By Muyiwa Adetiba
Not many of us were genuinely shocked at the ‘shocking accusation’ by the Acting Inspector General of Police that his predecessor in office carted 24 cars away as part of the retirement benefits he allowed himself. Not many of us found the allegation incredible.
So accustomed are we to kleptomania in governance and to leaders with itchy fingers that many of us, truth be told, found the story somewhat believable. What may have shocked us in this era of ‘steal your own let me steal mine’ is that the accusation was ever made at all. Does it mean that the story is true in every material particular? I am not so sure. Does it signal a new era of accountability in the police? I think not. I think it was more of an indication that the baton change may have been hostile and of someone having his own back than a genuine desire to clean the Augean stable.
Arase’s defence that he would have no need for such a large fleet unless he was planning to open a used car lot is logical in a saner clime. Except that we are not in a sane clime. We are in an era where people steal beyond what is logical and way beyond what they and their immediate families would ever need in a life time. We are in an era where people dig the earth to plant dollars in farms rather than yams. We are in an era where water tanks are no longer used for storing water and soak-away pits for storing human waste.
Their uses have been diverted to something more covert. They have been re-designated for storing hard currency. Again, Arase’s defence would have been logical and credible coming as it were, from a top brass in one of our disciplined forces except that our disciplined forces are not so disciplined when it comes to government’s money and property as we have experienced in recent unsavoury revelations.
Yet it rankles when the stench of sleaze oozes from the very institution that is supposed to cleanse the system. It rankles that only two former IGPs in recent times have left office with their reputations intact. It rankles when the head of fish looks rotten, smells rotten and tastes rotten. It rankles because the entire police system seems so bent that straight cops are more of an exception than the rule. Yet in my rookie days as a reporter, a basic definition of news was that of a man biting a dog or a bent cop who has been compromised by men of the underworld. Such was the high standard by which a cop is supposed to be measured.
What we find these days are a complete denigration of the values and standards we once held our police to. It is common to see policemen at check points openly collecting ‘traffic tolls’. People are known to have been shot because they refuse to co-operate to the satisfaction of these extortionists. Leads have grown cold, investigations have derailed because of the attitude of investigating officers who have been compromised.
You see policemen raiding innocent men and women in broad daylight and locking them up until they can ‘bail’ themselves. You see police asking people who have just been robbed for money to investigate and apprehend the robbers. The common refrain for such shabby conducts is that the police are underfunded. Yet the little that the police system gets is either shared or pilfered or badly utilised. For example, you see police vehicles in places you do not expect to find them carrying loads you do not expect them to carry like live cows and baskets of tomatoes.
A story landed on a What’sApp group platform which will make anyone wonder if our police system can still be salvaged. It was from a broadcaster—but could be you and I—who gave a lady a lift in the early evening after closing from work. He was stopped by some people in mufti who claimed to be policemen but all they had on that could link them to the police were police polo shirts. They asked for his car particulars. He supplied them. They looked through the car.
They found nothing. It was then they asked about the lady in the car. He told them he was giving her a lift to somewhere convenient since they were going in the same direction. Out of the blues, one of them said he should be taken into custody for human trafficking/kidnapping. Nothing he said could extricate him. He was asked to enter his car and drive to Ajuwon Police Station while the lady was asked to enter a patrol bus. He was denied even a single call—to his lawyer, office or a member of his family. He could have been killed and nobody would have been the wiser. Instead, his phone, laptop and other belongings were seized.
At the station, an officer named Yusuf went through his laptop and phone to find anything incriminating. He found none. But he found the guy’s account number and bank details— maybe that was what he was really looking for. Another team went over the car documents and came up with the conclusion that he stole the car. Next, they said the lady that was in the car had confessed to being a sex hawker whom he was taking home after negotiating a price of 8000 naira.
They promptly charged him for adultery in spite of his marital status which was single. Knowing that they now had him where they wanted him, they said ‘settle us or you will be here longer than you can ever imagine’. They then asked for 50000 naira. When he protested the amount and the fact that he had done nothing wrong, he was locked up. They brought him out in the morning and asked if he wanted to settle. He still protested. They called him several unprintable names and proceeded to dictate their own version of the truth to him as a statement. They even ordered him to mention his account balance and what kind of apartment he lived in.
With so many decks stacked against him, and an important early appointment in jeopardy, he eventually agreed to part with 10000 naira. They followed him on an Okada to an ATM machine (Sterling Bank, Ajuwon) to collect the money. He came back, had his belongings returned to him and was in turn released into the sunrise. All charges forgotten.
If this kind of extortion—and more—takes place everyday unchallenged, we can now understand why. It has been skewed right from the top. We can understand why our fight against corruption cannot be holistic. We can also understand why our justice system is the way it is. I can only hope for all our sakes, that this broadcaster gets some kind of justice.