By Muyiwa Adetiba
The catchphrase, ‘Licenced to kill for the secret service’ caught my fantasy as a young man. It was to explain—and possibly excuse—the dare devil forays of James Bond, the legendary Agent 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Many of us loved this debonair agent whose job was to rid the society of dangerous people.
He was allowed to eliminate them any way he could including cold blooded murders and assassinations. Hence the catchphrase. These days however, I often think of this catchphrase when I think of our security agencies especially the Nigerian Police. Except that unlike James Bond, our Police Officers often lack the higher ideals of their call. Except that unlike Agent 007, our security agents’ prime motivation is corrupt enrichment.
The untoward activities of the officers and men of the Nigerian Police are legion and they range from the petty to the grievous. They show impatience, indiscipline and a predisposition to bully other road users when they are on the road. They run red lights at will. They use sirens even when they are merely running errands for Oga’s wife.
They are used by shady, but connected people to harass the innocent, but unconnected. They give cover to and confer legitimacy on illegal activities. For example, my office is only a stone’s throw from Alausa, the seat of government. Yet a massive borderline trade on fuel takes place on my street. It’s been taking place for at least 10years.
The police know this and come regularly to ‘visit the boys.’ Yet we will all shed crocodile tears and the officers will pretend they know nothing on the day the place catches fire or any untoward thing happens. They also know similar dens of the undesirables dotted all over Lagos. But these places serve as cash points to them. All these, however, can only be classified as petty activities compared to more grievous ones.
I watched a video last week of a young lady who masked herself for fear of being identified. She then proceeded to spill the beans on a young man whose birthday was marked by an obscene display of wealth and expensive liquor. He was also said to own a multimillion Naira house in a good area of town. An alleged social media investigation showed him to be a Police Sergeant according to the video. No Sergeant, whether fake or real, should be in possession of the kind of money this masked lady mentioned.
This story if true, qualifies as one of the grievous untoward activities of the Police. What gives credence to this type of story is the lifestyle of many middle ranked and senior Police Officers.
Many live way beyond their official salaries. It is therefore difficult not to suspect them of benefiting from the proceeds of crime. Whatever doubt we may have were dispelled by the Wadume case where a Police DPO (Divisional Police Officer) was fingered in the escape of a kidnapper and the death of his colleagues. And speaking of kidnapping, many who have been kidnapped or who have had their loved ones kidnapped have uncomplimentary stories to tell about the roles of Police Officers.
There is an attitude to kidnap cases that is at best described as callous or at worst indicative of complicity. The victims are often urged by the Police to pay ransom ostensibly to avoid casualties. Sometimes the police take part in the negotiations!
Again, we hear stories of situations where both the accused and the accuser have to pay their way to freedom. A young lady I know had a taste of such Police magic. Her fiancé was ‘visited’ at home and robbed by a gang of three. It turned out that his houseboy had a hand in it. But the story got twisted when the houseboy implicated the lady and the police brought into his story.
This lady was invited for interrogation and for no credible reason, the Police refused to release her. Then subtle hints were made that she was in serious trouble unless she could part with some money. Even the insistence of the man involved that the Police should provide credible evidence of complicity or release his fiancé cut no ice with the investigating team. Fortunately for her, her father was influential enough to secure her release without having to part with money. Another ‘victim’ was not that lucky.
This time, it was his mother’s house help who arranged to have her boss robbed and roughened up. Unfortunately, it resulted in the death of the woman. Then the Police invited the son for interrogation because he supplied the house help. It became ‘double wahala’ for dead body as Fela would say when Police implicated the man of being an accomplice to murder. This was without any proof of motive or opportunity. The man according to my source, had to ‘settle’ his way out of the jam.
Many of the scams some of these Police Officers engage in would have landed them in jail were they not law enforcers. It is generally assumed for example that any young man who is stopped in the middle of the night by Police will part with money if he doesn’t want to wake up in a police cell. Some actually escort their victims to cash machines in the dead of night to withdraw money. Just like common thieves. But the uniform protects them; the badge gives them immunity. So the extortion continues; the thieving continues accompanied by increasing swagger and impunity.
I am also often reminded of another catchphrase when I think of the Nigerian Police. This time it is a verse of a song made popular by Ray Charles, the blind minstrel. It says: ‘Heaven helps the man who won’t reach 21. Heaven helps the man who gives that boy a gun. Heaven helps us all.’ A man who won’t reach 21, is a man who refuses to mature. He is permanently a boy. Giving that boy responsibilities has dire consequences.
This seems to be what we have done. Were the police officers sufficiently trained as to the consequences of their actions, they would be better behaved. You would hardly find a trained black-belt judoka fighting on the streets for example because he knows the consequences. He knows he has death literally at his fingertips. That should be the attitude of a properly trained policeman.
Our policemen need a complete re-orientation. The uniform is not a licence to kill. The badge is not a licence to defraud. They are employed to fight crime, not to benefit from it.