Since its inception, this column has never disguised its admiration and respect for conscientious people, men and women whose choices and actions betray evidences of sincerity of purpose and genuine resolve to volunteer positive and wholesome inputs wherever they find themselves, and in whatever office they occupy. Unfortunately, Nigeria has been cursed with a growing number of morally bankrupt public officers, evil-minded, greedy and utterly selfish men and women, clearly licensed to supervise the total ruination of the country. Such people merit only our perpetual contempt and disgust. But those few who dare to be different, who are minded to seek the good and survival of the country and its citizens, deserve our encouragement and prayers. In fact, even when we are yet to begin reaping the healthy dividends of their decent and healthy services, we can at least be encouraged by the reassuring feeling welling up inside us that if they remain focused and refuse to submit to the perennially evil scheming of their clearly unpatriotic and self-serving superiors, the nation may yet have cause to smile and live.
Following the colossal and devastating fall of former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun (known in some circles as Big Tafa), Mr. Sunday Ehindero, was appointed the Acting Inspector General of Police. I do not know how it happened, but since he commenced work as the nation’s Chief Cop, I have never been able to shake off the stubborn feeling that Mr. Ehindero may indeed represent a healthy and edifying surprise in the Nigeria Police, and that if the regime that appointed him would muster the will and scruples to excuse him from their usually dirty jobs, and allow him free hand to duly police the country, in no distant time, the nation may find itself suddenly embracing a decent and sanitized Force.
Indeed, Ehindero inherited a police force, badly corrupted and thoroughly misdirected even from the highest quarters in the land, and so one can appreciate the impatience of Nigerians with the rot in the Force. This was the same police with which the present federal administration allegedly sought to destabilize states like Anambra, and dethrone a duly constituted government. This was the same police that was generously deployed for the perpetration of what is still considered the worst kind of electoral robbery in human history in 2003. Indeed, Nigerian policemen had always advertised their unholy and destructive preferences over the years, but they got their worst kind of orientation during the last few years, when they were brazenly used for several officially sponsored crimes and very destructive, lawless missions. No doubt, after those ungodly operations, they must have come away with the rock-solid conviction that this is an “anything-goes” country, that the authorities do not mean well for the country and its citizens, and that they are constantly at war with the citizenry, and so, as policemen, strong allies in this era of lawlessness and impunity, they can do anything against Nigerians and get away with it. Add to this the fact that their former boss is now facing trial for allegedly stealing billions of naira, then, you will begin to understand the kind of orientation the Nigeria Police has swallowed over the years.
And because Nigerians have become so distrustful and even scared of the police, when then Ehindero announced that the police under him will “serve and protect with integrity”, the citizenry, long bored sore and sickened by meaningless slogans that unceasingly ooze out from irremediably insincere and dissembling public officers, simply sneered at him. Nor were they impressed by his stern warning that on no account should any officer make any form of “returns” to him. Indeed, it is widely believed that because juicy returns have over the years been accruing to police chiefs from the proceeds of extortions at police checkpoints and other places, all attempts to curb corruption in the Force have always been rewarded with predictable failure. So, as far as Nigerians were concerned, Ehindero was merely releasing yet another of those slogans, which was no better than the ones formulated by his predecessors.
But, having carefully observed Mr. Ehindero’s moves and pronouncements since he assumed office, I am willing, based on what I have seen so far, to take the risk of urging Nigerians to for once give a policeman a chance in this country. What Ehindero has going for him now is what appears to be his sincerity of purpose and genuine determination to sanitize the Force. I once read a report that during a meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Onitsha or so, Ehindero had urged the body to stand behind commercial vehicle drivers to resist police extortion on the highways, and that if any police officers proved difficult, the union should, as a body, report such officers to him for action. I had thought this was a very realistic approach to what had seemed the intractable problem of corruption in the Nigeria Police. There is nothing as refreshingly liberating as empowering the people to successfully resist their oppressors, and free themselves from further exploitation. I do not know how far this has worked, but I still think that if the drivers’ union cooperates with the Acting IG on this, we would soon see the end of police “toll gates” on the nation’s highways. If then the NURTW reports cases to Ehindero and no action is taken against the officers concerned, we will then know that the man is after all no different than those whose ugly records he is seeking to better.
Not too long ago, I traveled to Ilorin with a friend, and we were pleasantly surprised that throughout the about five hours journey, we did not encounter a single police checkpoint. It was when we got to Ilorin that we saw a Sunday Champion report that Ehindero had ordered the police to dismantle all road blocks and stop checking vehicle particulars. We had such a smooth journey that day. Unfortunately, those road blocks are now back, both on the highways and within the cities, and the obnoxious “stop and search” operations have resumed with demonic vigour. Nigerians are pained that the police spend greater part of their time and energy terrorizing and traumatizing innocent Nigerians, the very people they were hired to protect. If they could deploy half the energy invested in these extortions and harassments visited upon hapless c
itizens into the actual business of combating crime, Nigeria will sooner be a far less dangerous and unsafe place to live in.
For goodness sake, the police should instead show more sensitivity to the harrowing experiences of Nigerians in the hands of armed robbers on the highways. Only last Sunday in Lagos here, I heard another story of robbers who had not only dispossessed passengers in a bus of their money and valuables and raped the women among them, but had also made the whole passengers remove their clothes, which the robbers took away with the vehicle! I had reported a similar incident in this column some weeks ago in an article captioned: “Beasts Of The Jungle”, but the difference in this recent case is that the robbers were arrested a few hours after their victims had been hauled to a police station in large truck all nude in broad daylight!
Only recently, I saw Ehindero on TV telling a crop of senior police officers that he was not prepared to ruin his career because of some actions or inaction of some them, and that he will not hesitate to deal with any of them that failed to discharge his duties creditably. These officers had better listen, because, if this state of combined terror from both policemen and armed robbers is allowed to continue and multiply, no one may be able to escape in the long run. We have endured the dark, perilous period for so long, and Ehindero appears to be the flicker of light we had long observed at the end of the tunnel. He sure needs our prayers. And our encouragement. And the support of those working with him.
Now, today’s article was provoked by a report in the Saturday SUN of July 2, 2005 which I stumbled on last week. In it, Ehindero was accused of causing “the biggest embarrassment” to the presidency because of the “handling of the Apo killings as well as the poor handling of the information emerging from the enquiry panel.” An unnamed source told the paper that “in apparent desire to appear to be transparent, Ehindero has now exposed the force to ridicule.” This, according to the report, has now made the Presidency to even begin to regret the sacking of Tafa Balogun, a famed smooth operator, who would have quietly handled everything, and visited the bereaved families secretly, placated them, and it will become business as usual.
I don’t agree of course. I think the police needs all the negative exposure that came with the Apo killing. In all civilized societies, such cases are never concealed. The open trial of the culprits is one sure way deterring other murderous, trigger happy cops waiting in the wings to wantonly shed blood of innocent citizens. What image is the police protecting, by the way? The Tafa style does not appeal to me. Let every detail be brought out in the open. Those who would not like to be so exposed should endeavour to avoid such depraved actions they would be ashamed of afterwards. Indeed, Ehindero must not fail. He cannot afford to. He should realize that at this autumnal stage of his career, he needs to leave the force with his reputation and honour intact.
A major challenge before him now is to rescue hapless Nigerian citizens from the tormenting fingers of policemen. He should compel his men to instead channel their energies to combating crime. They should go after these armed robber/rapists who further humiliate their victims by making them parade the streets naked. He should end the evil reign of these beasts of the night, and win the favour and goodwill of God and man. He should equally be open in everything and expose all those policemen that collaborate with armed robbers to stab the nation. Let the world know them for what they are.
Mr. Ehindero has shown so much promise, and raised so much hope now that if he fails, it would be such a disastrous disappointment. History is beckoning on him. He should cease the moment and receive garlands from God and men. I am praying for him.