By Rotimi Fasan
By March next year it would have been two years since the Inspector General, M.D. Abubakar first unveiled the new camouflage uniform of the Nigeria police to the public.
The I.G. then called for suggestions from Nigerians on what they thought of the new uniform which was expected to help make a change in how the police was perceived by the public.
But prior to the unveiling of the camouflage uniform, the police had introduced a new sky blue uniform whose use was limited to very senior police officers in Abuja and other major cities. I had questioned the rationale behind the restricted use of the new uniform to senior police officers in this column in April last year.
I saw this as a case of unspoken discrimination against junior police officers. This is the category of officers members of the public see often.
They are the ones who project the image of the police more than the senior officers and there is no doubt that this category of officers are often badly served by their superiors. Poorly-kitted, trained and incentivised, they pour out their frustrated feelings on members of the public.
The kind of frustration that accounts for this kind of transferred aggression by the police rank and file was reported in the media last week. It’s about the new uniforms that are now being distributed to the junior officers more than two years after privileged members of the senior officer cadre had been using them.
According to a report, senior police officers responsible for distribution of the uniforms are demanding gratification from their juniors who want to share in the benefit of the new uniform and all that goes with it.
Which is to say that junior officers are being charged financially by some of their seniors, used to unearned privileges, before they are issued with the new uniforms. This is hardly surprising news.
We are used to reports of police personnel insisting on gratification before performing their duties by members of the public.
Not only do they demand bribes for themselves, they also insist that whoever desires their services fuel police vehicles, feed police men and women assigned to particular duties and provide necessary stationery to be used in the course of official police duties.
Thus, police services are limited to those able to afford them. These invariably are wealthy members of the society. Which explains why the police would bow and scrape before rich Nigerians; assign heavily armed officers to serve as escorts to private persons and corporate organisations.
We are therefore daily treated to the ugly spectacle of police personnel serving as guards at private parties and other social gatherings where the roads used by the general public are left to the control of armed robbers.
Following the despicable conduct of the senior officers who want to be paid by their juniors before they are issued new uniforms, the IG has been compelled to wade into the matter, repeating what the culprits responsible for this shame know very well- that the uniforms were to be issued free.
But I said earlier that the conduct of the senior officers is hardly surprising. Some of them are known for demanding bribes before posting some of their juniors to the highways where they demand bribes and are often more trigger-happy than common armed bandits. Which is the same thing as saying that the police is corrupt from within.
The culture of corruption that the public and foreigners notice about police officers who cannot perform their duties without asking for bribe actually has its roots inside the force itself. A junior officer who has been shortchanged by his divisional head sees nothing wrong when he stands in the middle of the road and demands N20 bribe from an okada rider.
The evil the junior officers inflict on members of the public had been inflicted on them by their superior officers who have authority over their postings or even recruited them after payment of illegal fees in the first instance. Whoever has been so brutalised as these junior officers can effectively turn a blind eye on unjust treatment of other Nigerians where they don’t revel in it themselves.
There is no way such ignoble conduct won’t rub off on their own personnel as with the stripped female officer whose colleagues couldn’t save from a rampaging ‘big man’ in Onitsha.
What kind of positive image will the new uniform provide where the wearers of the uniforms are already rotten from inside? The moral deficit in the character of the average police officer goes beyond wearing a new uniform.
There is a critical need for reorientation of police personnel which should begin from the senior cadre whose members are often better educated and trained than the semi-literates that populate the rank and file.
If supposedly better trained and educated senior officers are this corrupt, what can or should any one expect from the junior ones? The culture of bribery and corruption, generally, has been imposed from the top down.
There is little or nothing that can be done by a recruit whose immediate bosses and those above those bosses are firmly steeped in the culture of seeking and receiving bribes from their own men and women.
Except they want to lose their job in an economy where better educated Nigerians are jobless, no junior officer would risk their place in the police by standing up to a corrupt boss.
Important as it is for our police officers to look clean and decent in their new uniforms, the uniforms would not on their own make better police men and women. The difference in the kind of police officers we want won’t come from the uniform they wear if and when their orientation is already messed up.
There is more needed to effect attitudinal change in the police from among the senior officer cadre.
There is the need for justice and better treatment of junior officers. Where the big men and women of the force take care of their own needs before thinking of the juniors as with this business of issuing them uniforms the seniors have been using for more than two years; or some of the seniors demand bribes before issuing the junior officers uniforms, the police will remain a corrupt institution from the top.
No quantity of new uniforms will change the ugly story of the police if they are filthy from within. After all, as Fela once observed, ‘uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sew am’.