SARS or no SARS, does the Nigerian society care for the police? By Fred Chukwuelobe
In my journalism days, I once asked a police commissioner why they recruit persons of “questionable characters” in the force. He asked me why I didn’t join the police. He said to me, “will you allow your relation to join the police? Who do we recruit? Is it not those who apply”? I did not have an answer. I became dumb, literally.
One year before that, I had approached retired Commissioner of Police, Chief Frank Odita, then Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), with a request to help me get a job in one of the newspapers. He asked me why I was looking for a job when he could put me in the police and in 12 months I would become a cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). I didn’t know how to turn down the offer. Me? Policeman? Yet, I was asking a police officer for help. Imagine what his feelings would have been if I had said to him, “me, policeman”? But that’s what many of us say when such offers are made. He, however, gave me a job in journalism for which I remain eternally grateful.
So, who do we expect to join the police when vacancies exist? The castoffs of the society? Those desperately looking for jobs? Those interested in law enforcement or those attracted by the “egunje”? Ask yourselves and answer.
With my encounter with the Commissioner of Police and my relationship with superior police officers over the years, I have come to appreciate the difficult and humiliating conditions under which policemen live and operate. They live in squalor fit for pigs; they buy their uniforms; they are poorly paid; they are poorly compensated if they die in active duties; the society does not regard them except when we are in trouble and need help.
You need to visit police quarters to see the kind of environment they live in. You need to appraise their remuneration to understand how poorly paid they are. You need to ask society their opinion of police officers to understand how disdainful they are held. You need to speak to officers to understand how their yearly budgets are spent. You need to talk to policemen.
However, these do not excuse the recklessness of some of the officers. These do not excuse illegal arrests, illegal torture, extra-judicial killings and extortion of the citizenry by some of the bad eggs. Even at that, are the police alone in this? Ask traders who encounter custom officers; ask those in the car business who use the notorious Lagos – Onitsha expressway, particularly the Ore – Benin axis. Ask those who have been dealt with by LASTMA in Lagos. Actions of these other officers may not lead to fatalities, but they do systematically. Corruption in the society is systemic. Policemen are singled out because we encounter them daily. This is not an excuse for corruption, but a reminder that we are all corrupt; that our society is corrupt, and the corruption is systemic and systematic and brazenly so.
Police officers know these. Therefore, they react to citizens with hate and anger. Seeing you happy irritates some of them. While they are under the sun, on the road “guarding” you, they can’t understand how you’d be happy while they’re suffering.
Policemen once arrested their commissioner who later became IGP, took him to the police station only for a station officer to notice him and raise an alarm. They scampered in different directions. When the CP returned to his office and called the DPO, demanding to know what they’re doing, the DPO said, “sir, we are inside the cell, waiting for your punishment”.
What was the CP’s offence? He was driving “a clean” car, clean shaved, and they ordered him to come down. “You small boy! Where did you get money to buy this car? You’re cruising in your father’s car and we are here suffering! Come down”! They roared at him. These are the bad ones.
Now, if an angry police team didn’t recognise their boss, what do you expect them to do seeing you cruising in “a clean car” happy? That you have not committed an offence is not their business. That you can cite your fundamental human rights is none of their business. Is it right? Are they right? Of course, no. But that’s how bad the situation is.
One mistake I can’t make is to give a police team the impression that I’m in a hurry or return their anger with another. I did once. They shot and missed. When they took me to the police station and framed me, the DPO listened to my story and being a good police officer, determined that I was right. He said to me, “young man, you could have been dead and unable to state your story. Next time, don’t argue with them, follow them to the station and state your case. Go and make a statement and go”. I did and returned the following day on his instruction. He called the policeman that shot and missed and asked him to reconcile with me – a soft landing for the junior officer, sort of. The DPO is a good police officer. The sergeant that shot is a bad one.
So, when you are stopped by policemen, stay calm, answer their questions politely, even if irritating, and let them do whatever pleases them. But remain watchful to avoid “evidence” being planted.
Policing in Nigeria is herculean. Being a citizen is even much more so. But we must remember: there are many policemen dedicated to their jobs despite the difficult conditions under which they live and function. Few bad eggs in the system give these other hard-working ones bad name, and like the Igbo will say, “when one finger picks oil, it soils the other four.
As we demand for #Endsars, #Reformsars, let us also demand, more importantly, that the entire police system be reformed; that the society itself be reformed. These policemen are not from the moon; they are part of us; they are us.
Posting, promotions in the police, as in all other security and paramilitary establishments, are skewed arbitrarily against the South. It shouldn’t be so. It must be the first port in our reformation of the system.
If you disband SARS and return the bag eggs to the system, you have only sold a dog and bought a monkey; a squatting animal is still in your house, so says an Igbo adage.
Happy Sunday, folks.