By Tonnie Iredia
Much younger as a news reporter, I always recorded in my personal diary what I considered the most outstanding story of the week. I was almost tempted to reopen the hobby last week following the ‘level 17 news’ concerning some police operatives in Borno State. Painfully, I missed the television clip of the news which a friend told me involved some police personnel who were allegedly engaged in a demonstration over unpaid allowances. My first reaction was to doubt the story because it didn’t sound real. So, I opted to leave out the story from my memory because of the old journalistic adage that ‘when in doubt leave out’ but my colleague, Comfort Obi increased my interest with her piece titled ‘Police Protest: Our collective shame’ which tended to confirm the story. Based on familiarity with the terrain, Comfort definitely knows much about the police having served for long as a member of their service commission.
Two of the points made by Comfort stood out. First, that Cadet ASPs and Inspectors at the Police Academy in Wudil, Kano state, some of whom are due to graduate this year, have not been paid their allowances since the inception of the Academy five years ago. Really? Hope that is not fake news! Second, she said that Police Commissioners in states go to grovel before state governors for funds to run their Commands including to fuel and repair operational vehicles making the CPs almost subservient to the governors. That is impossible since governors keep complaining about not being in control of the police in their states. Anyway, based on the well-known sufferings of our police, Comfort concluded that rather than punish those who allegedly protested last week in Maiduguri for misconduct, indiscipline and mutiny, “they should be commended for their patience and patriotism in the midst of deprivation.”
For a different reason, i strongly agree that they should not be punished; the police authorities have confirmed that they never protested. In other words, they did no wrong. According to the official spokesman of the police, Jimoh Moshood, the operatives were merely at the Fore Headquarters just to inquire if their allowances were ready. No more, no less. In other words, those who have been spreading news about an imaginary police protest are merchants of hate speech. In fact, some members of the House of Representatives who thought they heard the ‘offending’ police operatives calling their Inspector General a thief should go back and replay the tape as is done now in FIFA matches and satisfy themselves about the truth and avoid fake news. The spokesman of the police in our opinion is the man with the most accurate information concerning the organization. Jimoh has in earnest been quite active.
There is also this interesting point that the force is greatly regulated and that like the military, if the authority says someone’s father is a woman, the appropriate answer is yes sir. Besides, the police force is an essential service whose operatives are not allowed to protest. If so, how could they have ever contemplated such a move? Again, police operatives are aware that contrary to judicial decisions that citizens require no permit to demonstrate, any demonstration without police permit can still be disrupted in line with the illegal public order Act of the Stone Age. Accordingly, we can deduce that Maiduguri police operatives with arrears of allowances didn’t apply for permit to demonstrate and as such could not have conducted themselves in a manner likely to give any hint whatsoever of an unruly group. Those who saw police protest on Television last Tuesday are on their own.
No wonder one of them raised several naïve issues. He argued for instance that since offices don’t open before 8am, the presence of those operatives as early as 6am is evidence that they didn’t come to the office for any enquiry. The argument is naïve because the operatives in question do not work only during office hours. To them, every hour is official under the rain or the sun and in the morning, afternoon and night. They may have chosen to make their enquiries after morning exercise. In any case 6am is not the popular hour for demonstrations in Nigeria except for state legislators who want to take their speakers by surprise with impeachment. The other ridiculous point was that if the operatives were only on a mission of enquiry why were they shooting guns? This second argument loses sight of the venue of the operation-Maiduguri the heartland of the dreaded Northeast and that the policemen were legally in possession of guns-their basic operational tool.
The problem with many of us is that we have no faith in our police hence people are changing a mere enquiry about arrears of allowances to mean a demonstration and violent show of disaffection over the subject? Regrettably, even those who were not sure of the story have refused to accept the police version that was proactively made on the day of the purported demonstration to straighten the record. Instead, people are drawing attention to the fact that the operatives involved were too many as they were in their hundreds. Who counted them and what is wrong if everyone involved wanted to personally hear from the horses’ mouth. That they were shabbily dressed, wearing different colours of berets/headgears, with sticks, clubs and green leaves is also not strong. Police have different uniforms for different operations.
It is hate speech against the police for people to read negative meanings to the subject as if the allowances were embezzled by the force. As has now been explained, the allowances were late because of delayed budget. It is unfortunate that our police are among the worst hit victims of the negative consequences of delayed budgeting. While I empathize with them, I wish to encourage some of them, to contest elections and be elected into our legislature at whatever level. If it is state level, they would no more be in want because they would be lobbied by our governors to have their budgets and other bills passed. If however they are lucky to make it to the federal legislature, then they would graduate to the class whose monthly newspaper allowance would surpass the annual salary of a policeman.
In all, whatever anyone believes about last Tuesday’s incident in Maiduguri; we all need to know that the police is on top of the matter
This article is dedicated to a late senior colleague who in his days in our newsroom could write a ‘good’ news report on an event at which he was not present!!