By Ochereome Nnanna
In August 1970, my paternal uncle, Corporal Ezikpe Nnanna, took me to Enugu. I was just 10, but a 10-year-old boy hardboiled in Biafra. I can tell you that indeed, there was a country, Nigeria. There was a Nigeria Police Force, NPF. Nigeria has fallen terminally ill. No wonder that all its institutions are equally sick.
We travelled to Enugu by train from Uzuakoli before daybreak. I remember the bright lights, the platforms crowded with people, their luggage and goods, and the exciting train ride through the hinterland stations to Enugu. Trains stopped running on Nigeria’s Eastern corridor (Port Harcourt to Nguru and Maiduguri termini)over 30 years ago!
The British colonialists had created the Eastern and Western rail corridors to promote commerce and social integration between the North and South. But today, the Buhari regime is borrowing money from China to extend the Lagos to Kano rail line to Daura his hometown and Maradi in Niger Republic, the country of his dad. It is no longer about Nigeria.It is now about the president and “his people”.
I lived with my uncle in the Police Refresher Course School, RCS, in Enugu. Everything on the barracks was copacetic: the starched uniforms, the burnished shiny boots, not a piece of litter on the premises, flowers, trees and grass everywhere. I was almost tempted to want to be a policeman when I grew up.
My uncle, like most of his colleagues, carried himself as an officer with distinction after the hardcore British tradition. He was so dedicated to the profession that when he retired in 1998, he died after only a few months. He could not handle retirement, though he had no house or car of his own after 35 years of service.
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I recall this experience against the background of what we have today as a police force. Drive past any barracks. The 80-year-old Police College in Ikeja is a cesspit. A TV station did a story on that pigsty of a school in January 2013.President Goodluck Jonathan later visited it and we were told that a public/private partnership model of funding would be evolved to help the institution. Go there now. It is even worse.
Have you ever wondered why the typical Nigerian policeman is dirty and his barracks decrepit, while the soldier(Army, Navy and Air force) and his barracks remain relatively more presentable? It started with the sidelining of the police by the military after the 1984 Buhari coup. The Shagari regime had made the police formidable in terms of training and equipment. IGP Sunday Adewusi’s Police (Mobile) Force, MOPOL, was demonised as“Kill-and-Go” by the Lagos press. It had seemed that MOPOL was strong enough to be used to quell military coups if need be.
So, when Major General Muhammadu Buhari (and later General Ibrahim Babangida) took over, they started defunding the police and transferring some of its law-and-order constitutional functions to the army. When a Lagos police spokesman, Alozie Ogugbuaja, openly criticised the Babangida government for relegating the police in favour of the military, he was viciously blackballed and reduced to a persona non grata.
Today, we have gone beyond the police being defunded and much of its work given to the military. We are now talking about a police force that has been sectionalised. The North has always been dominant in the force, though this was not obvious at the beginning. But today, the commanding heights have not only been taken to the North, even the pattern of deployments are obviously anti-South. The number of police, military, Customs and Road Safety checkpoints you see between Lagos through Benin, Onitsha to Port Harcourt and Calabar are up 60. Their main concern is to extort money from motorists. You hardly see such in the North. Checkpoints in the North are evident only where there are genuine security challenges.
Have you wondered why “#EndSARS” protests took place all over the South but hardly anywhere in the North beyond Abuja and a few North Central states? Are you surprised that those who defended the activities of F-SARS during the “#EndSARS” protests were from the same section from where the New Nigerian Bar Association, NNBA, broke away from the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, because a Northern governor was disinvited to an NBA event?
The defunding, sectionalisation and endemic corruption in the system led to the collapse of professional ethics in the Force and all its specialised arms such as the recently disbanded Federal Special anti-Robbery Squad, F-SARS.Officers and men are only after money. They use their guns to extract it from people.
Let me congratulate the Nigerian youths for their activism which led to the downfall of F-SARS. The week-long protests that forced the Federal Government to take this action should send the signal that the people’s power can still force change. The youths can still make a difference if they stand up for Nigeria.
But let nobody be deceived. F-SARS will return in another form. It has to, because the primary reasons for its creation –confronting violent crimes such as kidnapping, cultism, yahoo-yahoo boys, internet fraud and even terrorism – are still valid. Also, the corruption and politically-motivated rot which predispose its officers to criminality, are still there.
Unless these issues are dealt with at the root, we will protest again soon. The forces that promote institutional decay are formidable and unrelenting. Once the “#EndSARS” noise and clamour die down we will go back to business as usual.
We must totally reset our country to factory mode through restructuring and constitutional reforms. We must halt the sectionalisation of our Federal Government and its institutions. We must re-Nigerianise this country and restore its constitutional mandate to serve all Nigerians without fear, favour, or hidden agenda. The struggle ahead is much.
I hope the youth are ready.