By Ochereome Nnanna
RECENTLY, we had an interesting discussion on drunk driving in our tennis club. A member had finished a whole bottle of Hennessey and on a reckless drive home had a somersault.
He miraculously survived but his car did not. While we discussed the issue another notorious drinker said something that went without the import registering with most of us:
“As for me, any time I am drunk at night, once I get to a police checkpoint I stop, give them money and sleep in my car while they work. All I need is two hour’s sleep and I drive home”.
Fancy doing this in America or Europe or anywhere else where the police is truly a law-enforcement agency! This chap would be charged for at least two offences: Drunk driving and criminal attempt to seduce police officers. He will wake up in jail the following day and appear before a judge.
When I read about the dilapidated condition that President Goodluck Jonathan met the Police College, Ikeja in, I reminisced over the proud height at which I saw the police even as a young boy.
Shortly after the Nigerian civil war, an uncle of mine took me to live with him at the Refresher Course School (RCS) a police college in Enugu. Police officers were spick and span in their appearance.
Their khaki uniforms were starched and ironed to intimidating sharpness. The boots were specially shined until you could see your face on them. There were artisans around who carried out these jobs for a fee, but most policemen knew how to keep themselves “in shape”.
Morning exercises, followed by parades and then, lectures, and specialised training on arms handling were the daily routines. Later, I was shocked to hear that people had the nerve to offer policemen bribes!
News sources quoted our president to have exclaimed with dismay that police students were being treated “like poultry”. One northerner on an online forum took grave exception to this allusion, saying animals are well treated in that part of the country: “in the North we allow our animals to drink before us”!
The point here is that our policemen and women have been systematically dehumanised not just by the ruling establishment but more so by their big bosses over the past four decades.
Today, police officers wear dirty slippers and carry guns at police checkpoints. They extort money from motorists and commercial cyclists. The only thing that indicates they are policemen is the bullet-proof vest on which POLICE is boldly inscribed. Many people have complained on the media to no avail.
So, while I join those who commend President Jonathan for going on that surprise visit to the nation’s pioneer police training institution after watching the story of the rot on Channels TV, I wait patiently to see what will eventually come of it, but let us come back to that shortly.
Nigerians and their leadership must renew their interest in the activities of our media houses. Due to several factors that I lack the space to enumerate here, the interest of Nigerians in the media has waned over the years, with some of our leaders so shamelessly declaring: “I don’t read Nigerian newspapers”.
He does not read because he does not want to see the man in the mirror. Some media houses have even unconsciously lost interest in expensive investigative journalism because of this pervasive feeling that “they don’t care”, “nothing will happen”.
The surge of positive feeling towards GEJ’s atypical surprise visit to a decaying public institution immediately brought back to my mind what happened when Hurricane Sandy descended on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut while I was observing the US elections in November last year.
When the disaster hit on Sunday, October 28th President Barack Obama quickly suspended his presidential campaign. He buried partisanship to team up with Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey . Together they visited the worst-hit areas and offered succour to afflicted citizens. The popularity of both men swelled.
Obama, who suffered a major setback as a result of his lackluster outing during the first presidential debate, rode on the new crest to his eventual victory on November 6th 2012.
Jonathan and other elected leaders should do more of this to rebuild the large gulf that has developed between the government and the people. An important way to accomplish this is to find time to read Nigerian newspapers, listen to the radio and watch our television. Use our media. You can only benefit from them.
Now, what will Jonathan do with his Ikeja Police College experience? According to him, about two billion naira had earlier been voted for the rehabilitation of police colleges around the country.
We hear he will summon the Minister of Police Affairs, Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission to hear their story. Will he sack any of these chaps for criminal neglect of duty if found wanting?
I ask this question, bearing in mind that the same president had ordered the Police to fish out the killers of Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s late Private Secretary, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde. They only covered up the killers and punished innocent people. Though the story is in the public domain, the President has done nothing about it.
My second reason for asking this question is that the Minister of Police Affairs, retired Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade, is one of Jonathan’s “untouchables”. As a former military governor of Bayelsa, Olubolade was seen to have done well and bonded with Jonathan when the latter was governor of Bayelsa.
Since Jonthan became president the two have remained close, even at the party level. Will Jonathan allow overriding public interest to encourage him to punish Olubolade if found culpable?
If nothing happens (once again) after this storm, Jonathan’s image perception as an ineffective leader can only worsen.