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2011 AND A RAGTAG POLICE

By NBF News
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I heard sometime that a police affairs minister raised complaints against the only parastatal his ministry has. A complaint by a minister that the police is not okay is like deceit played out at the wrong arena. If the police was non-performing like the ex-minister, Alhaji Yakubu Lame alleged, for goodness sake, who should be held responsible? Is it the policeman in the street or the man who fathers the police, or should it be a shared blame.

I would suggest the blame should be diagnosed, assessed and apportioned the right way. But for the minister to grandstand and hurl his pebbles at the police - its high and low command was not acceptable to me. And for the last and right time, now there is going to be another Minister of Police Affairs, it would be my advise that the acting president does not bring another on-my-high-horse royal majesty to the position who stands aloof and watches the problem only to engage in buck-passing over a collective failure.

A comment by the Senate to former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe at the last budget defense late last year rang an alarm in me. The Senate President told Maduekwe that the house was not willing and would never approve an amount he brought before it as foreign trip expenses because he (the ministry) never justified N2.4b Senate approved the previous year.

From the same source, the Ministry of Police Affairs, the office that manages the police that secure the entire nation of about 150m people, including Foreign Affairs Ministry that have police orderlies had only N2b budgetary allocation in 2009. Can the irony be clear to you now? Whereas the Nigeria Police has about 300,000 officers and ministry officials in excess of 1000 personnel, it got a budget less than what a ministry that might send at most 500 persons on overseas trip in a year got just for trips. I don't want to go into the onerous explanation of how badly the police need money and equipment. But you have heard what the budget for the ministry was in 2009. I would not know if the man who is supposed to lobby and get better and befitting budget for the Nigeria Police should be the corporal at the police checkpoint or the minister? So, who deserves the blame for a non-performing police?

It is good that man is gone. It is also good it's time to have a new minister especially now that 2011 is drawing closer. We all know what a general election year means in the security circles in Nigeria. It is a year we need a good number of police to either assist the riggers or to stop them. It is when some of them would be employed as snipers for the man who must win at all costs. It is also a time to engage the police in good works to safeguard the expected integrity of our electoral process.

But can the police do that when it has nothing to work with? Have you observed that the most rickety vehicles you can spot on Nigerian roads are police patrol vans? Any time I see a car without rear lights, battered body, scratches and some parts held together with cables and ropes, what first comes to my mind is that that is police vehicle. Meanwhile they check vehicles that are not road worthy with those wonderful sub jalopies.

The observation baffled me until I had an encounter with a senior police officer who explained that the reason those cars are they way I observed is because they are driven and remain on the road 24 hours and 32 days in a month, even February. So, what magic would make them survive such hazards? Did the engineers that made them take into consideration the peculiar usage by the Nigeria Police? So they must be reduced to junks in just two months. What actually wears the vehicles out that fast is because batches of policemen who come and go on routine duty arrangements make use of the same vehicle for patrol. Men of questionable sense of care drive them after some bout of brain inducement. They are driven at abnormal speed because of the nature of work they do and poorly maintained.

In 2000, at the Oputa Panel sitting in Lagos, former Lagos Police chief, Abubakar Tsav told me in an interview that those officers who use the vehicles for operation fuel and maintain them because the police make little or no provisions for such. He said that such burden compels the team to block the road to collect money to keep the vehicle going. What about the fueling? The police in some areas enter into arrangement with filling stations to fuel their vehicles while they pay after some time. But in most of such arrangements, payment fails because the money is either not there or someone has cornered it. And the result is that the owner of the filling station stops the agreement.

Tsav also told me that the policeman pays for the emolument form he fills for his salary at the end of the month. He uses his money to buy the books he needs for work, therefore if a complainant brings a matter, the policeman who bought the books gets the money back from him one way or the other. But Tsav revealed that the Nigeria Police has a wonderful printing press somewhere in Ikeja that has been abandoned. When last did you see a policeman working in the rain in raincoat? Think. Ask again, if the police were that dead and bankrupt and devoid of care and maintenance in Tsav's days, what would be the situation today. You need to visit the police barracks around you to see what is actually called police homes if they are fit for men required to render the society a decent service. Remember any police special schools like you know of the Command Colleges and Army Day Schools nationwide.

What about police special hospitals and other amenities like the Navy, Army and Air Force can boast of? So, what is the incentive that would make the policeman a performer for a society that does not treat him well? Who denies the police most of these apart from the minister in charge of their affairs who secures little or nothing to keep the sector alive and make the people feel loved to give their best?

Some years back, the Human Rights Watch visited Nigeria, and in a parley with journalists at the Ikeja Sheraton they raised cases of police maltreatment on citizens and against the police itself. I reminded them, according to their demand on what the police problem is that as a judicial reporter in about 2001/2002 I knew a policeman who was a Commissioner. His name was Sunday Ehindero, and he was in charge of the legal unit of the police. When late Gani Fawehinmi sued the IG to investigate Governor Tinubu's certificate, Ehindero was the counsel for the IGP, then Musliu Smith. It was less than two years after that that I heard Ehindero who we interacted with in court as Compol was IGP. But I know they are junior officers who have served for 30 years and elevated to the rank of sergeant as parting gift for their retirement. So do we expect such officer frustrated by the institution to work with his heart and face robbers as a patriot? I suspect that most stray shooting/killing by police come from mostly officers that are cross with the system.

Yes, I know there are power drunk ones among them who relish the power of the barrel to intimidate and kill. Approach the police station to lodge a complaint like I did some years ago on a day I spotted area boys beat an okada rider dead at the Isolo bus stop in Lagos. It took my insistence after about an hour of waiting before a complainant came with a bus, which the police hijacked to get to the scene. And when we got there, the people were no longer there. Yes, the police could be bad and callous, but I humbly think that the system has not given them the benefit of the doubt not to work in frustration.

Sometimes I even wonder what the police Affairs Ministry does with its budget because almost every vehicle and some other gadgets police use are provided by state governors in all the states and other concerned bodies.

I definitely guess this is not the kind of ill-equipped police that would help us get the election sanity we dream of next year. Someone should rather do something about this.