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Good and bad cops

I HAVE a soft spot for the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, because when I was kidnapped in 2015, policemen at all levels – the then Inspector General (Solomon Arase), the then Commissioner of Police in Rivers State (Musa Kumo) and several of their subordinates who investigated my case and acted as bodyguards – were so kind to me.

Police, Igbo, Abuja, Fulani, youths, Cops
Shiite Group clash with Police in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamika

Long story short, I’ve encountered quite a few nice (and intelligent) senior and junior police officers. So I hesitate to criticise the NPF. But journalists need to be emotionally detached when they are writing about societal ills; and it has to be said that we have a major law enforcement crisis on our hands because the NPF is a mess.

The NPF, despite the existence of some good eggs who do their best to fulfil their professional duties and moral obligations to the nation, has chronic image, integrity and performance problems. The decent good eggs in the NPF are, sadly, overshadowed by shameless bad eggs who specialise in corruption, incompetence and betraying the citizens they have sworn oaths to protect.

It is commonplace for gun-toting police officers to demand bribes from motorists at checkpoints. It is commonplace for police officers to flatly refuse to pursue complaints unless they receive inducements from victims of crime (the impoverished included).

It is commonplace for police officers to be unnecessarily brutal and to collude not just with relatively harmless petty crooks but also with violent premier league gangsters such as murderers, kidnappers, human traffickers, rapists and armed robbers.

Meanwhile, a senior bureaucrat who is based in Port Harcourt and wishes to remain nameless, tells me that a senior police officer pal recently strongly advised him to completely avoid the Port Harcourt-via-Emuoha-to-Yenagoa road – a notorious highway on which criminals frequently attack travellers – because the policemen who patrol it cannot, despite being armed, confidently confront outlaws.

And it’s not just the Niger Delta that suffers from this problem. All over the Federation, intercity/interstate journeys are (even in broad daylight) daunting prospects, thanks to villain-infested roads that the wise approach with extreme trepidation.

Meanwhile, because so many of its officers are pathetically inadequate or downright dishonest and dangerous, a large chunk of the general public has lost faith in the NPF…and regards it as an amateurish joke or toxic adversary…rather than as a useful ally.

There is a guest chalet at the back of my family home in Port Harcourt. It is common knowledge that the NPF cannot accommodate all of its staff and their dependants in barracks, and I am paranoid about security because of my traumatic 2015 abduction.

So I came up with what I thought was a great idea that would kill two birds with one stone: I would offer the chalet, rent-free, to a couple of police officers who couldn’t find berths in barracks; and their presence would be highly visible and keep hoodlums away and make me feel safe. But, much to my amazement, when I shared this idea with friends and relatives, they were absolutely horrified.

“The last thing you need in your compound is the police who can monitor your movements and sell the information to gangsters!” said one. “The police you naively think you can trust will invite criminals to loot your house and subject you to a second kidnapping!” said another.

“Even if they don’t work against you, they will add no value! If anything bad happens, they are too stupid to catch any culprits!” was a cousin’s scathing rejoinder when I expressed the view that not all police will respond treacherously to a benefactor.

Also read: Breaking: Police rescue 3 kidnapped ABU students

Well, perception is often as important as reality, so even if these comments are unfair, that is how too many people feel about police.

And it’s totally tragic that those who have been entrusted with the task of ensuring our collective and individual safety have wound up being viewed with such intense suspicion and casual contempt.

Having said all this, there are almost always two sides to a story and the average police officer cannot, in my opinion, be entirely blamed for his or her personal shortcomings and professional failures.

They are expected to risk their lives, yet there aren’t enough weapons to go around. Many criminals are better armed than the police.

Meanwhile, most police officers are treated shabbily. They earn chickenfeed and can barely afford to feed themselves, never mind take care of their dependents. Many are effectively homeless and squatting precariously in fetid slums. Many are angry and hungry and desperate and who can blame them?

Meanwhile, training opportunities are limited and crime detection tools (computers, forensic labs, etc) are in very short supply. I sincerely hope that the current Inspector General, Mohammed Adamu, is willing or able to do something about this depressing state of affairs.

Prosecution

Four Lagos policemen who shot two suspected mobile phone thieves have recently been fired from the NPF and are being prosecuted.

The officers in question are Inspector Fabiyi Omomayara, Sergeant Olaniyi Solomon, Sergeant Solomon Sunday and Corporal Aliyu Mukaila. They disarmed the suspects, then executed them in cold blood rather than self-defence.

The Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, had them arrested and they are going to face trial for extrajudicial killing, murder, discreditable conduct and unlawful exercise of authority. “This will serve as deterrence to others,” according to a police spokesperson.

In a country where the police get away with all sorts of rubbish, bravo to Zubairu Muazu for doing the right thing.
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