun round in a near death-dance. Miraculously, neither of us in the vehicle had a scratch but the back of the car was battered.
The soldiers did what “law enforcement” personnel and commercial drivers in Nigeria normally do when faced by major accidents caused by them: they had taken to their heels! The drunk driver did not have enough sense nor alertness to run away but prostrated right in the middle of the road, got up and took out all the money in his pocket and offered it to us. My husband told him he had to go with us to a police station. “Mo f’Olorun be nyin, e gba gbogbo owo yi; t’a ba d’odo awon kura, nwon ma gba ti nwon.” (You should take all that I have because by the time we get to the scallawags – I can’t come up with any other word for “kura” – they will take theirs. At the police station at Elizabeth Road, that was exactly what happened; no, not exactly. The police took ALL his money and tried to extort some from us and we had to fend for ourselves to fix the badly-damaged car.
Fast forward two decades and more. I was driving myself (often an offense for a woman in Nigeria as many of the fairer sex know) along Akobo Road at Ibadan when I was stopped at a check point in front of the elementary school. It was barely ten in the morning but there they were, an officer (but no gentleman, I was to find out) and his two partners of lower ranks. I lowered the window and as I normally address all law enforcement personnel, said “good morning, officer, to the junior man sent to prepare me for slaughter. He seemed in no mood for my type of good morning. “En, en, wey your particulars?” “Officer, I changed my bag this morning and forgot to take it along!” In a heard-that-before look, he announced that I had to go to Iyaganku (the Central Police Station). I’ve heard of the horrors that people go through at Iyaganku and I wasn’t going to experience it firsthand. “Officer,” I said, sounding as remorseful as I could be, “let me leave my car here and I’ll go get the documents from my house.” “Come tell Oga that story,” he replied in irritation. Anyway, the “Oga” laughed in my face when told of what I had requested. “Madam, go bring N2,000!” he said with finality and turned back to another hapless woman. It seemed to be a day of dealing with “I go drive myself” women!
“I no get dat kind money, officer,” I pleaded. “And the car no be mine; na my husband get am.” “Madam, make you no waste my time; na N2,000 you go pay or you go Iyaganku.” Meanwhile, one of the two assistants touched my shoulder and as he did so, I cringed. “Na help I wan help. Go bring what you have!”
Just like that. Well, I was not going to go to Iyaganku and I wasn’t going to give N2,000. I went to the car, put all the money in my money bag except N250 under a seat and went to the no-gentleman-though-officer and brought out the content of the money bag. “Officer, my husband must not know I took this car out, pl-ease!”[ I once heard this line works magic] He took N225, yes, four (N50′s), a twenty and a five and left me with N25! I went home, took the “particulars” and raced back to Akobo but they were gone. I had been away to Bodija for all of 25 minutes. This happened under a year ago, during the reign of I. G. Smith.
How could the top hierarchy of the police claim it is unaware of all these check points (always headed by at least an officer) whose main purpose is to shake motorists down? How could the new Inspector General issue a clean bill to his men so fast? Why was young Miss Adelugba and two other students killed? Why were many like her despatched to early graves? Why are the guns WE issued being used against US?
The rising cry for state police is not for naught. The Nigeria Police is too big, too unwieldy and too corrupt. Worse, it is inefficient and ineffective. The ONLY solution is decentralization that does away with a central force.
The United States of America is, probably, the most policed country on earth but it is a true federation of states. There are state police which takes care of incidents on state highways to which it belongs, ONLY. For example, a Nevada Highway Patrol officer (yes, policemen are all called officers as befits a land of euphemisms where a janitor could be called Building Superintendent!) can pursue a speeding vehicle from the Nevada side of the California border to the outskirts of Las Vegas and no more. From there, the city next to the border (Henderson), then Las Vegas police would take over. Some criminals being chased are often bent on taking the police on wild chases and if the two cities fail, and the city of North Las Vegas, then the Nevada Highway Patrol would take over. The criminal’s luck should run out before he (a woman wouldn’t be that suicidal!) crosses state line into the State of Utah. Each has its own jurisdiction and knows its beats and limits well.
A city hires her own police and since there are no unwieldy units, officers know their neighborhoods well AND the people know them. A town of 15,000 will police itself. And, in spite of every policeman carrying a gun and the citizens having constitutional right to bear arms, it’s funny that one does not feel threatened there because officers generally do not touch their guns unless there is the need. The few exceptions become high profile media cases and the city AND the police pay very dearly for the mistakes. [August 2011: A visiting 12 year-old recently wondered aloud why there were “loads of” policemen on the highway to Akure and “why on earth do they have their fingers on the trigger”.]
The idea of a Bauchi man who cannot speak a word of Yoruba shaking people down at Ibadan should never arise; ditto an Ekiti policeman shaking people down in Bayelsa. Greed of policemen is the main reason why people get killed at check points and language barrier could also lead to misunderstandings. There are also the cultural differences, great in our country even though we like to act like the proverbial ostrich in such matters. We are running away from our shadow which is a National Conference, sovereign or otherwise. If we say ‘yes’ to state police, we feel we are moving near dismemberment. If the federation is not strong enough to be a real one, then we are not a federation. I dare say as many have said before now that a true federation would lead to a future where each ethnic group (or nationality) can decide what her priority would be: education, health, technology or religion. A government that is really secular has no business expending resources on pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Mecca and a truly federal setup would allow those who want to spend their money on spiritual development of their citizens to do so.
Most of these killings by policemen while shaking down motorists have always been in the southwest and I raise another voice in support of those who have clamoured for a decentralization of the police force. Defence of the country against EXTERNAL aggressors is the only force that should be centralized.
The Comet on Sunday, March 2002.