Frank talk

Nigeria Police: The most misunderstood

Ordinarily, I have no business going to the police barrack for any reason. For one thing, I belong to the older generation that keeps the law, obeys the law and respects the law. Besides, I have a personal principle never in life to bail anybody out of police cell or police matter. And very fortunately, directly or indirectly, I have kept out of police “come today come tomorrow” wahala since my life.

Somehow, few months ago, I had reason to pay a visit a police barrack for what I could describe as a routine visit for a routine issue. On reaching the station, I was shown an office described as Inspectors’ room. I quickly remembered that an Inspector in police is the end of the other rank so to speak. Once one moves away from the rank of an Inspector, one becomes an Officer, beginning with the rank of an ASP. So I expected to see a well furnished office for the Inspectors.

Oh no, what I saw was highly reprehensible. I saw over eight Inspectors crowded in about 12 x 12 room well compact, each sitting close to the other, sharing tables. In addition were some either suspects, witnesses or complainants. For such, everybody in the room was hearing what other person was saying or the subject of interaction.

To say that the room was stuffy is to put the matter very mildly. Indeed, it was hot and stuffy, because everybody in the room was sweating profusely, struggling with files and biro-pens, trying to beat off dropping sweat. It was a hot room which nobody could stay and work not to talk of  thinking reasonably.

The Inspector I had gone to see, on reaching the office, he smartly asked me to follow him to another room that was less congested but which could only befit for a retiring court messenger in a native court of the old. With apology, he asked me to manage that one. The office too was equally very hot since there was no light to work the fan.

Honestly, in order not to earn my vilification, we hurried the discussion. But before I left, I managed to ask him few questions which included, “has the police reform not reached here or has it not commenced?” He was a little bit sarcastic, saying that if I could wait a little bit, that question could only be answered by their Oga who incidentally was not in the office. Then I paused and swallowed my next question which was, “if Inspectors’ office is like this, who knows how the police cell would be”? As I left the station, I thanked my God that I had tried not to have anything to do with any police station. But with solid pity for the police officers and those men and women among other ranks.

Thus, the purpose of this article is not necessarily to defend the Nigeria Police no or to condemn the Institution and the men and women in the force but to raise some critical questions which perhaps, in the course of finding answers to them may help some Nigerians to understand the police better. Once they do that, it may help the police to feel a little more confident in their behaviours, operations and relationship with the Nigerian people. As part of this analysis, I have posed three questions: why is it that the Nigeria Police is misunderstood more than any other Public Institution in this country: Why is Nigeria Police underrated and Why is the Nigeria Police often vilified? In the first place, why is the Nigeria Police misunderstood? There are many reasons for this. Perhaps, men and women in the Police Force don’t seem to understand their responsibilities to the nation and to the individual they are suppose to protect.

Admittedly, this has been brought about by the fact that recruitment and entry into the Police Force has dramatically changed from what it used to be. Several years ago, precisely before the civil war, a police man was the most respected whose presence in any gathering engendered confidence and trust among members of the public. Even in a soccer stadium, just four police men on duty with batton was enough to prevent any misbehaviour by any member of the public. Police then inspired fear and apprehension in the people. Police then were rarely seen carrying guns. Never, indeed. A mere batton in the hands of a police man could repel surging crowd of about two hundred persons. Because, with a batton, a police man could stop riot, repel enraged crowd or even disperse a sizeable crowd planning a violent attack. With a shield in his hand, for his defence, that was only what he carried around in a place of civil disorder or violence of few people. If he was overwhelmed, he could call for assistance or reinforcement and tear gas would become necessary.

Then and only then, police men were rarely seen in streets or roads. In fact, they used to engage in patrolling and usually one could found them singly or just in a pair in some dangerous and volatile areas or corners.

Before a police man could be invited into a neigbourhood for arrest was a very rare occurrence indeed. And when he came, fear was bound to grip those in the neighbourhood. Then, resisting police arrest or refusing to honour police invitation was bound to attract severe sanction.

Unfortunately, these days, resisting police arrest or even failing to honour police invitation have become too rampant.

Then also, there were just a handful of police men and women. They lived in police barracks which were regarded as almost a fortress of a kind. Inside barracks were police wives, who mostly indulged in keeping the families, ensuring the washing and ironing of their husbands’ uniforms with heavy starch for Monday morning parades and engaging in barrack’s gossips. Then, to be a wife of a police man was highly valued and respected. Police job was then considered a noble job. It was not because of the pay, but because of the prestige of serving one’s country. Then, recruitment was very strict and painstaking. Only those who have height and appropriate physical were recruited. Then any diminutive person had no business being recruited into the NigerianPolice unless he had a special talent or trade/sports, playing ball, blowing flute or cornett, or a good shoemaker or a good tailor.

Unfortunately, after the civil war, there was almost an explosion of intakes into the Nigeria Police. Then till now, recruitment requirements and qualifications have been seriously compromised. Many people with dubious characters found their way into the Nigeria Police through nepotism, ethnicity and in an attempt to balance the equation of federal character. This made it possible for many character/unqualified persons and others who did not have both the talents and interest to enter the police. The obvious implications of this was lowering of standards, poor performance and image dainting. In addition, it was no longer possible to accommodate men and women only in barracks, hence police men began to like among civilians. This in itself brought its own problem including image and prestige lowering. Because, some police men who live with civilian were involved in certain misbehaviours unexpected of a police men and women.

It is incontestable fact that today majority of Nigerians think very low of Nigeria Police because of several factors, some speculative, capricious and quite a few substantiated. Police men and women were often accuse of brutality of some innocent citizens, unwarranted arrests based on false accusations, bribery and corruption and involvement in the commission of some crimes in connection with some civilians, illegal detention of suspects, divulging information secretly provided against criminal, collecting illegal fees from those accused or any type of offence whether criminal in nature or not before they could be granted bail, detention of those who ought not to be detained in order to exert bail fees, not to talk of constituting themselves into toll gates for “roger me” etc. The accumulation of these accusations against the police resulted in the lowering of prestige and image in the estimation of members of the public. These has given rights to many Nigerians accusing Nigeria police of poor performance, inability to protect lives and property, fight and almost every ill in the society.

Painfully enough, Nigerians have not sat down to reason out why Nigeria Police appear to be under performing. Reasons for this will form the basis of the second instalment of this analysis with scaring statistics. Don’t miss it.