By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
For many years, Nigeria Police barracks across the country were embarrassing eyesores given the fact that they harboured some of the most decrepit structures obviously not fit for human habitation.
Indeed, there is no denying the fact that there is infrastructural decay in police facilities. Most of their barracks are in an advanced stage of dilapidation and have nothing to write home about. They are outdated, out-modelled and visibly uninhabitable. The police barracks at Obalende roundabout, near Kam Selem House, Lagos, for example, is about 60 years old or more and no renovation has taken place there.
Against the backdrop of this unhealthy development, there have been strident calls, over the years, from several quarters on government and the police authorities for immediate remedial interventions. They never happened. That was until recently when the police authorities eventually took the bold step of announcing that it was going to demolish 25 barracks in different parts of Lagos State.
They claimed that the affected structures failed the integrity test conducted by Lagos state government. But the far-reaching implication of this announcement is that over 2000 policemen and members of their families will be evacuated from the dilapidated barracks.
They named the affected barracks as Ijeh Police Barracks, Obalende; Highway Police Barracks, Ikeja; K9 Police Barracks, Keffi Street, South-West, Ikoyi; Falomo Police Barracks (A and B), Ikoyi: Bar Beach Police Barracks, Victoria Island; Mopol 20 Barracks, Ikeja; Women Police Barracks, Obalende; Mopol 2 Police Barracks, Keffi street, South –West, Ikoyi; Mounted Troops, Ribadu Road, Ikoyi and Queen Barracks, Apapa.
Others are FPRO Annex Office and Barracks, Ijora Olopa; Iponri Police Barracks, Surulere; Adekunle Police Barracks, Yaba; Federal Highway Patrol Office, Yaba; Alausa Police Barracks, Ikeja; Mounted Troops, Ikeja; Okesuna Police Barracks, Obalende, McCathy Barracks, Obalende, Force Headquarters Annex, Obalende, Obalende Police Barracks, Obalende; Bourdillon Police Barracks, Ikoyi, New Staff Quarters, Ikeja; Elere Police Barracks, Agege; Onikan Officers Mess, Ikoyi and Police Special Fraud Unit, PSFU, Milverton Street, IKoyi.
Procedure for demolition
Explaining the procedure to be adopted in the exercise, Force Public Relations Officer, who flew into Lagos to address journalists, said the Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba, issued a directive that those living in these Barracks be issued a one-month notice to vacate their accommodation spaces.
He, however, added that the directive will not be carried out all at once but will be implemented in phases to ensure that all officially recognized and lawful residents of the affected Barracks are properly catered for.
Unfortunately, what seems like a morale booster to members of the force going by the long clamour for such an exercise to take place has elicited wide condemnation and scepticism among officers and men of the force. The situation is so bad that reliable sources hinted that wives of policemen residing in the designated barracks have concluded plans to protest the modalities for carrying out the exercise.
It was learned that when police officials went to distribute forms in one of the barracks, irate children of the affected policemen went wild and descended on them by throwing stones and other dangerous missiles at them. That was after it was claimed that two police officers fainted after receiving official letters over the exercise.
Buildings marked, no money
Worse still, police sources said the officials had already marked the buildings without giving money to the affected force members for relocation. Most of the affected officers who spoke under the guise of anonymity, so as not to be identified for victimisation, condemned the modalities for the planned exercise, stating that some of the listed barracks had already being sold out before the commencement of the exercise. The barracks, they alleged, were already sold out.
They include Obalende Barracks, Officer’s quarters, Ikeja Quarters and Zone 2, Mess, and Onikan.
The officers also queried why the present Inspector General of Police would be embarking on such an unpopular exercise just when he has few weeks to stay in office “If he had started it early after assumption of office, we would have trusted that he will see to its conclusive end; but now that he is almost gone, who knows what will happen,” they chorused.
Continuing, they also alleged that the modalities for embarking on the exercise is fraught with suspicion. “Is it just now that the Lagos State government woke up to discover that the barracks which have been dilapidated for a long failed the integrity test? Must they relocate such a whooping number of policemen in order to carry it out? Where do they expect them to relocate to within so short a time and don’t they know that phased gradual restructuring would have ensured that the affected officers will have an easy way out?”.
They are asking many questions.
The policemen stated, unequivocally, that there are no laid down plans to ensure that after completion of the exercise, the lawful occupants will get back their accommodation.
Senior police officers quarters
The case of officers residing at the Senior Police Officer’s quarters, in Victoria Island, Lagos is said to be particularly worrisome. Allegations are being made that some top officers of the force are colluding with some people at the Presidency to sell police properties being occupied by senior officers as high as commissioners.
It was gathered that the skirmish between occupiers of the quarters and developers engaged to take over the highbrow area has reached a feverish pitch with threats by the commissioners to go to court if they continue to harass, intimidate and threaten to flush them out from their official quarters where they have lived for years.
Vanguard learned that the commissioners affected by the directive to vacate the quarters had even offered to pay up to N50 million each to avoid being moved out without positive effect from police authorities in Abuja.
Tension among affected officers
Investigations also revealed that the move has created serious tension among the affected policemen and their families to the extent that there are discreet moves to scuttle the demolition exercise by hook or crook. Most of those who spoke with Vanguard did so on strict anonymity, stating that there are more questions than answers to the planned demolition exercise.
According to one of the affected policemen: “These barracks consist of about 4000 officers with their families, each having not less than five others attached to their apartment. This means that an average of 20,000 officers will be affected by the exercise. How do you expect them to work effectively? Where on earth will you give somebody 20 or 40 days ultimatum to pack out in this Lagos? What are the objectives of establishing the police if not to protect lives and properties?
Another concerned officer stated: “The prevailing tension is a result of having serious vested interests, including those at the top echelon of the force because of their selfish interest, and lack of sacrifice to the plight of their colleagues.
By simple arithmetic, if you demolish 20 barracks at once, what becomes of the victims and of Lagosians? There are some people, especially northerners, that do not know anybody in Lagos, some are on special duties in far away north in the past six months.
How on earth do you expect them and their families to survive? Will they not be affected psychologically and demoralised while performing their lawful duties? Also, in a situation like this, what becomes of the policemen and their families? Should they go back to the North, East or West? Pushing them to the civilian community to go and rent houses; what will be the implications of this? We are strongly appealing that both the police authorities and the Lagos State government should have a re-think and stop that exercise for purpose of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Lagos. This idea must be jettisoned.”
In his reaction, the Executive Director, of the Network of Police Reforms in Nigeria, Emmanuel Ikule, stated that the Nigeria Police Force, just like any agency, has to grow in all aspects, from its recruitment, training, and equipment to favourable conditions of service, and environment to work.
“But this has not been the case over the years despite the passage of Bills like the Nigeria Police Trust Fund which is supposed to provide for the refurbishment of Police institutions. This requires renovating old good ones and rebuilding old ones that can’t stand the rigours of the environment.
“So, the current work on demolishing the barracks is the plan by the Police to build and refurbish about 120 barracks in Nigeria and Lagos would also benefit from this plan. It is a step in the right direction. Police Officers need a convenient home to live in with their families and it’s a welcome development.
I hope this would not be an opportunity to victimize officers and deny them their right to accommodation or evict widows out of the Barracks without adequately paying them the retirement benefits due to them,” he explained.
In his contribution, The Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Center, Okechukwu Nwanguma, noted that information in the public space is that the demolition and rebuilding of police barracks in Lagos is a joint project between the NPF and the Lagos State government.
”The idea behind it, according to information, is that the initiative has become urgent considering that most of the police barracks have become too old, decrepit and uninhabitable and therefore call for urgent rebuilding to save the inhabitants from the risk of building collapse as was witnessed in a police barracks in Ibadan.
It is also said to be in line with the IGP’s agenda to enhance the welfare of officers starting from providing them decent barracks. It was also reported that the officers occupying the barracks will be given money to cover their accommodation for the period of two years that the project is expected to last. These measures as stated sound good and I hope the rebuilding of the barracks will actually happen as scheduled and that the officers will not be left stranded. It is commendable, in my view,” he stated.
Exercise will affect members of the public
The Director General, the Institute of Security, Nigeria, ISN, at the University of Lagos, Adebayo Akinade, a lawyer, said that demolishing residential quarters of Police officers is very demoralising and will put the occupants into serious accommodation problems, particularly in an urban area like Lagos.
According to him, this will adversely affect their job performance which will heighten the insecurity situation in the country. He wondered what the Estate and Maintenance sections of the Police Force have been doing over the years such that all the barracks become inhabitable at the same time.
As a way of avoiding suffering for the police personnel in the barracks, the ISN Director General advised police authorities to carry out the demolition and construction in phases after alternative and conducive accommodation must have been provided for the personnel to enhance their job performance.
Contributing to the debate on the issue, a foremost cyber security practitioner, Mr Peter Ejiofor, stated that the Nigeria Police Force in its entirety needs total reform with the contention that the personnel in the barracks that are about to be demolished, should adequately be taken care of by way of providing a comfortable alternative accommodation before they are ejected from the ageing barracks. He suggested that instead of keeping them in barracks, the authorities should begin to learn how to accommodate police personnel among the civil populace.
More hardship for police personnel
A former Chief Security Officer, CSO, with Diamond Bank (now Access) and currently the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Apex Security, Dr Felix Amah Nnachi, unequivocally posited that asking the police personnel to relocate without making adequate arrangements for alternative accommodation is akin to causing more hardship to an already impoverished security agency which public outings have been heavily criticized under the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
According to Nnachi, there should have been a proactively planned relocation process for all the officers living in the affected barracks who are currently serving in Lagos.
“I had expected police in liaison with State Governments in the affected areas to have built another barracks in a new location and ask them to move in. In this way the officers will feel proud of their profession and exhibit professional conduct in their relationship with the public.”
In the words of a former personnel of the Nigerian Army, Dennis Okosun, the decision to move the police personnel out of the barracks within one month is rash even though there may be some compensation in the process.
He advised that police authorities could space the construction of new barracks and relocate the personnel and their families in phases.
The former soldier is worried that even if police authorities choose to pay the personnel some rent allowance, such payment may not likely be commensurate with the current cost of renting an apartment.
He is also worried that the endemic corruption in the system might blight whatever genuine intention the Inspector General of Police may have.