By Ayo Opadokun
It is possible to get away with anything in Nigerian if you can pay the bill. Police and even some Military officers are now rented for all manners of ridiculous or condescending activities including using them as temporary aide de camp to smart guys to impress their girlfriends, as recently exposed by some soft-sell magazines.
CHECKPOINT AS EXTORTION CENTRES
However the most offensive and humiliating matter at hand has to do with the illegal toll collection/extortion centres called checkpoints all over the country. The recent revelations that monthly toll collection by police in the Eastern states is running to billions of naira is illustrative. The situation is most unlikely to be different in other parts of the country.
One is not equally unaware that some people, including top leaders of government and those of the police, regale us with the mantra that Nigerian police have always excelled at peace-keeping operations outside the country. Let us be frank with ourselves. The fact is that while the United Nations usually provides reasonably tight supervision and control over police deployed, there is at best perfunctory and self-serving control and supervision on Nigerian police serving locally. Even if you pay a Nigerian Police Constable N50,000 per month, he would ordinarily still extort money. The leadership is uninspiring and always ready to compromise with evil. That is why many of them are dubiously loyal to any political authority, rather than the Constitution, provided the political authority can pay.
For example, most Nigerians believe that the issue of police extortions on the road and in other places is unofficially approved by the police authority. Otherwise, the police leadership could have been able to establish permanent acts of effective sanctions. It has been painfully revealed at critical analytical sessions that superior police officers do expect returns from junior officers; and failure to perform may mean the junior ranks will be subsequently posted to “non-lucrative” routes.
Again, we know that it is possible for the IGP to meet with his deputies, assistants and commissioners to set down a new rule of engagement or operational orders over crime control and prevention. For example, if the IGP is willing to arrest and curb the menace of extortion, let him try to enforce the following among other measures and let us watch the consequences.
(i) Publish telephone numbers, and email addresses of each Divisional Police Officer all over the country in the major media channels so that Nigerians who have hitherto watched helplessly the horrific and wrongful conduct of the police officers can register their complaints with concrete video recordings of such encounters. The public should also be asked to send the recordings of such poor behaviour to designated police email addresses at both the state and zonal division levels that cannot be manipulated by any one. Let the zonal leadership provide effective supervision to ensure that complaints are attended to reasonably and effectively. Technology can be used to permanently record these sordid events thereby significantly making denials by the particular officers and their superiors pretty difficult.
(ii) Decide effective sanctions, including suspension and dismissals, against any DPO in charge of any road block where there are proven recorded tolls extortion through whatever means. It should no longer matter whether or not a checkpoint was legal or not. The recent ghastly accident at the Lagos end of the Lagos/Ibadan road on August 15 was a painful reminder of how the police can in their dubious denials exhibit their callousness against the people they are paid to protect. And it is a regular occurrence that when there are no accidents as recently witnessed in Lagos, there would be accidental discharge against defenceless people by police forcing a commercial driver to pay illegal money to them.
(iii) The police authority should enforce the prohibition of the situation today whereby each Divisional Police Office sets up permanent roadblocks on our public highways. It is painfully true that some checkpoints are less than two kilometers apart. And the commercial drivers are forced to part with some money at each of these illegal toll centres. One can state without reservation that the volume of crime detection through this extortion joints cannot justify their retention.
I have been reminded that each time, there was a desire to prohibit the checkpoints, some misguided elements in the police service knew how to encourage their criminal colleagues and fellow tradesmen in crime to intensify their level of criminal activities so that they can claim that the renewed wave of crime was due to the absence of checkpoints. Except in virtual police states in Africa, that you find policemen heavily armed on the road and social functions as you experience today in Nigeria. Nigeria is already over-policed, yet we are not secured.
The Nigerian State’s regular reaction to the grave misconduct of the Nigerian Police is usually to set up different presidential committees that end up making copious recommendations that end up receiving uninspiring government attention. The recent conference/retreat on the police provided an avenue for some frank discussions. But a worrisome part of the retreat was the fact that for most of the senior police officers, funding is the major reasons for the current negative policing. I beg to disagree, and strongly so too.
The senior police officers themselves know that there are glaring evidence of misuse, misappropriation and misapplication of even the resources allocated under the current system. Is it not true that money provided for police requirements are unreasonably diverted or different materials are bought against the ones specified in the budget? The Police Council, The Police Service Commission and the National Assembly Committees on the Nigerian Police must provide credible oversight functions and refused to be compromised themselves in order that Nigerians may have a credible police services.
Nigerians are not unaware of the recent effort by President Jonathan’s government to implement the Alhaji Mohammadu Dikko Yusuf’s Presidential Panel’s recommendation on police reform. It is true that immediately after the Civil War, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance, asked the Late Alhaji Kam Salem to produce a comprehensive paper depicting police requirements. Chief Awolowo presented and got approval for all that the police demanded for effective policing.
The Chief told the council that the job of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria had been done by the Military and therefore the job of ensuring stability, protecting life and property rested squarely with the police and should be funded appropriately. If the demand for adequate funding of the police requires a legislation that compels corporate bodies to pay a percentage of their profits to police fund, let it be so now and urgently too. But how far can the government go this time around?
Former Secretary of NADECO, Ayo Opadokun is currently the National Coordinator of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform, CODER.