Apart from armed robbers (and perhaps kidnappers), it seems that the only other class of people feared so much by most Nigerians are the Police. It is ironic that the supposed bastions of the hoi polloi have turned to the singular most menacing force in the country. It seems that every Nigerian has his/her gory tale of victimization by the Police. Not too long ago, the situation was capped up with the notorious killing of the Apo traders. Despite the bad publicity that followed that particular case, it seems that the top brass of the Nigerian Police force have not deemed it fit to look into the continuing issues of wanton victimization of the citizenry, and corruption by members of the Nigerian Police force. And it does not look like there will be any amelioration in the nearest future. Rather the Nigerian Police are perfecting better ways of carrying out their corrupt acts. Who is it, who can question them?
My first romance with the Nigerian Police was in September of 2004 when the taxi taking us from Choba (Port Harcourt) to Ozuoba was stopped by men of the Kalla Division of the Nigerian Police Force, Port Harcourt. That particular night, I and my friend Peter Edoziem spent the night with the police at the Ozuoba junction for the flimsiest of reasons: that I should provide the receipt of the cell phone in my pocket. At first, I felt that the obviously drunk sergeant Rilwane who made the demand was only joking. Little did I know that I was being welcomed to the vicarious world where members of the Nigerian Police Force are god. Rilwane’s subordinates had to openly tell me to settle and get my phone back. Then, I was still brimming with noble ideals of a world that I and Peter would change! I refused to bribe them. That was how we were subjected to sleeping with them at the check point. Sometime in the night, we got angry and started shouting out at the injustice. Our shouts disturbed Rilwane’s sleep and he descended on us, gun butts and all. Let us forget that in the morning, Rilwane let us go home without paying anything. The lesson here is that the Nigerian Police can cook up absurd reasons for holding on to people in order to extort money from them. As a police officer once told me, there are above twenty-three reasons that a police man can call up, to extort money from a driver!
The truth of the matter is that most of the people they parade on TVs as criminals are not criminals at all. Those are unfortunate young men who happen to perhaps be in pubs or anywhere else at a time when the Police need to tell the world that they are doing a good job of catching armed robbers. The real criminals when caught are set free after a huge amount of money would have been paid as settlement to the Police. I am a living witness to such an incident. In 2006, some armed robbers came to Government College, Ughelli, and robbed the NYSC members stationed at that school. I was serving at Government College then, and I was supposed to be a victim. Fortunately for me, I was at Garden Hotels, Ughelli, watching one of the world cup matches by France. As luck would have it, one of the armed robbers mistakenly dropped his wallet which had his identification. The boy was apprehended later and detained at the police station. I was struck dumb (as the spokesman for the Corp members) when the police convinced us to drop the case and ask for settlement since there is no way we would win the case. I was all for pursuing the case to its logical end, but my colleagues were scared and since they were the real victims, I had no option but to let go. This is just an example of what happens when the REAL armed robbers are caught.
Recently, some armed robbers attacked a street at Mgbuoba, Port Harcourt. By the time the Police got there, the armed robbers had gone. However, when the noise of the robbery was heard, three of my cousins who stay with me had come out from my flat to our compound (which is fenced) in order to assist our security man keep watch over our compound (that was before the police came).When eventually the police came around, we opened our gate to tell them what we heard. Unbelievably, the Police turned around and arrested my three cousins saying that they are the suspects! My cousins told me gory tales of how they were beaten (before I came in the morning) by the Police, and asked to write in their statements that they were the robbers. Unfortunately for the Police, the boys could not be intimidated. A week later, three young men (one from our street) were shot down and labeled robbers. I learnt later that the young man from our street who incidentally was a welder had gone to submit a quotation to a customer with two of his friends. On their way back, they had run into the Police who had come in response to a call that robbers were operating in that area. Without trial, the police shot them dead. I am not vindicating the young men. All I am saying is that they should have been given a fair trial. But that of course was not possible since a trial may reveal that the young men were innocent, and thus spoil the Police’s quest to be heroes.
Now, there is something that disturbs me seriously about the corrupt nature of the Nigerian military. This is the stationing of police men along our roads, to collect money from commercial drivers. It makes me wonder why toll gate fees were eradicated in the first place. This issue has become so nauseating that our express roads are littered with them. Between Port Harcourt and Umuahia for instance, there are about twelve different groups. Eleven out of these twelve collect twenty naira each while at the CIWA junction close to Obehie, the Joint Police and Army Task Force of Abia State are parked there collecting one hundred naira from each bus driver. The manner of the JTF collection needs elaboration: the collector seats under the shade of bamboo trees, while his colleagues stand at the middle of the road stopping the buses. Now, the bus conductor climbs down, and then goes to meet the man in the bamboo shed to pay. The question then is what are these payments in lieu of?
I remember again that in 2000, something very tragic happened close to that same CIWA junction. That day, I was on my way to Umuahia from Port Harcourt. In front of our bus was this trailer following a red mini van. Tragedy struck very quickly. All I saw was the police waving furiously to the mini van driver to stop. That was when the mini van driver made the fatal mistake of braking. Immediately he did that, the trailer which was close behind ran into the mini van smashing it. Luckily for us, our driver controlled our bus well. But the mini van driver and his mate were not so fortunate: they were each divided into two by the impact of the accident and died on the spot. In the ensuing commotion, the Police disappeared. The question I ask again is, what is the money they collect from the drivers in lieu of? Is it possible that the top brass of the Police have not noticed this? My answer to that last question is that it is impossible for them not to have noticed. Okiro and his immediate subordinates know about this corruption and are probably partakers of its profit.
On several occasions, we have woken up to the news of the destruction of pipelines by “militants” and “bunkers” and we bemoan that–personally, I only complain because of the threat it poses to human life. It is however important that the nation knows that the police are sometimes the protectors of the people who do this. I will give two examples.
Early 2007, there was a burst pipeline close to the express road at Obehie. In broad daylight, you will see people running to the pipeline, to “fetch” fuel, kerosene etcetera. This was very close to the express road, and about ten metres away, the JTF that I talked about earlier can be found collecting their money. One can hazard that if JTF was against the acts of the people fetching the fuel, they would have taken action since they see them. But of course they will take no action since their interests are involved. The top brass of course may not have noticed, out of their own volition. So also would they not have noticed that the same thing is happening now along the Ahoada-Elele road if you pass through Emohua.
It is my summation that if one takes into consideration the open ways in which the above discussed corrupt practices of the Nigeria Police are carried out, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that there really is no way that the top brass of the Nigerian Police force would not know about it. If there is any way that they can prove their innocence, one can only wait to hear it. But until they prove otherwise, I sincerely do believe that they support this corruption.