By Muyiwa Adetiba
It is a known fact that Nigeria is under-policed. Grossly under-policed. But you wouldn’t know it from the uses to which we put the few we have. Every big man in Nigeria has a policeman as a symbol of his ‘bigmanism.’ These policemen serve as valets, messengers, traffic conductors and enforcers. In short, they serve as ‘Man Friday’ in demeaning, belittling ways. A good percentage of what is left of our Force finds itself on the highways.
Last week, APC had its much awaited convention. It was said that the venue had more than 5000 security operatives including of course, policemen. Yet the show of shame from Delta State happened. It is a disgrace that despite all the policemen deployed to ‘guard’ the ogas at the top, no intelligence report was gathered to help nip the unruly disruption that resulted in chair throwing in the bud. APC and indeed, the whole nation had to watch this show of shame live. Worse was to come.
As the convention was going on, news filtered through that several villages in Plateau State were being attacked. The attack lasted for at least eight hours and resulted in over 200 deaths—depending on who is counting—along with destruction of houses and crops. Once again, not only were the police not able to pre-empt the savage attack, they were nowhere to be found for eight hours! The victims were as naked and vulnerable as the day they were born. The herdsmen or militias or whatever evil name they are called, operated as if they were not under any law or indeed, any government. And they have been proved right, time and time again. The victims are the ones to be appeased; they are the ones to show restraint and avoid reprisal attacks; they are the ones to show maturity in the interest of peace. Meanwhile, the terrorists, because that is what they are, retreat defiantly into their hide-outs…until the next attack. The whole thing is sickening and nauseating. As if to rub salt on the nation’s open wound, a Miyetti Allah spokesperson said the attacks were reprisal attacks because 300 cows were killed or rustled a couple of weeks back. Is a cow now equivalent to a human life? In any case, when has a reprisal killing become justified in law or in a decent society? I have not heard that this spokesperson has been invited to tell us what he knows about the barbaric killings. The comments coming from General Buhari are empty and flat and are unbecoming of a General, serving or retired. Where is the man who taught some defiant Nigeriens the lessons of their lives during the Shagari government? Has age mellowed him so much or are there other considerations hampering him that we are not aware of? What we are hearing are not comments of an outraged leader but those which remind one sadly, of the ‘I can assure you’ days of the Jonathan era. Meaningless rhetoric that assuage nothing because they solve nothing.
What we want are bold and incisive actions that will serve as a deterrent to these invaders. What we want is the rounding up of and herding of these murderers to face justice. What we want is justice that is blind and non-discriminatory and not a rose-tinted one. What we want is a transparent investigation and not one with sleight of hand. What we want is a dismantling of the whole security apparatus and a replacing with professionals from different parts of the country who understand the weight of their duty to the nation. What we want is a leader who will act timely and decisively to save the nation from anarchy and gradual disintegration. What we want is trust in a system that works for all irrespective of tribe, religion, political party or position.
Meanwhile, the police seem to have recoiled from their core duty to concentrate on the fringes of their profession. If they appear negligent in the former, they are very diligent in the latter. They may not be good at maintaining law and order or fishing out criminals but they are proficient in the nuances of traffic ‘management.’ They know how to chase errant Okada and commercial bus drivers down to demand for their toll. They know how to position themselves at the descent of an overhead bridge or how to lurk in a corner to catch unwary drivers. They know how to frustrate ‘unco-operative’ drivers.
Last weekend found me on the Sagamu–Ore road on the way to Ondo to honour a friend. I confess I have a phobia for inter-city trips due largely to the state of the roads and the unreasonable number of police check points. But Kole Ademulegun who was burying his mother, is a friend I like and respect enough to make an exception. The roads had improved considerably since the last time I plied it and the trip would have been very enjoyable but for the different uniformed men on the road. I was surprised to find the Customs’ people have also joined those asking for vehicle particulars under the guise that some vehicles are illegally put on the roads. We passed a team that was roughly attired holding sticks and cudgels. Their leader wasn’t sure whether he wanted to stop us or not and my friend’s driver seized the chance. As he tried to manoeuvre past them—they were in the middle of the road—one of them menacingly approached us and tried to swipe the car with his stick. It was a scary moment. Closer to Ore found us with a cluster of uniformed ‘checkers.’ They were, without exaggerating, only about 75 – 100 meters apart. This is in a country that is admittedly under policed. They were all asking for just about the same things and how long you spent depended on their reading of your level of co-operation. The stop and park was tedious and frustrating. One of them, sensing our lack of co-operation, said he wanted to check the genuineness of the vehicle licence. He brought out his phone, and kept punching some numbers. After about 15 minutes, he called us out of the car to say the car was not properly registered. We were to spend an hour there during which we were made to understand that some licensing officials collect money from innocent car owners without remitting to government. You would think the place to go would be the licensing offices to bust the criminal cartel if there is indeed one rather than lay ambush on car owners who get regular alert from the licensing offices and are not aware of any wrong doing. But that would not be in tune with our police.
We need our police to eliminate crime and not benefit from the fallout of crime. Until they learn to do that, the image of the police will stay where it is—in the doldrums.