Some argue that the Nigerian Police have done excellently well in law enforcement even though they rank third as the least equipped force in the world.
Femi Osofisan’s play Morountodun portrays the Nigerian police in a double hue. First, in an act of mistaken identity, a deputy superintendent of police, Mr. Salami arrives at the scene of a riot meant to disrupt a play and attempts to arrest the director who had invited him and his men. Immediately Salami realizes that it is Titubi, the spoilt and ebullient daughter of Alhaja Kabirat who brought rioters to disrupt the play which sought to lampoon her class, he wastes no time to handcuff her in spite of all the stale liturgies of threat which the rich or those who pretend to be rich always echo at the slightest provocation, “do you know who I am? I will deal with you seriously” and other such offensive shibboleths that spew from the lips of the irreverent class. Salami, the police superintendent dares Titubi and her threats, arrests her and urges the director to continue the play.
Secondly, the same Salami, in a lightning-swift, hatches a plan to infiltrate the camp of the peasants with Titubi’s connivance in order to arrest Marshal, their leader. In this way, Osofisan highlights the dilemma that confronts the police in the discharge of their duties. While they show a connate awareness of the predicaments that confront the populace, they also easily become instruments in the hands of the rich to intimidate the same populace.
Indeed, it will be safe to say that the police presented in Osofisan’s play and the police in contemporary Nigeria are apparently the same. On a daily basis, the police are torn between two loyalties, serving the downtrodden and protecting them on one hand and serving the rich and protecting them on another hand. In a bid to satisfy both classes, the police are abased and ridiculed by the public at the slightest opportunity. While the downtrodden lash out at the police with hate, the rich who use them as domestic instruments also berate them with gusto. Where then should the Nigerian police turn to?
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Given the security situation in the country, the argument over the performance and response level of the police has become very intense. Some people are of the opinion that the police are heavily challenged in their primary responsibilities to maintain law and order, other people believe that the police, in spite of all the challenges that confront them have done supremely well in securing lives and protecting the populace. While the former group insists that the Nigerian police are the most complicated bastion of law enforcement agents, the latter group posit that the police have done excellently well even though they rank third as the least equipped force in the world. Anyone who has been maltreated, illegally arrested, harassed and brutalized by the police will certainly jump to conclude that the police are evil. On the other hand, anyone who has been rescued by the police from armed bandits, anyone whose life has been saved by the police will obviously jump to their defence and argue that they are angels sent from heaven. Intriguingly, those who belong to the former category are more vocal than those who belong to the latter category.
There are many reasons why some people see the police as evil. A good number of our policemen do not dress well. The image of an unkempt police officer, brandishing a menacing weapon on the streets and demanding money from motorists is a sorry sight. That they also ooze of alcohol while brandishing these weapons is a sad commentary on the entire force. If we agree with the saying that the image of any country is reflected in its police force, then Nigeria’s image cuts a forlorn figure.
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Presently, the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad, F-SARS is always in the news. F-SARS is that branch of the Nigerian police force specially charged with the responsibility of fighting armed robbery. However, it appears that there is a strained relationship between the F-SARS and the populace with the later as victims of brutality. This strained relationship recently led to an online campaign #endsarsnow which drew millions of supporters across the country. To be certain, F-SARS as a combative arm of the police force have done well to check the increasing rate of armed robbery and kidnapping. The recent apprehension of some kidnappers and notorious robbers across the country attests to the fact that F-SARS are very effective when they devote their time to do the job for which they are set up. I have met some responsible F-SARS operatives, well mannered and with a human face. However, some miscreants can be found among them. The image of some F-SARS personnel, roughly dressed in black T-shirts and jeans wielding sophisticated weapons, blocking the road and harassing innocent people is worrisome. To this group of F-SARS personnel, every youth is into some form of fraud. They seize laptops, phones and insist to even go through their contents. It is indeed sad. If the F-SARS, who are set up to combat armed robbery turn on the people they are paid to protect, it is not good. Nowadays, some of them block the road and ask drivers for their licence. One wonders if it is their responsibility to check the licence of drivers.
It is reprehensible that 30,000 policemen were deployed recently for Ekiti State election, where scenes of recent herdsmen’s killings in Plateau and other states do not have such police presence. Did the presence of the police stop the vote-buying that took place during the election?
The government should, with immediate effect, restructure the police force. Their salaries should be increased by 200%, their working conditions should be improved, too. A situation where police officers provide their uniforms is totally unacceptable. It is against natural justice for politicians and other government officials to earn huge amount of money while the police who have the responsibility of protecting lives and properties earn peanuts. The patrol vehicles of the police are not always in good condition while politicians use bulletproof cars and SUVs worth several millions of taxpayers’ money. A visit to a typical police barrack will purge our emotions. We should not expect the best from anyone living in such environment. The government must rise to the occasion and restructure the police force for effective policing. It should consider the idea of state police.