I get amused whenever I see senior police officers decked in one of those uniforms meant for officers of the Force who have attained a certain height in the profession. I get amused because they tend to believe that they are serving the people whereas the greater majority of those they claim to be serving have nothing but resentment and disdain for them.
I pity the senior men as well because they still believe that they have a profession when, in fact, the people feel that the police should be scrapped and replaced with a body that will wean itself of the corruption that the police represents.
My amusement about the unseriousness of the police on security issues even increased the more as I encountered news reports that the police have dismissed the $1 billion ransom demanded by kidnappers of Professor Kaneme Okonjo, mother of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance. I was amused because I did not quite understand what the police were driving at. Did they mean to say that the kidnappers are joking? Or were they trying to give the impression that the kidnappers are paper tigers that can be crushed easily?
I did not see the point in what looked like grandstanding on the part of the police. It is not even possible to see any point because kidnappers, armed robbers and terrorists in Nigeria have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Nigeria police is no where close their fire power. I believe that whatever ideal that drives the police still means something to those of them who sit in the comfort of their offices to dish out orders. Members of the bewildered public do not get to see them often.
They hardly see the Inspector General or even the Commissioners of police. They only encounter the gun-totting officers and men who litter our streets and highways. These are the people that represent that face of the police in Nigeria. Unfortunately, their presence ignites anger and sometimes depression in the public. We do not need to search too far to know why the people and the police are strange bedfellows. The average police man thinks that he can harass and intimidate innocent members of the public with his uniform and gun. He feels that the unarmed civilian should not argue with him or correct him whenever he tries to cover up his inadequacies with lies and half truths.
He will readily accuse you of teaching him his job, and that may earn you underserved punishment. I pity the Inspector General because he probably does not know what his men and officers do out there with the public. But I think that he should know. After all, he went through the mills. He passed through the ranks. In fact, my worry about the police seems to increase by the day. Some of us who feel concerned about the excesses and wrong-doings of the police have never failed to draw attention to them from time to time. But the big men who ought to take interest in the unlawful engagements of their junior ones do not appear to be interested.
They appear to have left the people at the mercy of the bad eggs that populate the Nigeria Police. The unsavoury story of the police is, indeed, an epic tale. I was in Owerri a few weeks ago where I took time off to visit a neighbour whose wife was recently kidnapped. The distraught woman narrated her ordeal. You needed to hear her out. Her experience left her with the clear impression that the police and kidnapper seem to know each other. The kidnappers operate freely because the police seem to be collaborating with them.
Her experience tells her that the syndicate of the kidnappers could easily be dismantled and crushed if the police are really intent on doing that. She wondered why whatever transpired between her family and the police while she was in the kidnappers’ den was no secret to them (the kidnappers). Not too long ago, I used this column to draw attention to the illegal operations of the police in Imo State.
I had queried why the police are on the streets of Owerri and other towns in the state, yet people get abducted easily. I had argued that if kidnapping was the reason for police presence in the streets of Owerri and elsewhere in South East, then we should equally see the police mounting sentry and blocking roads in Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states, for instance, where we also have serious cases of kidnapping. I expect the authorities of the police to address this discriminatory operation. But they don’t seem to be interested.
They think that we have forgotten. They think that nobody is paying attention. We probably would have forgotten and left the police to their devices. But we cannot do so because they keep provoking us every other day. I find it difficult to understand and comprehended some of the stories that we are told by families that have fallen victim to kidnappers. Consider this, for instance. Gunmen abduct a woman, bundle her into the boot of her car and zoom off. Days later, they call the family of the woman to go to a certain location on the outskirts of the city where they live to pick up her car.
They tell you when to get there. What to do when you get there and so on. You comply. You pick up the car and head home. Meanwhile, it had been reported to the police ealier that the car was taken away by kidnappers. The police, by that report, have all the particulars of the vehicles – engine and chasis numbers, colour, brand, registration number, etc. As you drive the car home, you encounter no less than 10 checkpoints. At each point, the police flag you down. They do not take interest in the vehicle or the identity of its occupant. They only ask for tinted glass permit and other irrelevant stuff.
In the end, they remind you that you boys are here. They want you to “roger” them. That is as far as it goes. A vehicle that was reported to be in the custody of kidnappers posses 10 police check points without any of them taking notice. What that means is that the information about the disappearance of the vehicle is not available to the police on the road. Those who have the information are in the office. And because the information means nothing to them, they do not pass it on to those who will track the vehicle.
That is a shame, isn’t it? What does this scenario say of the police? What impression would the concerned have of the police after this embarrassing development? The scenario is one that will make the concerned lose confidence in the police. If the people come to believe, based on their experience, that the police cannot protect them, then there is a problem. They will begin to wonder why the police should be harassing and embarrassing the innocent when the criminals are walking about freely.
If we leave the kidnap zones of the East to the terror-prone Region of the north, you will still see the incapacitation of the police in its full colours. Over there in the north, killing has become an everyday affair. The police are routinely beaten to it by terrorists. Just three days ago, a Divisional police officer was killed along 14 others at Potiskum, Yobe State. Stories such as this have become commonplace. In the face of the inability of the police to rein in the terrorists, the people are left to their own devices.
People and groups now take recourse to self-help. It is only in a country where law and order have broken down completely that we will have the case of the gruesome murder of four students of the University of Port Harcourt. The incident did not take place in the thick envelope of the night. It took place in broad day light. People gathered to watch the spectacle. It was as if it was a game. That was bestiality at its most banal. Yet, the story we were told was that the police watched the murder take place.
So, what does this say of the police? Again, what impression would the concerned have of the police following this bizarre act? These are the questions. When some of us reflect on them, they make us wonder why the police have abandoned the real job they should be doing in preference for pastimes that border on extortion and intimidation. When your perception of the police has been so perverted by the embarrassing indulgencies of the officers and men, you cannot but pity the authorities who talk as if the Force still has any reputation to protect.
The Inspector General, Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, should ponder these and other embarrassing stories that emanate from the police. He should take interest in what his police commissioners are doing in the states. If he does, he will know why the image of the police has remained at a very low ebb.
If the Force does not care about what it has done to itself, those of us who know that corruption has a deadly effect on the growth of nations, are trying to do so on its behalf. That is why we express worry. That is why we ask questions. That is also why we get amused when we see the police pretending as if we do not know the truth.