On a number of occasions over the recent past, I had written and spoken about the inefficiency of the Nigeria Police. In the same vein, many other writers and commentators have also lashed out at this institution. Our verdicts have always been very damning and uncharitable: that the officers and men of the Nigeria Police are incurably corrupt; the only thing they are very good at, being the routine road block toll collection of N20 from helpless motorists. Its case has also not been helped by the quality of leaders it has had over the recent past. Tafa Balogun’s inglorious story readily comes to mind. The guy fed so fat on the allocation meant for the Police that he could hardly move himself around. In fact, anytime I watched him walk around on television then, I always wondered what sense of motivation he passed across to his subordinates. The Police is a Para Military outfit and some measure of smartness and agility should be a requisite. While the men of the Nigerian Police presented a clear picture of lack, their IG was blooming out of proportion. What a contradiction!
A couple of weeks back, some men of the Nigerian Police showed me the other face of the institution. A pleasant face that has changed my perception of them. In place of the image of the bad eggs who are doing so much to drag the name of the institution in the mud, I now have a view of a laudable sense of gallantry and patriotism of the good officers and men who are doing so much more to make the country a bit safer for us all. Around 20:15 hours on Saturday 15th August, I was driving alone to my house somewhere in Ojodu, Lagos. A lady traffic officer stopped me at Berger roundabout to make way for vehicles from the other side of the road and I dutifully complied. To my amazement, three gun wielding young guys, probably in their early twenties sprang out from nowhere and demanded I opened my door. The whole scene made no sense to me initially because right beside me, just about three meters away, were three police officers in uniform. How could I be robbed at gun point in the full view of the police? It just was so absurd and I refused to open my door. However, the force with which those dare devil fellows struck the butt of their guns at my door was enough to bring me to my senses that I was not watching a movie. Within that twinkle, several thoughts flashed through my mind: do I just speed off and attempt an escape or do I target and hit the one directly in front of my car? When I remembered that I do not have a spare life hidden somewhere yet, I did the safest thing I could think of in the circumstance. I gently opened my door and surrendered myself to God. There I was, face to face with three armed robbers, two of them wielding pistols while the third one carried a local Dane gun.
The leader of the gang asked one of them to put me in the trunk, and when it was taking too long to get it opened, they shoved me into the back seat. As they made to escape through a side road that leads straight to the expressway, they rammed into an innocent okada rider who was unfortunate to get in their way. The rider managed to get up and ran for his dear life, while his bike was trapped under the car. It took a bit of maneuvers to get the okada out of the way and a few minutes were wasted in the process. My plea to them to let me go since I ‘cooperated’ fell on deaf ears. They even threatened to shoot if I spoke again. When they eventually managed to get the bike out of the way, and were speeding at neck break speed towards the expressway, I heard several gunshots from God knows where, directed at the car. These guys sped on undeterred. Gun shots were hitting the car from all angles and I was helplessly trapped at the back seat, with those damned robbers for company, that was a scenario I could not wish on my worst enemy. At this stage, I had already resigned myself to fate. My only prayer was for God to spare me from the tonnes of bullets raining on the car.
But the ever faithful God has other plans. From nowhere, a danfo bus just appeared and was backing towards us, which forced the driver to make a very hard brake, and car skidded a full 90 degrees. Sensing the superior fire power of the police and their persistence, the robbers took to their heels and I was left alone in the car. The police team was advancing towards me- running on foot. Apparently, they had been chasing the car on foot all the while. This sense of gallantry despite a lack of the relevant equipments needed for effective policing is as humbling as it is commendable.
It was later at their station that they explained the reason they could not take on the robbers earlier while they were snatching the vehicle. The officers on the road were on traffic control duty; hence, they were not armed. However, there was an armed team on routine duty around the area, but they could not attack the robbers when they held me at gun point because of the huge human traffic around. They feared that some innocent members of the public around could be caught in the milieu. So, they had delayed their response till when the robbers were speeding off the scene. That, to me, was a reasonable and tactical consideration. More so, their shots were targeted at the tyres, the intention being to immobilize the car. Though one bullet ‘strayed’ dangerously to the door of the back seat where I was seated, thank God I was not hit.
The following day, I was at the station, with a few family members, to pick the car. The officers at the counter were so courteous, and while waiting to see the DPO, we were even offered some light refreshment! I needed my wife’s reassurance to be sure I was still in Nigeria. The DPO spent time with us sharing their experience and the condition under which they work. He even requested to know the church I attend so he could come around and thank God with me when I decide to share the testimony. Let me also place this on record that nobody demanded for a kobo before the vehicle was released.
My interaction with these men of the Police has revealed the reason why they always excel in international operations. If we can get a bit closer to them, we would discover the pathetic condition in which they work. With the right working environment, motivation, training and more importantly, equipments, these guys can do much more than they are presently doing for the overall benefit of the society. Further, it would be preposterous to expect only the government to adequately fund the Police. If we all can reach out to the Police Station in our neighbourhood and render our assistance, no matter how small, the fight against crime would be much more effective.
Later that day, as I looked at my car, and the numerous bullet holes that riddled it, I could not but say a heartfelt thank you to the good God who brought me out in one piece, hale and hearty, in the face of the horrible encounter with these men of the underworld. Also, I want to place on record the gallantry of DTO Markus, Corporal Friday and other members of the Ojodu Police Station. They are some of the few unsung heroes doing so much, with so little to make the country a little safer for us all.
Perhaps, I am now living the popular saying: ‘The Police Is Your Friend’. I have been blessed with some new friends, and they are men of the Nigeria Police, and my challenge to all Nigerians is to get closer to the Police in their neighbourhood, either individually or collectively, to encourage these men and women, who put themselves in harm’s way to make the society a safer one. For once, let us take our gazes and attention away from the bad eggs by the road side whose sole mandate is to exploit motorists and other innocent members of society, and spare some thoughts for the truly zealous members of the force. Only then would we truly understand the several operational handicaps they contend with in the discharge of their duties and the numerous sacrifices they make to ensure life is slightly safer for us all.