Nigeria is in search of the good cop. The cop who will be a terror to terrorists; bad news to criminals and all those who insist that other citizens will not have a peaceful night rest after the hassles of the day. Every year huge budgetary provision is made by the government in pursuit of the above objective. Every year, we move farther from the dream of having the good cop in our land.
Sadly, the heftier the budget, the more illusory the search for the good cop turns. What an irony in a nation of ironies! Don’t ask the reason for this paradox. We all know it: Corruption. Stealing. Looting. Those who are entrusted with providing an effective and efficient policing system are also the ones killing our hopes and dreams. Except anyone wants to be hypocritical or sycophantic, this is not the police of our dreams; the police that makes us proud. I am not saying we don’t have a few brilliant, efficient cops in the system who are doing the job with all their heart and might; who are literally squeezing water out of stone to tackle the menace of the bad boys.
Of course, it will be wrong to say there are no shining stars in the police world. However, we have to admit that in totality, the police system is not working; the police is weak and underperforming like many of our institutions. We have a police without moral force, only brute force; a demoralised and demobilised organisation; a police ill-trained, ill-fed, ill-motivated and thoroughly angry. Not at the criminals, but with the society. With you and I; with all of us unarmed, hapless citizens.
With their guns at the check points, it’s the familiar song of ‘wetin you carry; anything for the boys.’ When the motorist proves stubborn, bullets are accidentally discharged. When criminals strike and you make a case at the station, you have to provide money for writing sheets and biro, fuel the vehicle and provide logistics. Five minutes after an operation, and the evil men have melted into the night, the cops arrive in screaming siren and long guns at the ready to do battle. With the men who had since evaporated into the thin air. What a display of gallantry. To change its poor image, the police high command came up with the PR slogan: ‘the police is your friend.’
Truth be told, not many Nigerians believe that. Friends don’t intimidate friends with guns to part with money at road blocks, check points or whatever they are called; friends don’t shoot friends in moments of provocation or mild arguments, even wilfully and dismiss the whole case under a bogus ‘ accidental discharge’ ; friends don’t help suspected criminals pervert the cause of justice by not bringing them to book.
With a litany of unresolved murders dotting the police crime diaries, it will be difficult for many Nigerians who have been at the receiving end of police misbehaviour to buy into ‘the police is your friend’ slogan. Instead, I have heard people say police is our fiend, not friend. You can’t blame them. He who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. However, the problems of the police are both internal and external.
Wasn’t it the late Afro-beat king, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who sang, ‘police station don turn to bank; IG na managing director; DPO na bank manager?’ He was then referring to the corruption and greed in the top echelon of the Force. That image of the organisation hasn’t quite changed in the eyes of the Nigerian public. It is also not helped by the fact that we have seen a couple or so Police Chiefs cascading down the valley of infamy with corruption cases trailing them.
Tafa Balogun’s fall from grace to disgrace easily comes to my mind as an example of monumental corruption enveloping the police. A police IG fired over allegation of corruption is foul news to the nostrils of both the police and the society. It is doubtful if the police has recovered from ‘Tafagate.’ Beyond Tafa, there have also been allegations that funds allocated to the police for sundry purposes have often disappeared into private pockets, with little, if anything, left for training, decent accommodation and other welfare needs of the Force, especially the rank and file.
Last year, for example, over N300b was allegedly budgeted for police. It is not certain how much was eventually released, but even at that facilities at police colleges and barracks have remained abysmally poor. Where did the police funds go? If they haven’t been growing wings over the years, how come the police remain one of the most tattered public institutions in Nigeria? How come the cops you meet on the streets don’t inspire hope and confidence?
A former Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, has called for a probe of past Inspectors-General of Police, IGPs, to find out who messed around with fund meant for the upgrading of the police. In an interview with the Saturday Leadership newspapers, Ehindero believes that would be one sure way of unearthing corruption in the Force and the itchy fingers that impoverished the organisation. We all must welcome the probe, and whoever is found wanting must be made to face the music.
Hot music. The police institution is too important and too critical to the life of our nation to be left to wheeler dealers in or out of police uniform. If the police is weak and corrupt as we find it today, we don’t need to search far for reasons our country is fast turning to the nasty and brutish Hobbesian world. But even as we lambast the police for its poor performance, we must in the same vein deprecate the hypocrisy of government and the larger society. We all castigate the police as if the people in the police are not Nigerians and products of the Nigerian society.
The police is corrupt, but which government agency is corruption-free? Corruption permeates every nook and cranny of this country: politics, economy, you name it. We want a functional police, but treat cops as sub-human beings. They live in barracks that are little better than pigsties with their families; feeding is a nightmare, while educational opportunities are virtually non-existent.
The government that fails to provide them decent wages and living environment also arms them with weapons to go tackle criminals. What happens is simple: many cops either look the other way when evil men strike or simply turn the energy needed to combat crimes to aggressive revenue-generation, because they have families to take care of. We all become collective victims in the crime-fighting enterprise Because Nigeria is largely a hypocritical country where those privileged to hold high offices play politics with everything, everyone is talking and acting as if they didn’t know the police was sick and needed urgent intensive care.
We are all behaving as if we all just dropped from the skies, that we never knew or heard that the police college and barracks was rotten. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan said he was shocked at the eyesore of the Police College, Ikeja, where recruits and cadets are quartered and trained as if they were in a refugee camp. I withdraw my statement. To describe prospective police men as living as if they were in a refugee camp is insulting to refugee camps. Even some refugee camps appeared neater and more habitable than the hostels and classrooms we saw on television during the presidential visit.
War-torn residences appear a better description. How cops trained in that environment are expected to be human and humane beats the imagination. When the cops bark at motorists or appear short-fused, we know where they got their training. Even the barracks, as pointed out earlier, can hardly inspire anyone with a sense of duty and professionalism. But to pretend as if they didn’t know that all has never been quite well with the police is far more shocking than the discovery of police squalor.
Is Jonathan saying that before he became president, he never had anyone from Bayelsa State or anywhere in the country in the Force, who could have told him about the dehumanising conditions in the barracks and training schools? Was he just learning about the police condition? Which Nigerian, for a long time now, can swear that he or she didn’t know that the police is among the most lowly rated organisations in terms of remuneration and other packages?
How many Nigerians, if they had a choice, would gladly enrol in the organisation the same way they jostle for immigration, customs or military employment? Could that not have convinced anyone that the police profile hadn’t always been on the rise? However, now he knows, we expect the president to declare an emergency in the police, clean up the whole mess. The first step, as he has rightly done, is the setting up of a probe panel. The second logical step would be to fire the minister of police affairs and scrap that ministry. If the premier police college could be in such shabby state, what affairs has he been policing? With the scrapping of the police affairs ministry, it would then be easy to hold the Inspector-General responsible for any lapses.
There would then not be this buck-passing over who controls the funds or who is responsible for the police mess. We also expect whatever outcome of the probe to make a strong case for police training, welfare and remuneration. Henceforth, the minimum requirement for entry into the police should not be less than a first degree. The reason is obvious: fighting crimes and criminalities has become too sophisticated and only those with strong passion and commitment would then take the bold plunge into the Force.
If salaries are enhanced, and welfare is assured, that is housing and education of police wards, any cop caught in the corrupt act would have no excuse for his action. He would be rightly guillotined: sent to jail with the maximum punishment. The state of Georgia in the old Soviet Union is one country where the above measures worked. Georgia, before the clean up, was the headquarters of police corruption.
Then, they enhanced the image of the police through good remuneration and welfare incentives, and imposed severe punishment as disincentive to unprofessional conducts. The cops behaved and the story is different today. Our police could be different tomorrow if we do the right thing in search of the good cop today.