Opinion: The Nigeria Police Is a Bad Joke, But We Can Salvage It
By JUDE EGBAS
On most nights, as I drive home from work, three police officers lurking in the shadows in the Aguda, Surulere area of Lagos, suddenly jump in front of my car from the bushes, guns drawn, the searing beam of a torchlight flashed in my face, their breaths reeking of cheap alcohol and cigarettes as they draw close menacingly.
And then one of the officers strides forward magnificently, leans into the car, alcohol and marijuana emanating from every pore of his body, his gun cocked, while posing the inevitable questions: “Oga, wetin dey? Anything for your boys? Do us weekend na…Happy weekend Sah…Abeg na…abeg. See enh….”
Sometimes, depending on my mood, I ‘drop something for the boys’ to avoid stories that touch.
At other times, I pull out my press identification tag from the glove compartment, flash same in their faces and mutter a few inanities about how I am also working for the society and how I need a break from being asked “wetin dey?”
“Ah..Alakowee (knowledgeable, bookish person) abeg carry your wahala dey go…Anuofia…” the exasperated police officer says dismissively, before moving on to the next victim.
The death of 36-year-old Kolade Johnson this week at the hands of the police Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SACS) in Lagos, has renewed the debate about how badly we need to reform the police and sift the bad eggs from a pool of very bad eggs in the police force.
Senate President Bukola Saraki has spoken about the urgency needed to pass the police reform bill, President Muhammadu Buhari has made “it clear that the government will not tolerate in any way the brutalization of Nigerians or the violation of their rights (at the hands of the police). Any law enforcement officer or government functionary caught in this act will be visited with the full weight of the law”.
Beyond a structural reform however, what the Nigeria police requires is a surgical operation. One that would drastically alter the mindset of every police officer from top to bottom. What the police requires is the kind of reform that hands them better pay, better housing, an improved reward system and neater uniforms.
What the police requires at the moment is a tough boss who ensures that there is commensurate punishment for officers who solicit bribe, who extort members of the public, who brutalize the people they are supposed to protect and who violate human rights.
The truth is that corruption in the police force flows from the top to the bottom, with the rank and file encouraged to make money for themselves outside of their monthly remuneration packages. Police bosses only talk tough before the cameras, while encouraging corruption from officers behind the scenes.
The Nigeria police as currently set up, is a joke. The average Nigeria police officer lives from hand to mouth. He tells you that his salary is not enough to take care of his family of five. So, he robs at night or in broad day light. He is rude. He is always angry. He intimidates. He barks. He kills the innocent. He begs for money. All of this, in his over-sized, over-used and bedraggled uniform. He is a thug in uniform. A shameless one at that.
To fix the police and turn them from a bunch of trigger-happy brigands to a crop of civilised, organised, courteous law enforcers, the government has to throw away its current recruitment process and replace same with a more professional, scientific one—a recruitment process that takes the mental and psychological well-being of the interviewee into question.
The police force only attracts the worst of the society at the moment because the decent and well educated would rather mind their business than enlist in a force that has been allowed to decay through the years.
To cap it all, the new police force should be handed better ammunition or equipment, handed better cars, trained in line with global policing best practices, taught to deploy intelligence in its operations and encouraged to become friends with members of the public.
If we are serious about changing the tattered reputation of the joke we call the police in Nigeria, we have to go the whole hog. This spasmodic, short-term attempts at fixing what is a deep-seated rot in the police force, is akin to deodorizing a stench. No real change happens until you actually uproot the object causing the stench in the first place.
Is the government really willing to fix the police force or all of this recent tough talk is just empty noise that will quickly be forgotten until we end up with the next police tragedy? Only time, as they say, will tell.
© Pulse NG