Death In The Force: What Is Killing Our Officers?

by Adepoju Paul Olusegun

I love TV series a lot. One of my favorite in recent times is The Unit which is about the lives, families and covert operations of members of a special unit of the American Army called The Unit. While it is a Hollywood production, its realities transcends beyond Los Angeles; it extends to our security forces

Security operatives are daily exposed to dangers and hazards in their line of duties and in some cases, untimely death is encountered in the discharge of their tasks. According to logic, mortality rate is directly proportional to number of operations. It is therefore understandable that the American Armed Forces would be recording high loss of its valiant men fighting numerous battles, justified and otherwise, across the world. Nigeria has a similar scenario.

The Nigerian Army is involved in several peacekeeping operations on the continent especially in war torn Sudan and Liberia, as well as internal rationally unexplainable ones in Jos and other flash points. During these operations, men are lost. Other forces notably the Nigerian Navy, Air and Police Forces have lower death rates than the Army. But in recent times however, the wheel is turning as lots of policemen are being lost while Nigerians and the media daily taunt the force and its officers.

Unlike most online writers, I reside in a Nigerian city and in recent times, I’ve been to several other cities. And in all, the story is the same, our police officers are dying!

This makes one wonder what the hell is killing officers of a force whose men are only good at illegal checkpoint tax collections, and who rarely respond to distress calls? I once shared same thoughts.

What should naturally be the number one reason in the Nigerian context is the numerous curses the officers get from Nigerians cheated at checkpoints, posting bails, illegal arrests, manhandling, bribe requests, unnecessary delays, and the likes which compel individuals to part with their hard earned cash. Most victims put the officers on death curses that now seem to be at work.

In times past, the ridiculous remuneration was said to be the reason but with over 350% increase in salaries and allowances, greed seems to be sending the men-in-black to their early graves.

The type of guns and police protection is another issue. Most policemen use archaic dane guns used for bird hunting. The states of these guns are also shameful as ropes, rags, super glues and eba are used to keep the guns functioning. Unlike the automatic highly sophisticated latest ammunitions used by dare devil criminals, Nigerian Police officers are clearly no match. I once saw an officer wearing a bullet torn in the area covering the heart. How on earth can such survive sporadic gunshots during bank robberies?

Another issue that the Nigerian Police Force should worry about is that of unwarranted fear. Did I just say unwarranted?

My brother once shared an experience with a police officer in Ibadan. On this particular occasion, there was an ongoing bank robbery around Iwo Road area. While civilians were running for cover, it was a surprise to see a police officer running after the market women not to keep them safe, but to run for cover. The ridiculous aspect of the incidence was seeing the policeman cry like a baby while begging passers bye to help with a spare cloth to cover his uniforms. It is fast becoming a usual practice for police officers to go about with civilian attires, not just to collect intel information, but to prevent being identified by assailants like robbers. Improper understanding of the tasks and duties of a police officer is responsible for this.

During an interaction with some police officers, most of them declared that they are in the force just because of their desire to rise in the police hierarchy. It is good to ambitious but ambitions should be built on the proper premise of job definition. The policeman is expected to protect others, that should be the priority. Most of them are also there as a result of paucity of good job opportunities. This is quite pathetic.

These days, almost every time I pass through a prominent police station, I see obituary posters of handsome young men and women of the Nigerian Police Force, and I begin to wonder if it’s really worth it dying in the service of the Nigerian government.

Unlike the officers in The Unit who worry less about their wives, families and children, the Nigerian officers are subjected to the usual travails of feeding the family in Nigeria a situation that is brought about by the insensitivity, and wrong actions of the government at the center.

Our police officers act like angry men on the highway and it seems like their employment letter is a signed death warrant. They shoot aimlessly because they are frustrated, and armed with bad guns tied together, no wonder we have constant cases of accidental discharges and wrong aims. On top of these woes, they have peculiar one- daily ridicules from bloody civilians.

Basketmouth and fellow comedians make millions by making fun of police officers, newspapers like Vanguard sell by daily drawing defamatory caricature illustrations of the police officers, while online community is thriving with images and accounts of writers, most of whom don’t even stay in Nigeria, of how Sergeant Ali and colleagues struggle and extort to survive.

I once saw a picture of drunken Nigerian police officers on saharareporters. At a first glance, I saw an image of happy officers who just made a lot of money from the checkpoint. But on a second thought, I saw the typical depiction of the typical daily life of an average Nigerian, that of deception.

No one knows what lies ahead. The future is bleak, uncertain and unpredictable. What we can accurately talk about is the past, not even the present. Forget David Mark’s statement, No Nigerian can say unequivocally that he or she, at one point or another, had not thought of Nigeria breaking up. We just pathologically shy away from the truth that stares at us. The reason is simple, Nigeria’s truth is difficult to swallow unlike a chilled bottle of alcoholic drink.

The challenges facing an average Nigerian police officer is enormous. In addition to collective problems, he or she is expected to stop bullets with nothing but tattered uniforms. The fear is deeply rooted and frustration is palpable, it’s written all over their faces.

The way out is not just increasing their salaries (we’ve done that severally in the past), providing more ammunitions that could find their ways into the hands of criminals, or giving more education, it’s solving the collective contemporary Nigerian problem- lack of confidence in the government.

As far as we are concerned in this country, everyone is on his or her own. The resources available to an individual is expected to be utilized to sustain such hence the responsibility of the government is regrettably absent. Contractors use substandard materials because they know it is their chance, politicians sit tight because it’s their chance, lecturers cheat students because it’s their chance, and yahoo boys defraud because it’s their chance. No one is insured, there is no right hence everyone, including the police officers utilize every available opportunity to live life to the fullest.

It’s therefore paramount for the government to address this fundamental problem that is cutting off our police officers in their prime. If it is the only agenda of Acting president Goodluck Jonathan, it could save the lives of not just police officers, but that of millions of Nigerians across the world. And I think, not just think, but know it’s worth it.

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