Wale Alumi, 46, was at his wits end when the Divisional Traffic officer, DTO, at the Panti Police Station, Adekunle, arrested him for what he thought was a ‘minor’ traffic offence. As his car was towed to the police station, Alumi observed that the first three cars at the entrance to the place where his vehicle was impounded at the Adekunle police station were smashed almost beyond recognition. One of them, a white Volvo seemed to have been abandoned there for a long time judging from the bushes that have sprouted from what used to be the engine of the car. According to him, when he was done with settling them, he went into the barrack to retrieve his car. ‘’I was shocked at the condition of the entire barrack. The place is a junkyard! Apart from that, you needed to have seen the barrack itself. There’s nothing like a central sewerage and the buildings resemble houses have been abandoned’’, Alumi told the magazine.
Elsewhere, the Elere police barracks, Agege, Lagos, easily qualifies as a case study of the near collapse of physical infrastructure of police barracks nationwide. Henry Abowale, said he woke up rather late on a fateful day from his ground floor at the Elere police barracks. According to him, he decided to linger a little while before using the bathroom because about twenty of the occupants of the ground floor of his block struggle for the use of the only bathroom. That move could have cost him his life because barely five minutes after he was done with using the bath, the whole building came crashing down. TELL learnt that though there were no casualties, the 70-year-old building which was constructed as an appendage for toilet and bath purposes, poses a threat to those still living in it even after the collapse of September. Nkechi Okonkwo, (not real name), who still lives on the semi-collapsed building said that she rushes out of her apartment on the ground floor whenever she hears her neighbours pound yam upstairs. ‘’We constantly live in fear, especially at night. How are we to know when the whole of the building will come down and kill us all?’’, she asked, somewhat rhetorically. That apart, residents in the other buildings in the barracks live in fear too. Perhaps that is why Wilson Legemo, 19, a jambite, who sat in an abandoned kitchen that had a broken roof littered with bits and pieces of dirt and pure water sachets said he always had to move from building to building every once in a while in the barrack so as to escape the evil day. ‘’I still have my life ahead of me. You think I’ll just sit still to allow my life get snuffed out like that?’’, he said. However, some residents of Block Y who spoke to TELL allege that Elere Police Barracks was built on a ‘’rejected’’ land and in a span of three years, may be completely submerged if something was not done to salvage it. Ibukunoluwa Akintude, (not real name), a plan clothes policeman said that matters are made worse for the police who live on the barracks whenever it rained. ‘The whole place is one huge mess’’, he said.
Sunday Adetunji, Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Elere police barracks whose former office, now submerged in the marshes that is only a stone throw away from the barracks declined to comment on the conditions prevalent in his police office and barracks. TELL investigations, however, revealed that the car theft investigation unit together with the special investigation branches in the police post are makeshift edifices of planks and zinc. The police officers also declined to comment on the scrap vehicles that dot the entire landscape of the dirty looking barrack, hemmed in from the northern axis by the canal and fenced off by a mountain of debris on the southerly end that makes it easy for pedestrians moving to the main road to use it as a thoroughfare. And in what seems to be a contradiction of sorts, the Police Officers Wives Association, POWA’s shopping complex allegedly owned by an retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, sits in front of the old police station vacated by Adetunji.
Some Elere barracks residents who spoke to TELL anonymously said that they were unimpressed with the efforts of Mike Okiro, Inspector General of Police, IGP, who visited the barracks and was reported to have promised to look into their problems. Omolade Adeniyi, teacher, who lives adjacent to the barrack insisted that the IGP’s visit was an exercise in hypocrisy. ‘’Where have they been all of these years when barracks across the country fell to such states of dilapidation?’’, she asked.
Another visit to some of the most prominent police stations around Ikeja, however, revealed that the stations wore a look that could only be described as ‘normal’. But the buildings too are in a state of dilapidation, even though they are not as bad as Elere’s. For instance, at the Oduduwa Police Station, headquarters of the Mobile police Unit, scrap vehicles almost as old as the buildings line up in front of the police public relations officer’s office, and instead of the scraps that line most of the barracks and police stations, Denton, along the Murtala Mohammed Way along the Oyingbo road is littered with motorbikes that were ‘arrested’.
But do these dirty looking barracks leave any impression or affect the psyche of the Nigerian Police? Is this dirty feature just one that occurs in the city of Lagos or does it have nationwide implications? Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in Lagos Bode Ojajuni insists that there are certain matters to be put into consideration before the cars that litter police stations in Lagos could be moved to the government scrap yard in Ikorodu or auctioned off entirely. He said that the cars that litter the police stations belong to 3 categories, that is, those that were used in armed robberies but later abandoned, those involved in ghastly accidents and those under investigations as exhibits. According to Ojajuni, ‘’our policy is to try as much as possible to release vehicles that are not under investigation or involved in accidents, to their owners on bond even if they are unable to meet conditions for their release. Under normal circumstances, we would wait for about six months before any vehicle is auctioned. But if the owners of the vehicles do not show up, we have no choice but to auction them off to members of the public’’, he said. But when TELL put the same set of questions to his deputy, DSP Frank Mbah at press conference organised by the Centre for Law Enforcement Education of Nigeria, CLEEN, a fortnight ago, he said that the problem of abandoned vehicles in police stations has been an age-old problem of the police because whenever there are accidents, people involved tend to run away because they are in dire straits and may not be able to bear the costs of litigation and repairs of the vehicles. ‘’Sometimes we have had to salvage vehicles from the roads to our police stations so as to avoid further accidents on the roads’’, he said. Perhaps, what the DSP had couched with the euphemism of ‘’poor work environment’’ are the police barracks. Unofficial sources from the told the magazine that police barracks in Nigeria are ‘solid buildings’ which have stood the test of time for the past 70 years of their construction by the colonial government. But these seemingly tough buildings have started to give way with the Elere barracks incident. Ahmadu Seidu, retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, whose comments were monitored on Channels Television on December 1, said that there was no need to invite the Metropolitan Police of London, MET, to ‘re-organise’ the Nigerian Police. According to Seidu the Nigeria police ‘system’ was one that was truncated by successive military incursions into government. ‘’What the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, needs is funding, training and retraining of its men’’, he said.
With the confirmation of the appointment of Okiro as Inspector General of Police, and with his visit to Elere, Nigerians will want to know what becomes of the Federal Government’s arrangement to use the MET to ‘reorganise’ the NPF.