In a not-so-distant future, during a regular Local Government election in my otherwise obscure hometown called Akwukwu-Igbo in Delta State, a disagreement between two political parties over the conduct of the election and the movement of the ballot boxes led to a fight and subsequently a gun battle between the two parties ensued lasting almost 6 hours. The area became a ghost town as people took cover in nearby bushes, farms and homes of strangers. In a matter of minutes, people had sought refuge against the gunmen to preserve their lives. The police quickly intervened on the matter, putting an end to the battle (6 hours later) and made some arrests because the community knew those that carried guns and collaborated with the police but over time nothing came out of it, which raises a few questions that are on many Nigerians lips:
Why the frequent gun battles between members of political parties?
Where do the guns come from and are people licensed to carry them?
How are the guns allowed into the polling areas?
Where are the guns used for this operation kept in between elections or do they find other uses in the meantime like kidnapping, arm robbery, banditry and terrorism?
Finally, when will we ever have an identity to the numerous unknown gunmen causing havoc in communities?
The answers to these pertinent questions bring me to the police, the guns they carry, the road blocks they establish everywhere to extort money from road users and the abdication their responsibilities to secure life and properties to the communities, thereby making them the enemies of the very people they are sworn to protect which then makes the communities turn against the police as well.
Some years ago, in this very column I did a piece titled “Policing or Lack of and Nigeria”. Today, the piece is just as valid as it was when it first came out. I am forced to use the act of repetition to show how little progress has been made in this area. It began thus:
‘One evening during a recent festive period in my hometown, I decided to visit a friend in the neighbouring town and as is customary for me in my hometown, I drove myself. All over my state, I happen to be known as the Desert Warrior so as I drove to my destination, I came upon a Police Check point, where about four policemen were stationed. As soon as they noticed me, they began chanting “Desert Warrior, your boys are here.” It was the festive period so I chose to pull over and as I did, one of them ran over and I gave him ₦2000 for all of them. Immediately I did, he put one of the notes into his pocket and held up the other one shouting to his colleagues that the Desert Warrior has given them ₦1000. I almost reversed to challenge him but seeing that he was carrying a gun and I really didn’t want to be the victim of an accidental discharge, I kept on going.”
This only goes to show just how corrupt the average policeman is, even to his fellow mates. How far down can we go before something is done to check the level of policing in our country Nigeria? If they are not sufficiently trained and equipped to carry out their functions, how then do we expect them to solve complicated cases? They are barely able to stop a gun battle that had been raging on for almost 6 hours. We live as if we make our own laws as we journey through life.
Nigeria is a country of laws, we have the ability to make good and well researched laws, a bit borrowed from the British and a bit from the US especially its constitution. A good number of our laws came from the military, who structured them in such a way to protect the citizenry, big or small, young and old, poor or rich, if that is the case one is then be forced to ask how we have come to be perceived as one of the most lawless nations of the world and fantastically corrupt.
I have travelled and lived in most parts of Nigeria, and I have observed that those that make the laws, those that wrote the constitution and made the decrees and those whose duty it is to enforce the laws are the same people that most wantonly flout the laws. The consequences of this include the fact that Nigerians respect the law makers but not the Laws. They fear the law enforcement agencies but pay very little regard to the laws they are trying to enforce.
As a young man growing up, I listened to talks about the roles the Nigerian Law enforcement agencies played in the various peacekeeping deployments around the world in the middle to late 20th century. We were told that if the performances of the countries of the world were to be scored or ranked, Nigeria’s scorecard would be amongst the best ten in the world. Just a few years ago, there was a gathering of police officers from many countries for some special police training programme in Houston, Texas USA. A Nigerian police officer was the best all-round student and was given a citation at the graduation ceremony. He was hosted by Nigerians in Houston and I was present at the event having changed my travel plans on the news of his achievements. I was proud to be associated with him and to witness his moment of glory. For me, it was doubly a proud day because the officer was a DPO that was then serving in my hometown.
Today with all due respect, our police force is a pitiable sight. A good number of them are left on the various highways where they beg for money with their guns in tow, harassing and intimidating hapless motorists, their police stations and barracks are places you don’t want to be seen going into or exiting, some of them claim that the upkeep of their stations are sometimes funded in part by the illegal tolls they collect on the highways and the bail monies they collect from victims of their frequent and most times, frivolous arrests in the communities they were meant to protect in the first place.
How did the police get to this stage? In the second half of the 80s, DSP Alozie Ogugbuaja, in an extraordinary treatise decrying the poor funding of the police institutions informed a coup-weary nation that it was in the over-arching interest of the Nigerian Army to keep the police down as an ineffective force. Ordinarily, a well-trained and well-funded police force should be able to detect a coup in the making, prevent a coup, or investigate a coup, whether by commission or omission, this poor funding of the police has continued to this day. Does this explain the current state of our police force? Is there an intentional neglect of the force leading to a deteriorating state of the institution?
Join me next week as I attempt to answer the questions I have posed.
To be continued…