It was a scene that I had grown accustomed to; a script that many individuals driving on Nigerian roads, can recount without difficulty. The stage: A usually pothole-ridden portion of the Ikorodu Expressway. The protagonists: the driver of a rickety “danfo” bus and his foul-mouthed “condo”. After all the grumbling by the passengers on why the fare was increased (I actually thought that question should be directed at Rasheed Gbadamosi) had settled down, our bus grinds to a sudden halt as three uniformed men emerge from the shadows of God knows where. “Stop there! I said stop right there”! The tallest of them screams harshly, his AK 47 machine gun pointed menacingly at the driver. The driver complies without a word uttered, looks over his shoulder, nods his head at the bus conductor who quickly pulls a twenty naira note out of the bundle in his hand. The gun toting ‘mercenary’s partner-in-assault is already positioned at the conductor’s side to receive the “loot”; as money changes hands, the three musketeers wave us off and recoil into the shadows, waiting for the next victim. As the bus’ headlights shines on the foreheads of the receding figures, the insignia of the Nigerian Police Force is unashamedly displayed.
The purpose of this write-up, however, is not to dabble into the negative theatrical prospects of the nation’s primary security agency, but to provide fodder for intellectual debate in the top echelons of political power.
Recently, I read in the papers, the commendation that President Olusegun Obasanjo had given the Nigerian Police for their finesse at improving the security situation in the country. I am wont to condemn the applause Mr. President could afford to give an institution that is renowned for its culpability in corrupt practices, but on second thoughts I realize that President Obasanjo is a man who is unfortunate in that he is surrounded by men and women who for their own self interest have misinformed “Baba Iyabo” time without number (the prolonged ASUU crisis is a glaring example) on issues that are critical to millions of Nigerians. Before being labeled as a critic, I would like to say that I speak on behalf of millions who lack a voice in this matter; a result of despondency and lack of faith in the Nigerian project. On the other hand, I place the blame for the rampant assaults by those wicked illegal “revenue-collecting” police officers against Nigerians on the shoulders of the President for lacking the political will to bring the police force to order. On assumption of office in 1999, the President vowed to eliminate corruption in the police force; explaining that reform will include increased pay and welfare packages for the men- in- black; which would lower their lust for the little money in the pockets of unarmed civilians. Four years and a month later, any Nigerian that plies the streets of our cities would tell you that there has been an explosion in the level of police brutality and extortion on the streets.
The irritating part of this debacle is the almost “evil silence”, government officials and our so-called elected leaders have kept. I want to ask the men and women that stroll along the corridors of power in the various tiers of government, just one question: Are you all blind? I am perplexed that no individual in the National Assembly has made the reformation of the Nigerian Police Force his or her sole legislative objective, for the next four years. It is amazing that the President is pursuing an anti-corruption campaign, when the very organization that should enforce the laws of the land, is an epitome of unparalleled corruption. Please if nobody has told Uncle Sege that people are shot dead every now and then because they refuse to pay bribes to ply roads their hard-earned tax payments built; this should be a good time to do so. The management of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) should not bother looking for foreign investments, when domestic investors are harassed on a daily basis. The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) should conserve the efforts of the men and women who strive to sell corruption-infested parastatal at market prices to foreign investors, why? Investors never place high premiums on projects in uncertain locations, and can we blame for their lack of confidence in our country? Nigerians on the streets would tell you no; especially when they have lost confidence in the people they had entrusted the safety of their lives and property.
The influence of the police in national life cannot be belittled, why then are our political leaders silent to the reality of brutality against Nigerians on the streets? Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question. Do they realize that millions of people are looking up to them to deliver them, as it were, from this vicious circle of police violence? Are the air-conditioning systems and high compound walls of their homes, adequate insulation from the anguish of the common man? No.
May God give all government officials the wisdom to realize that there is no gain in political office, except to sweat and sacrifice their all for the benefit of the majority. Police officers should learn to control their “robberic” tendencies and commit themselves to their primary functions of protecting the citizenry. They should take a cue from Socrates who said that, “the undisciplined life is an insane life”. They should throw the illogical argument that their actions are as a result of non-payment of salaries, and begin to understand that no pay, does not permit them to degenerate into the ranks of “official” armed robbers (after all, school teachers in many states are undergoing the same situation but do not resort to “financial cannibalism”). The government on the other hand, should prove itself capable of effective leadership and take bold (even if radical) steps at revamping the police force by first and foremost, stemming the unbridled appetites of all corrupt finance officers at all State Commands and the Force Headquarters in Abuja that squander the income of the many impoverished police officers. Our legislators should demonstrate practical leadership by dividing themselves into groups and spend a weekend living and eating in the dilapidated barrack homes of the officers, get back to Abuja, prepare a dossier on the living conditions witnessed and propose a bill to that effect. If I have a premonition of what Nigerians reaction would be, I could comfortably say they would wake up to face smiling law-enforcement officers. All Nigerians that have their family and friends in the Police Force (after all, they didn’t just spring out from nowhere) have the added responsibility of discouraging them from partaking in the evil act of extortion. The Inspector-General, Tafa Balogun should immediately do what is obviously the right thing and remove the majority of police officers from highway patrol teams and send them into the local neighborhoods, where criminal instincts are nurtured. Yes! We can do this together. All of us. Reformation does not take much except an undying passion for dramatic and positive change. All we have to do as a nation is to individually locate where we belong in this master plan in the transformation of our Police Force and take charge of our responsibility. After all, responsibility is the price for greatness. Yes! We can do this together. I challenge the President of the largest black nation to leave his mark in the sands of time as the man who took it upon himself to give Nigerians the kind of security they rightly deserve. I hope too, that all political leaders across the political divide will prove for at least once that they care. Until the hour that we can all breathe the air of tranquility in our country, oblivious to the trepidation of police brutality; may we be wise enough to avoid confrontation with the “Men-in-Black”. God bless Nigeria.