Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"The Police Is Your Friend"....You're right!

The recent extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram leaders in Police custody further reiterates the Nigeria Police Force utter disregard for human lives. Whatever anyone might say, the alleged offence been committed by the religious sect does not it anyway justify their summary execution. And I was very delighted when I read that family members of the deceased are contemplating suing the Police for their action.

Anyway, we can all talk and groan about the killing of Mohammed Yusuf and Buji Foi, but what about thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed in Police custody or at security check points for no good reason? If the killing of Boko Haram leaders had not being related to religious militancy, then it may never have made it to the news. As they say “e ni to kan lo mo” meaning, “only those affected feel the pain”.

In desperation to regain public confidence, we can all remember the Nigeria Police Force rebranding programme in the late ‘80s titled “the Police is your friend”. But really, is the Police our friend? If you are a tourist in England, it is often advised that if you get lost on the streets of London, the best person to turn to is the “Bobby on the beat”. And it is in fact true. I have seen cases where officers of the Metropolitan Police have offered lifts to tourists in their patrol vehicles. Now tell me, can any tourist in Nigeria approach the Police for help? Can you imagine telling a Police officer in Lagos that you have just recently arrived from overseas, and don’t know your way around? Can you imagine an overseas tourist seeking refuge at a Police station in Nigeria? The short answer is no. The Police Force that is mandated to protect lives and properties are actually at the forefront of robbery and indiscriminate killings. Based on my personal experience with the Nigerian Police officers, if I’m the last person to help a dying Police officer, I will probably be quick to kill him/her without hesitating. And I will give my reasons. Some might say this wicked, but I will tell you short story.

In the last semester of my final year at the University, myself and some colleagues were very unfortunate to be arrested by the Police and detained in the cell for been in possession of a face mask. We were arrested on our way to party organized by a University social club. The party theme was “Halloween”, which meant we were all given face masks to wear on the night. However for some reasons which I still can’t understand until today, we were surrounded by some fierce looking Police officers in front of a school hostel. It was like Hollywood show on display. In fact the officers threatened to shoot us, if we didn’t surrender! Imagine the Police threatening to shoot innocent university students going to a party. Some students took to their heels, and the few like me who were stupid enough not to run were arrested. We decided no to run because we never felt we did anything wrong.

Before we knew what was happening, eleven of us found ourselves in the Police station, and “kata kata” started. Without any evidence, the Police accused us of been members of a “secret cult” and that the “mask” was our symbol. They also claimed that the party – which was held in a private house – was a “secret cult” meeting. At that point we knew we were in trouble!

Quickly, the Police informed the university authorities. Soon after, the Deputy Registrar turned up at the Police station with a file containing names of suspected cultists on the campus. Fortunately, the list had none of our names. At that point, I thought if any of us was on the list, then that would have been it, as it. It would have been extremely difficult to convince the University and the Police that we were not planning to attend a cult meeting. Although, the school was satisfied that we were not cultist, we were told there was nothing they could do because the social club – that organized the party - was not registered. Which meant it was up to us so sort ourselves out with the Police. And of course the Police had a field day. Following the departure of the Deputy Registrar we were locked up in the cell until the next morning.

The next morning, the DCO visited the venue of the party. He saw the house owners, who confirmed that a party was held and that it was nothing out of the ordinary. They also spoke to other students who attended the party. But in spite of this, they still insisted that we were cultists.

We were told that our case will be transferred to the State Police Command. And that it was a “swinging pendulum”, meaning it can go either way. But if we want the case not to be transferred, we all must come up with N10, 000 each (!). The DCO told us ‘point blank’ that he needed money to pay for his MBA programme. We even begged to pay N5,000 but he declined because he was so damn greedy and looking to maximise his "profit".

At this stage it became clear that no amount of appeal will get us out of the Police cell. And considering that we all had final year exams in three weeks, everyone was keen to get out of Police custody. Personally, I didn’t want to spend my precious time reporting daily to a Police station.

Anyway to cut the long story short, it took the intervention of the father of a colleague, who is a retired Commissioner of Police before we were released. We ended been released without paying a kobo. The greedy DCO who could have accepted N5, 000 and wave us goodbye, ended up receiving nothing. You can’t imagine the mood of the Police officers. It was a phone call from their “oga” that set us free from the greedy and callous DCO and his officers.

So can you imagine, if we all didn’t have anyone to help? We would probably have been sent to the State Police Command. Who knows how much they who have demanded at the State Command? May be N100, 000 each! Even if we were cultist, so it means we could have paid the N10, 000 and walk away scot-free (!).

I’m also sure that the DCO is still in the Police Force. Now imagine someone like that being the Inspector General of Police. Is this the calibre of people we want to entrust our lives and properties?

And after all this, you still want the Police to be my friend? You’re right!


Tubo Azeez said...

I have enjoyed this piece and I have had experiences with the police as well.

The police force in Nigeria is not worthy of being a security force. I wonder what kind of training they are given at the police college. They always looks tattered, unkept, unfit, unprofessional, . You dont need a drivers licence to drive in Nigeria, so far u can settle. Infact you can get away with about anything.

Nowadays you cannot differentiate between policemen and armed robbers. Did you hear the recent case about a police officer in Ibadan who was providing arms for armed robbers. There have been cases of policemen killing strangers just because of money. I have heard somany of these stories and I believe they are true.

At the same time, I know there are guys in the police force who with good intentions but the bad eggs are too many.

Is it their fault? The problem with the police is just a part of the problem affecting all other aspects of the Nigerian Nationhood, namely wicked, selfish and visionless leaders. Remember the case of Tafa Balogun, the head of police who was taking all the funds meant for police contract for himself through phoney companies. I think he would still be the head of police today if he had not fallen out with OBJ. How sad.

The problem is that of leadership. The government has not provided the environment for the police to be effective. You cannot enter a police station in Nigeria and see a single PC. How can the police provide security without an effective information system. Do they have records?

The Nigeria police is in shambles today because of neglect by past leaders. They would rather spend millions providing security in other war torn African countries than providing adeqaute facilities for our police force at home. We can go on and on......

As it is with other problems with the Nigerian Nationhood, our leaders have failed us and it is time we start fighting back because now we can. We are in a democracy, aren't we?

TheJunkie said...

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Guys, thanks for visiting my blog.
@Tubo, You're right, it's time we start fighting back. And the awareness about the need for better governance is grower stronger daily.@

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