By Rose Moses
The term, ‘Police is your friend,’ must have been aimed at dispelling the fears and ‘false impressions’ the general public had about the police force in the past. That may have been so in the past and still so in the present because the force is easily the first place one runs to in time of emergency and danger. But all that depends on individual experiences.
The police, especially in any democratic society, have the fundamental responsibility to maintain law and order, ensure internal security of the nation through the prevention and detection of crime and protection of lives and properties.
By virtue of the central role the police is supposed to play in law enforcement system, their task obviously demands not just tremendous patriotism, but also dedication to duty and due diligence.
It is only natural that a body entrusted with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties, ought to carry out its duties with sincerity of purpose, integrity and concentration on global best practices, among others.
But have the Nigeria police lived up to these expectations? Well, almost every adult Nigerian sure has one story, good or bad, to tell about the Nigeria Police.
Unfortunately, one of such experiences by a very respectable citizen recently is not cheery.
A widow of almost 70 years old was traveling from Abuja to Anambra state for the burial of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, penultimate week, with some of her personal staff. In the car were also items and stuff they would need for the period of time they would be in the Southeast, even after the burial.
But somewhere in Kogi state, about five kilometres from Lokoja to Ajaokuta, they ran into a police checkpoint and were made to stop.
The driver of the car was asked to park well, which he did and the usual questions ensued. He was asked for the particulars of the car and after going through them, he was also asked for the driver’s licence, which he also provided. And then the content of their bags to which they explained.
Though everything was in order, the officers were not satisfied with the situation, and so went on to ask for the receipt of the number plate of the car.
Really? That was quite surprising but with some men of the Nigeria Police Force, you never can tell. And that was where their problem started.
Not even the widow or the driver had ever heard of this. And they expressed so to the mean-looking policemen, who were still holding on to the vehicle particulars, insisting they must provide the receipt or be detained there for as long as it takes.
The widow even pleaded that rather than detain them at that dangerous spot with all the problems of Fulani herdsmen around the area, they should be taken to the station where she could make further inquiry from their (police)boss on what was being demanded of them.
That instead angered the policemen the more, who then completely ignore the travelers. And the widow just couldn’t see why she should reward such act of impunity and corruption with her hard earned money, since that was actually what the whole drama was all about. As a result, they spent almost the next hour at the spot talking to ‘the deaf,’ so to speak.
Ordinarily, a number plate of a car should be proof/receipt on itself. Mere running of a check on the number plate should provide any well equipped police officer with the necessary information about the car and its ownership. That of course, as if that is their responsibility and if, indeed, it’s what they were truly in search of, and in an environment where things work.
It is possible that while the policemen concentrated their attention on a clean traveler that had no need for them, some criminals may have had easy passage on the same route the policemen stationed themselves as toll collectors.
It is also possible that many cases of innocent victims of violent crime on the same highways may not have received prompt, adequate help as their attackers or whatever else may have befallen them would go unchallenged while the policemen responsible for ensuring safety on the road shamelessly busied themselves in extortion.
As I couldn’t figure how a number plate receipt in this instance could be the business of the policemen, I recalled a directive by the police high command that any policeman checking vehicle particulars on the highway is on illegal duty.
Like those before him, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) on assumption of duty, had directed officers and men of the force to desist from subjecting road users to unnecessary nightmare, intimidation and extortion under the guise of checking of vehicle particulars, instead of taking measures to ensure safety on the highway. The IGP had made it clear that violation of this directive would be met with adequate sanctions.
From all indications, this directive, which is actually a sing song of every IGP you may have heard of, is not adhered to because checking of vehicle particulars has remained a regular feature on every Nigerian road.
The police high commander must therefore do something about this fraudulent act and many others that tell negatively on the image of the institution, such that when ordinary folks come across the term: ‘Police is your friend,’ they could read it without the risk of biting their tongues.