•Officers bathe in the open, 40 share toilet
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
They could best be described as refugee camps in a poor, war-torn country. Welcome to the dwelling places of Nigerian policemen and women called “police barracks.” They are in most cities of the country – decrepit, revolting, steaming. They are not any different from the scandal that is the Police College in Lagos. So, just as the country saw recently from a television broadcast of the college, so are the residential quarters of officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force. Indeed, police barracks across the country present pictures of filth and decay.
They tell the story of dilapidated buildings, stinking gutters and open sewages; broken staircases and railings, damaged roof, mountains of refuse and many other such sights that speak clearly and loudly of the neglect of these facilities. Many police barracks lack basic amenities. There are no potable water, kitchens, toilet facilities and spaces for recreation. Where these exist, they are not only inadequate, but in a state of disrepair also.
A demonstration of this: residents of some of the barracks defecate inside polythene bags and throw the stuff into open sewage tanks or gutter. They call it ‘shot put’. And because of the unmanageable state of bathrooms, police officers sometimes bathe in the open, and they must do that very early in morning. Last week, Saturday Sun visited some police barracks in Lagos and saw the facilities in their starkness. Our sister publication, Daily Sun, had done an expose on December 28, 2011 on the sorry state of some police barracks in the commercial hub of the country.
Tagged, Police barracks: The Real Police Mess, the story x-rayed the condition of the Falomo Police barracks, Ikoyi; Ije Police barracks, Obalende and Ikeja police barracks. The report stated: “The condition of the police barracks, the major attraction to the force in the past, across the country today leaves much to be desired. It is deplorable, pathetic and a turn-off to very honest able-bodied Nigerians who would want to serve the country in that capacity.
“Among the myriad of problems bedeviling the police force, the situation of its barracks is topmost. Though most people would argue that the force should first be purged of the evil of extorting money from innocent Nigerians on the various police check-points along the major highways, others believe that poor accommodation accounts for most of the unprofessional conducts of policemen. This school of thought argues that the kind of environment they are quartered in determine, to a large extent, their output”. The report further asked: “Why are the barracks so dilapidated and dirty that the fear of epidemic looms large in most barracks? Who is responsible for making the police barracks habitable?
Why are the men who are supposed to secure the lives of Nigerians living in such insecure and health hazard-prone environments”? More than one year after, the situation remains the same, if not worse as revealed by the latest on-the-spot assessment of the state of things in some police barracks in Lagos. Places visited include Police barracks in Apapa (Queen’s Barracks), Mopol 2 barracks in GRA, Ikeja; Iponri barracks, Area C Command barracks, Ojuelegba and Police Training College barracks in Ikeja.
At all the places visited, police officers were looking demoralized and frustrated. Apparently hoping for a reversal of fortune, they willingly took us round their squalid, lamentable accommodation. However, all those who spoke did so on condition of anonymity for fear of being punished by the powers-that-be. It was also gathered that despite the sorry state of things, police officers living in barracks are made to pay through the nose.
An inspector said that he had been living in Iponri barracks for the past 20 years and has never heard or seen any renovation in the barracks. “As an inspector, I pay as much as N15, 000 every month for a room in the barracks. We are not animals and shouldn’t be treated as such. All we ask is that the money that is being deducted from our salaries for years should have been used to erect new structures or, at least, renovate the existing ones,” he intoned. On what he was still doing in the barracks when he could get a better accommodation elsewhere with that kind of money, he answered: “I am in the anti-robbery department, hence the enemy of robbers.
How do you expect me to expose myself or my family to harm’s way knowing that they would harm me if spotted by men of the under- world. I would rather manage this slum than risk the lives of members of my family.” Another police inspector who also resides at Iponri barracks blamed the state of the barracks on the leadership of the police, which he accused of diverting welfare fund to their personal use. “Go around and see the barracks where our leaders are living, they are maintained on a regular basis. They are living large except the unfortunate ones who are in the bad book. It is true that I pay N15,000 a month for a space in the barrack, which would be about N180,000 in a year.
It is only in Ogun State that you can get a decent accommodation at that price and besides, which police officer is willing to give you the entire amount together knowing full well that no landlord would allow you into his property without paying for up to a year rent in advance.” At Queen’s barracks, a Chief Superintendent of Police, who also spoke with Saturday Sun wondered why the former IGs suddenly turned against the men as soon as they were appointed. He claimed that most of them were activists who fought for the good of their men when they were Commissioners of Police. He thundered: “I do not know what is wrong with our IGs.
I had the opportunity of working with the past two IGs and they were good people who had the welfare of their boys at heart. But as soon as they became the IG, a lot of things changed. I pray that God almighty would not allow IG Abubakar to toe that line. Every area he was posted to, he would change the environment, renovate the offices and equip his men. We were all happy when he was appointed, but it is getting to a year since he was appointed and nothing has been done to take care of our welfare at least where we live. How can Nigerians respect us when we are living in a dump with no toilet and bathroom? We live like animals over here and I do not blame the public for treating us as such. Go and visit the naval barracks and you will understand why Nigerians respect them.
It’s really unfortunate.” A female officer, who also lives at Queens barracks, submitted that the name of the barracks should be changed to Beggars barracks as most beggars who people think do not have a choice live better than the police. “We are about 40 persons sharing one toilet. It’s so bad that I now rely on the nearest fast food joint to ease myself. In case of emergency, I would make use of paper, wrap it and throw it into the soak-away that is already open. I am a Deputy Superintendent of Police; all I did was to move my children to the village to live with my mother.
No child that is brought up in this environment would turn out good. It takes the grace of God for any child to make progress here. This is why people condemn us, including our families. In this job, you have no right to complain or you will be transferred to Maiduguri where Boko Haram would finally end your life. This is why some police officers ran away when they saw you. It is terrible but I strongly believe that if President Jonathan would allow the current IGP to function, then life would be better especially in the barracks,” she lamented.
A corporal at Ojuelegba pleaded that a temporary renovation should be done pending when new structures, which are long-term projects, will be completed. Said he: “We heard that the IG has promised to build a state-of-the-art barracks for us but the truth remains that it would take years before the house is completed. Maybe his tenure must have expired and another IG will come and destroy his dream. We are ready to manage the limited rooms but let there be maintenance or renovation of the building. We have enough space in the compound where extra toilets and bathroom can be erected. Then they would change the old ones.
Do you know that the only source of getting water here is from the well or you buy from the borehole across the road? They are busy sinking boreholes for communities forgetting that the barracks is a community of its own. If we cannot get a good environment to sleep and potable water to drink, how do you expect us to perform wonders out there?” Yet, another female officer at Mopol barracks suggested that the former IGs should be made to answer for the lack of maintenance of police barracks across the country.
According to him, “recently, the IG launched the new code of conduct and expects us to obey. He should set up a panel that would probe the former IGPs who kept us in the state we are today. Most of the men who are security details of the president, governors, ministers and members of the National Assembly are all living in these barracks.
They have reduced us to beggars who have no choice, if not why should a policeman be made to do domestic work for a civilian? This is the only way he can get a better life. Visit some of the oil companies and see how their security officers are treated. That is why they will do all it takes not to fail. I assure you that as long as the welfare of the police remains the same, that code of conduct will fail woefully.”