The lives of important people matter.
Here is some evidence.
There are 400,000 personnel in the Nigeria Police Force. For a population of 170 million people that works out at one policeman to 425 people. The UN recommendation is one police man to 400 people. As the experts like to say, we are under-policed. We expect one policeman to effectively police 425 people in a country where the devil is busy at work directing armed robbers to rob, pen robbers to pocket our common wealth and rapists to rape babies and rapist fathers to rape their under-age daughters. It boggles the mind.
But here is the real scandal. Some 150,000 policemen and women, that is nearly half of the inadequate number of 400,000 policemen and women, are not on active police duty. They are attached to the very important people in and out of government as well as major companies.
Businessmen, some of whom are godfathers protecting their criminal gangs, receive this unauthorised privilege of police protection too. We have the word of the chairman of the Police Service Commission, Sir Mike Okiro, for this.Early in the week, Okiro told the News Agency of Nigeria at an interview: “We cannot afford to have more than half of the population of the police in private hands.”
Okiro said that in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, obviously worried about this, directed that the policemen attached to unqualified people be withdrawn. More than two years later, they remain attached to them. Not for lack of trying on the part of the commission and the Nigeria Police Force, apparently. Their combined attempt to carry out the presidential directive was, according to the chairman, thwarted, as such things usually are for lack of will, by lack of fund.
Quite frankly I do not know what fund has to do with what seems to me like a rather simple matter of the Inspector-General of Police reposting such policemen and women back to the police for re-assignment. I fail to see how that would require some money before it can be obeyed by the affected policemen and women. But then I am not a police man. I confess my ignorance of how such orders are given and carried out by the police. Still, I do not think the lack of fund tells the whole truth. There seems to be a hidden force that makes it difficult for both the commission and the inspector-general of police not to ignore the presidential order. Perhaps, you too smell a rat here. And wherever one smells a rat you can be sure the ubiquitous ‘C’ word is exerting some dark influence on legitimate actions and decisions. The ‘C’ word is a truth bender.
We are dealing with an old problem here actually. Almost every inspector-general of police had at one time or the other ordered such police personnel to return to their legitimate police duties. Okiro, as inspector-general of police, must have been put under pressure to post policemen and women to former public officers and rich businessmen. I bet he must have had a moral pang somehow and ordered such police men to return to pure police duty. Perhaps his order merely swayed in the wind. Like the repeated orders to dismantle police road blocks, this one has never been enforced. The truth, as I understand it, is that those Okiro referred to as unqualified people actually pay and pay handsomely to the police authorities at various levels in order to enjoy the unmerited protection of policemen and women.
In this country, privilege matters; and those who, by hook or crook, taste the privilege of police protection never want to let go. It is not at all unusual to find former public officers and businessmen attended by almost a platoon of armed policemen. The policemen so attached to them love it because of the choice crumbs that fall from the table of the unqualified but well-heeled men who know what it means to pay for such privileges.
It is the business of the police to protect people – the rich and the poor; it is not their duty to baby-sit former public officers and rich businessmen. The presence of policemen and women around the very important and not-so-important but rich men, has become a cherished status symbol. Status symbols matter a great deal in our country. That is one good reason why the presidential directive to withdraw them has a pretty poor chance of being carried out.
This matter should not be allowed to linger unresolved much longer, fund or no fund. Perhaps Okiro and the inspector-general of police might wish to take their difficulty in carrying out the presidential order to the president himself. I am sure if fund is the problem he can manage to squeeze out a Naira or two to ensure that those who are not no longer qualified to enjoy police protection as private citizens, do not do so at the expense of the larger society.
The challenges before the Nigeria Police Force are enormous. The force cannot respond to them with nearly half of its personnel assigned to baby-sit public officers, former public officers and wealthy businessmen. These people require police presence around them because they do not feel sufficiently safe. But if the policemen and women are restricted to their professional duty in the service of the Nigerian state, they could make the country safe. It is a condemnable waste of human resources to use policemen and women to massage the bloated ego of the important and wealthy people. The misuse of our policemen and women this way is simply scandalous.
One consequence of this misuse is that the army is increasingly drawn to essentially police duties. A few years ago, the NSA to President Goodluck Jonathan, Col Sambo Dasuki, said that the army were involved in such duties in some 19 states of the federation. They are now in all the 36 states. The army is an armed force with a different orientation from that of the police which is a civil force. Experts have repeatedly warned that involving the army in purely police duties poses dangers to the security of the state itself. It was understandable during the military regime because military presence everywhere was the ubiquitous face of military rule. Soldiers deployed to check points with police men were sucked into the culture of extortion of motorists and managed to even insult the culture. Thus where a police man decreed ten Naira, a soldier happily settled for five Naira.
Because the authorities did not heed the warning to leave police duty to police men and women, we have been driven to this sorry point at which we cannot do without the presence of soldiers wherever there is a breach of security or potential threat to peace in the country. The implication is that we have gradually marginalised and lost our confidence in the ability of our policemen and women to sufficiently respond to such breaches in a manner that makes us feel safe. We tend to trust the soldiers more and make the police force look incompetent. It is a disaster. There are fine and competent and committed officers and men and women in the Nigeria Police Force who place a premium on their professional integrity. We cynically deny them the opportunity to prove themselves. It is not right.
In his book, Revolution, published during his presidential electioneering campaigns, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, made the same argument about not using the military for police duties in his country. He pointed out the dangers of doing so in matters within the mandate and the competence of the police authorities. There is no way to put this delicately. This country is rapidly turning into a den of all sorts of criminals – big thieves and petty thieves with uniformed personnel thrown into the mix. We should get back urgently to the point where we feel confident enough to rely on our policemen and women to end the current reign of a determined assault on our freedom of movement by various elements in the under-world. We need our policemen and women more than ever before to police us and make us feel safe and fully protected in our homes, in our offices and on our roads and streets. It is just not right that we commit nearly half of our police force to baby-sitting duties. It is wrong. (First published in The Guardian of February 16, 2018, titled: Turning our police men into baby-sitters.)
Agbese can be reached via Email: [email protected]