In many countries across the globe, uniformed officers are not only greatly respected and admired by citizens, it is a thing of honour to serve one’s country in uniforms.
In Nigeria however, not only is the Police Force synonymous with petty bribery and corruption along the nation’s highways, they are, from a personal opinion, the most poorly treated security force in this country.
Little wonder then, that the slogan, the police is your friend, has become a satiric description ofhow the police treats and relates with the rest of the country as regards security issues and maintaining general law and order in the country.
Each time I pass the police barracks at Apapa just as you get off the Apapa Bridge and turn into Point Road or the one at Obalende, the Ijeh Police barracks just sandwiched somewhere inside the highbrow Ikoyi area on the Lagos Island, I marvel. I marvel at the half-open windows, the run-down buildings, the sooty walls, the almost blood-curling fashion in which tattered-looking clothes are arranges along narrow verandas like a forewarning scene in a horror movie. I marvel.
The Daily Independent, while describing the situation of the barracks in 2008 writes that, “The stench oozing from the dilapidated cesspits that litter the environment is suffocating, while the despoliation that pervades the environment signposts the highest level of squalor in every sense of the word.
“To add it up, the people appear hopeless, as they may have accepted it as their fate. The entire length and breath of the expansive landscape wallows in grime, a clear indication that sanitation may have become an anomaly within this environment and orderliness a forbidden exercise.”
Ten years later and it is safe to say that not one thing has changed about the nature of the barracks, as may be obtainable in many of these spread across the country.
On the other hand, a few months ago, I as the Naval Officers Mess in Ikeja for a wedding. An Officers Mess is the same as a barrack or barracks; the living quarters and administrative officers of the Naval Force. First, there were officers stationed at the gate like you would find in an Army barracks. They thoroughly inquired about my purpose for visiting the Officers Mess and who I was going to be meeting with once they let me in. After they had certified that I was carrying no explosive devices in my hand bag, I was directed to the building where I was going to meet the rest of the wedding party. As I walked towards the building, I marveled, this time, at the neatness and serenity of the entire compound, the newly built apartments that dotted the expanse land, the neatly tarred roads, the well tended flower gardens, the cheer in the air.
While speaking with The Sun Newspapers in 2013, a Deputy Superintendent of Police said she had had to send her children off to live with her mother in the village due to the deplorable condition of the barracks.
“We are about 40 persons sharing one toilet. It’s so bad that I now rely on the nearest fast food joint to ease myself. In case of emergency, I would make use of paper, wrap it and throw it into the soak-away that is already open. I am a Deputy Superintendent of Police; all I did was to move my children to the village to live with my mother,” she told Sun Newspapers.
Just about everything is in grubby condition – sanitation, access to clean water, clean breathable air – everything. And yet, we wonder. We wonder why adult men with children who could be anywhere around the city where they work will risk being seen trying to receive a squishy 100 naira note passed to them in the most demeaning manner. We wonder why they ask you to pay some amount of money to drop your statement about an incident. We wonder why they ask you to fuel their vehicles before they come check out your report of an ongoing robbery incident, and this is if they decide their meager arms and ammunition stands no chance in the face of a gang armed to the teeth.
Someone asked me if I thought there was any way to salvage the Nigerian Police Force as it is today, that if I were president and had the powers to make something different, if I thought there was anything left to be done.
At first I blurted out, “They all need to be retrained.”
“Do you know how many Police Officers there are in Nigeria? Where will you get the money to retrain them?”
There are about 370,000 Police Officers across the country. And yes, I believe that they not only need to be retrained, there needs to come back, the era when officers who collected bribes and oppressed the average civilian for no reason could be reported simply by sending the names on their uniforms to a certain number. But is there money available to train them? Definitely yes. All we need to do is be honest with ourselves and begin to cut out the excesses from our many bogus spendings, starting from the salaries of the legislative and executive arms of government, and channel them into more beneficial endevours.
And not only should this money be put into re-trainings, the monthly salary of the low cadre officers should and will be increased if I were president.
According to this website, a Police Corporal On Grade 04 (1)’s Salary per month is N44,715.53 while a Police Recruit’s salary per month is N9,019.42. At the other end of the spectrum, a Deputy Inspector General Of Police’s Salary per month is N546,572.73. But the IGP is very rarely sent into the enemy lair to fish out religious extremists or kidnappers.
But more importantly, I will ensure that every living quarter of the NPF is torn down and rebuilt from scratch and that the environment is not only condusive for living but that officers will not have to ship their children off to a different location because of the grime that resides in these living quarters.
The truth is, we cannot expect the average Nigerian to treat the lower cadre police officers respectfully when the country they have pledged to serve treats the like a piece of trash. And is there any wonder that they are so despised that no one is keen on joining the Police Force and an interest in joining is not only frowned upon but vehemently opposed?
The Police could really be our friends but friends who are struggling with their ow demons or battling their own emptiness will have nothing to give and this, for me, is one of the many multi-layered challenges facing security in the country at this time.