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Scamming the scammers?

By Rotimi Fsan
EVEN while commenting here last week on the new Police uniform, I knew that wasn’t the only thing to be said about the Nigeria Police at the moment.

There was the raging issue of the fraud in the pension unit of the Force where persons charged with managing the funds decided to help themselves to the till. Much as I found the issue of interest, I didn’t want to take it along with the new uniform matter.

The implication for me was that I had to choose between one of the two subjects as I didn’t think it expedient to focus on the Police for two consecutive weeks. But the pension funds fraud just wouldn’t go. If anything, it is turning out more interesting with the possibility that our law makers in Abuja, never to be left out where pork is being shared, might have soiled their hands in the pension fund pot.

Thus I’m back to the Nigeria Police again. In a sense, one major reason many Nigeria Police personnel are corrupt- one reason corruption is the first thing people think about when the Police is mentioned, is because those in the saddle of running the Force are responsible for the pauperisation of the institution. First the Force is sidelined in the scheme of things vis-a-vis the military. The Police Force is not as well provided for as the military.

One time Police PRO, Alozie Ogugbuaja, broached the matter in some respect as far back as 1986. And that was the beginning of his problem and eventual exit from the Police. Mr. Parry Osayande, current chair of the Police Service Commission, I think it was, long ago made the point that there was a conscious attempt on the part of the military to pauperise the Police.

But after the military and even civilian administrations had dragged the Police on the ground, the top hierarchy of the Force went ahead to pour dirt on the head of the institution. They turned the Police into personal fund generating machines. The height of corruption in the Police Force was reached when Tafa Balogun, one time IG, amassed personal fortune of over N17 billion where many police officers didn’t have uniforms, lived in barracks that reminded one of pigsties and have to commandeer commercial, private vehicles to go on both official and unofficial operations.

Considering the degree to which Tafa Balogun fleeced the Police, it is easy to understand, sometimes, why police officers approach the issue of corruption with a sense of entitlement. For them, extorting the public even at gun point is just one way of compensating themselves from the wanton negligence they’ve suffered in the hands of society- successive governments and their superiors. But after Balogun pillaged the coffers of the Police, the attempt by others to restore the Police to a position of respectability by trying to raise funds to meet its material needs would run into stormy weather. I’m talking here of the controversy that trailed the Police Equipment Fund effort.

The whole exercise was dogged by controversy, accusations and counter-accusation of corruption. In the end what sounded like a genuine effort to equip the Police seemed an attempt at personal enrichment.

Like most controversies in Nigeria, the Police Equipment Fund matter has fizzled out with neither the would-be philanthropist, the social crusader that went after him nor the Police able to tell Nigerians the outcome of the hullabaloo. So much hot air has apparently been wasted over nothing.

As if that was not enough for one institution, the Police is again reeling in the mud of corruption. Not satisfied with ripping off police officers in active service, some people who have come to see the Police for the illegal cash cow that it has been turned into have now dipped their hands into the pension fund of retired and serving officers. Again the figures in Naira are in their billions- 32.8.

That is what various directors of the Police Pension Funds office between 2008 and 2011 diverted to themselves. They and their partners in the illegal diversion are now unwilling guests of the EFCC, having taken out of the retirement benefits of men and women saddled with the task of protecting the rest of us. Why, if one may ask, won’t police officers be ready to kill and maim for mere N20 on the streets?

Why would Police men so shabbily treated, in and out of service- why would they not resort to bare-faced robbery where they imagine the situation favours them? Yet the corruption within the Police is a reflection of corruption in the larger society. The only difference is that the Police has become the spittoon into which everybody spits. It is easy to observe the Police in the performance of corruption than other sectors of society no less, perhaps, even more corrupt. Those quick to criticise corruption in the police are themselves worse than our pauperised constabulary. One proof of this is the revelation that members of a committee of the National Assembly with oversight role over the Police Pension Fund took bribes to pass the budget of the pension fund office.

If these law makers (effectively law breakers if found culpable) could ask for and accept unapproved cuts before performing their duties, why won’t the managers of the funds help themselves to it? To demand bribe from the funds managers is to legitimise the illegal diversion of funds by them.

The irony of this is that gun-toting police officers notorious for collecting wretched N20 bills on the streets in the broad light of day, are now being fleeced in the billions of Naira by people who wield nothing more than a biro or a computer cursor. Some might see this as poetic justice but where the evil one suffers, the righteous sometimes share in the suffering.

For we know that there are police officers who never joined in the bandwagon of bribe takers, people who had worked honestly and loyally in the service of their motherland and are now looking forward to retire in dignity. Such people are now being reduced to beggary in their twilight years. But who can halt our mad rush down the slope of corruption where the President, Goodluck Jonathan, sees nothing amiss with receiving the gift of a church from a foreign construction company  accused of non-execution of contracts?



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