Whatever has to do with the Nigerian police now calls for extra caveat. As I write this, stretched on bed in my in-law’s moderately blue-blooded residence in the Surulere axis of Lagos, the thought of the Nigerian police flashed through my mind and I quickly made the sign of the cross. The concern here is that the name or spectacle of an officer isn’t very palatable anymore because of what Nigerians have witnessed in recent times. In the last couple of months, I, as a person have come to dread the police seriously. Except for the traffic wardens, one that we grew up to know as ‘Yellow Fever,” anytime I see a police either in uniform or mufti – especially those in some classified units – a shiver runs down my spine. Without contraband in my custody, I develop cold feet and that extends to even Custom officers as well, whom I have seen get involved in bloody altercations with smugglers in recent times. Unfortunately, their stray bullets most times send innocent citizens to the great beyond. When I say “their,” it encompasses both Custom officers and smugglers who on a regular basis exchange gunfire.
The Police itself are in the know. It could have prompted the tips offered on twitter by the spokesperson of the NPF, Frank Mba, for safe and cordial interaction with the police at different encounters. He couldn’t agree less that, “Ordinarily, encounters between the citizens and the Police or other law enforcement agents should be reassuring and delightful. In fact, the mere sight of the Police ought to generate in the citizen an instant feeling of relief, safety and security. This unfortunately, is not the reality in Nigeria today.”
It is needless to mention avoidable instances involving police officers. In Lagos alone, there were alarmingly several incidents of extra judicial killings. One involved a commercial motorcyclist identified as Ademola Moshood. Moshood had just called it a day and was close to his house in the wee hours of Thursday, March 28, 2019, when he was stopped by some trigger-happy policemen attached to Soloki Police Station, Kilo, Lagos. Just a few minutes of argument over a N200 bribe (Do you even call it bribe again? Something that has become a right to the police either you breach the law or not) earned him a bullet in the skull. Earlier in March, a policeman had shot a bus driver dead in Mosan, Ayobo area of Lagos for refusing to part with money. Two weeks after, a teenager was hit by a stray bullet during a shootout between policemen and some cultists in Ikorodu.
Another was that of Kolade Johnson, a promising young man who stayed in South Africa, 6,674 kilometers away from home for years and escaped death in a country synonymous with xenophobic attacks, only to return to his fatherland and be killed by a ruthless man inauspicious enough to be carrying the bamboo stick that vomits fire. Yoruba will say “a nsun ni ile eni, ka fi orun ro.” (You don’t stay in your house and sustain neck injury), but that was not the case in Kolade’s tribulation when he ventured to a nearby viewing centre to watch a football match; Just a football match on TV. Tongues were still wagging when a lady in her early 20s, Ada Ifeanyi was shot dead while returning from a night club in the early hours of Saturday, April 13, at Wilmer area of Ajegunle. His boyfriend, Emmanuel Akomafuwa who was driving cheated death by the whiskers, and is still receiving treatment for the bullet wounds sustained.
Oh, it just dawned on me that the gory tales of extra judicial killing spree has not ended. One Ogar Jumbo, a Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, officer was beaten to death by some officers at a military checkpoint close to Iyanya market in Abuja. Offence: He violated traffic rules as he drove his kids to school on the morning of Tuesday, March 19. The whole tragedy of his journey of no return played out in the presence of his wife and two kids. What a memory to live with.
These are cases that gained prominence perhaps because of people involved and the circumstances surrounding it. For several others, it might not have been heard of. Those tips suggested by Mba at times won’t come on a platter of gold. It may require extra endeavour. Imagine that mobile policeman harassing a Delta state University undergraduate because he uses a N250, 000 iphoneX that he “has not been able to use in his 14 years in service. In that video that went viral, I watched in awe as he smashed the phone on the ground. He spoke with so much arrogance and physically assaulted the calm young boy in a manner that tells you this Sergeant can do and undo. Thank God the young boy did not lose his cool. Our man in uniform was eventually arrested by the Delta State Police Command. When queried during orderly room trial, would he call that constitutional annoyance, authorized jealousy or legal hatred?
I have come to realize that an average civil or public servant in Nigeria may just be frustrated and ready to vent the anger on someone else for no just reason. Looking round the office building of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Kwara state sometimes back, I couldn’t but conclude that the sorry condition of living is capable of eroding their emotions and brewing needless envy during encounter with the people, especially, the perceivedly privileged ones. We may however be forced to ask, How many of these ugly scenarios go unrecorded? How many are recorded but gets suppressed?
In Offa town, Kwara state, after the multiple bank robbery that resulted in the killing of more than 30 people, I was travelling alongside two colleagues when an argument ensued between a mobile policeman on stop and search duty within Offa and one of the two guys with me. Over a simple difference, the policeman – apparently from the South-south – looked straight at the guy and said, “I don mark your face. Any day wey me and you meet for South-south, I go chop you.” (I have marked your face. Any day we ever meet in the South-south, I will kill you). Upon discovering that my colleague had him on tape, he insisted on collecting his phone. My colleague, being a tough guy himself maintained the officer has no right to collect his phone. He became desperate and bundled us to the station – same station that was besieged by armed robbers in the April 04 bloodbath. While they couldn’t lock us up because of superior intervention, he became more concerned about the phone content. What I found so disturbing at that stage was that he knew the implication of his utterance but still had the foolhardiness to say it at the time without batting an eyelid.
That was not all, while the matter raged, the time came for officers at the station to add their commentaries. It was expected, I have always known these years past. There’s that multiple personal inputs from fellow staffers when you offend your teacher and he/she drags you to their general staff room. Even a teacher you’ve never seen before will say you didn’t greet her husband the previous weekend at one funeral ceremony. At the station where this MoPol threatened fire and brimstone, another policeman in mufti walked into the counter section, heard the narrative and looked my colleague in the face before throwing the sucker punch: “This guy looks exactly like one of those robbers who was chasing and shooting at me that day. Exactly like him. This is what he was wearing.” How a policeman makes such groundless but weighty allusion, I cannot tell.
But this is not to surmise that the force is totally lacking in conscientious officers. As illustrated, I have been a victim of police harassment a couple of times for misdemeanours, but, if I must be straight, they have severally shown me great respect, not for any other reason but, basically because I accord them the regard they deserve. The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that the police is human just like me and is just doing his job, he deserves respect. I mean, why must someone, a fellow citizen give another a scornful look because he wears the black, blue or kaaki uniform? It is unfortunate that fellow passengers just exhibit utter disrespect for policemen, a generalized error that makes many unwilling to honour an undemanding random search or questioning. Even fellows who have never had an encounter with a Nigerian police officer before, already hold opinion about them.
It is why many suffer the unimaginable harassments we read in the papers or see in videos especially on social media. While we strive as a nation to get things right, I hope we as Nigerians will also try to avoid trouble with trigger happy officers. I have said it before, that I know of few individuals who were dread cult guys way back in school and have now seen the police force as a last resort. What will it cost such a person to waste more souls this time with a licensed rifle? I have met several men in uniform at hard drink joints (locally called ‘paraga joints’) – don’t ask me what I went to do there – before even while on duty, one that is strictly against the ethics of the profession. It is highly unimaginable to observe an officer ooze of alcohol and still argue with such.
Of the forces and para military agencies in Nigeria today, the police is the most bastardized and will definitely take some time to be reformed. The startling surge observed during recruitment exercise for the police is not for the love or admiration of the profession but for lack of an alternative in Nigeria. Many are not motivated; they just want to make both ends meet. Matter-of-factly, most parents reject their child’s dream of becoming a policeman in Nigeria, a job that should competitively bring pride and national honour. While we hope that the Police Reform and Police Trust Fund bills will be signed into law and put to practice, it is also hoped that the Inspector General of Police’s comment on plans to stop officers on patrol from carrying live ammunition, and replace it with pepper spray and stun guns will see the light of day. Until then, police is no more our friend as popularly claimed. The fear of the man in uniform has become the ticket to life. So sad!
Taiwo Adediran is a practicing journalist and Public Affairs Analyst. Follow him on twitter @adedirantai or contact him via mail firstname.lastname@example.org