Kay Soyemi, Esq.Monday, February 5, 2007
[email protected]
London, UK



ast week, I was privileged to have come across a news item detailing a bellicose sounding Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr. Sunday Ehindero proclaiming that the military had no business monitoring the forthcoming elections. He was also quick to remind those who cared to listen, that it was the constitutional role of the police to provide a conducive environment for free and fair elections and for this purpose, it appears that plans are afoot to deploy 250,000 men and officers of the 320,000 strong force on the relevant days. On an ordinary day, within ordinary circumstances and considering an ordinary country, I would applaud this pseudo-belligerence claptrap coming from our top law enforcer. But these are neither ordinary days nor ordinary circumstances and we live in an extra-ordinary country called Nigeria.

In these fast passing days of an OBJ presidency, Nigerians can still happily point to the likes of Okonjo, Ribadu, Ezilikwesi, Soludo, El-Rufai and Akunyili among others as shining examples of what public service truly is. Collectively, these men and women have done their best to give a glossy performance to the current federal government efforts and achievements. However, among OBJ's open and constant sores are the matters of power generation and distribution, underdeveloped infrastructure, ethnic and civil unrests as well as the general state of insecurity in the country. Balanced against these failings are the rather impressive achievements in the matters of establishing macro-economic indices for long term economic growth during the term of OBJ, but Nigerians cannot afford to remain sanguine when the most basic needs of life, i.e. food, shelter and clothing can still not be guaranteed by the state nor facilitated. To top it all, Nigerians can no longer close their two eyes at night wherever they chose to lay their heads.

In the midst of all these, comes the teacup thunder of our Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero. In his own words,

"we have continued to recover arms coming into the country for the polls. As I am talking to you now, my men are searching seven trailers suspected to have come into the country laden with arms. The police have the constitutional role to provide a conducive environment for free and fair elections."

Such laughable nonsense, if it was not for the seriousness of the matter. Let us step back and look at the matters that would make us laugh even when we feel like crying. Nigeria was bequeathed with a police force that was a transformed Royal Constabulary Force at its independence. Essentially, this meant that our present police force had at its roots a singular purpose of forcefully pacifying Nigerians. The police force of today is yet to get rid of that mentality and it's still 'kill and go' business as usual. Never mind that silly slogan - "The Police Is Your Friend" - in Nigeria, it remains a slogan and I doubt if many of the officers and men of the force really know what it means. I get the impression lions would become vegetarians first before the Nigerian policeman truly starts to see himself as our friend. We are truly there for his purpose not the other way round!

Otherwise, how do you wish away the routine collection of N20 notes at the numerous illegal checkpoints across the country? Sometime ago, I travelled to Nigeria for the Yuletide celebrations and was in the company of my brother as a passenger. That we had travelled all the way from Abeokuta to Agege without incident was a miracle in itself, but of the 17 checkpoints we passed on that single journey, it turned out that the last one - behind the Elere police station and about 3 minutes away from our front door, was the most dramatic. My brother, being a military officer, had declined to offer the customary bribes stoically at every point; he simply proffered his identity card each time we were stopped. On this last stop though, when he proffered the same identity card, the junior officer that saw it simply hollered into the darkness, "ah, Oga. This one says he's an officer oh!" Quick as lightning, another officer who identified himself as an Inspector materialised form the darkness. He was fully dressed in his uniform save that he was also wearing bathroom foam slippers. He was also polite but asked, "oga, wey our weekend bonus?" This gentle request was denied yet again by my brother who then enquired as to why they had a checkpoint at that point. He also demanded to know if there had been reports of armed robbers in the vicinity to warrant the checkpoint. Predictably, the responses were in the negative and they made the officer uncomfortable enough to ask us to go. This did not deter another one from cocking his gun, pointing it at us and his boss and proclaiming loudly, "fake, fake!" With such friends like these, who needs enemies?

With such behaviour, you would be excused if you think that our policemen are little better than glorified "area boys" in uniforms. Which reminds me, what does our esteemed and bellicose Inspector General of Police think of those social misfits and miscreants known as area boys? Their presence is so ubiquitous you may be forgiven for thinking that they do serve a meaningful purpose. Perhaps, they do. For political masters and jobbers - as thugs. One wonders if this is one of the reasons why they are tolerated by our Nigeria Police Force and not regarded as the nuisance and terror they truly are. In any case, what is the difference between six and half a dozen? Does Mr. Ehindero have an answer to this poser? Me think not!

To make this tragic-comedy more amusing is the almost accepted fact that policemen, area boys and armed robbers appear to work in tandem on may occasions. The police have been known to tacitly endorse the operations of area boys such as in Ibadan presently where a political tin-god has made the state virtually ungovernable with the use of these miscasts. Maybe the Inspector General has a better view of the bigger picture relating to the whole situation and this is just a part of the unfolding new social order. Hopefully not, to the latter question. Oga olópa, wetin you carry?

If the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police has any views on anything relating to his job, one may be tempted to ask if he has any on the matter of armed robberies in the country and the seeming inability of the force to even get a grip on the situation, talk less of curtailing it. It is not enough for decent hardworking Nigerians to toil and eke out some form of living during the daytime, but they also have to learn how to sleep with only one eyes closed at night. And we talk about declining productivity? To make matters even worse, we now know that if it is not the policemen themselves out robbing at night whilst 'off-duty', those on duty would refuse to attend to reports of armed robbery operations going on within their theatre of operations. Ever wondered why there is no fuel for their patrol vehicles, why there are no bullets for their guns and more importantly, when the foolhardy ones among them dare to attend live crime scenes why the criminals mow them down so casually? If you had without forthcoming answer to the posers, maybe you need to wonder what made it possible for a certain Tafa to embezzle about N13bn of the Force money. Then you would have an answer and yet another question - what happened to due processes in the NPF or is it immune form the gale of reforms sweeping across the land? If so, to what and whose purpose?

So we arrive at a point where the basic expectations of a decent police force is no longer being met. So we arrive at a singular point where the police force in the form of its PRO now advises us that people are ignorant of their civic duties. Hear him "if a person commits an offence openly, according to section 14 of the CPA, a civilian has the power to arrest and hand-over the person to the police". Yeah right, what makes him think civilians would dare what the police are afraid of? Ever heard the saying, only fools...? Does the police spokesperson know that it was this fear that led to the rise of vigilante groups such as OPC, Egbesu Boys et al. Perhaps he would be kind enough to explain why these groups became necessary in the first instance and why they were prohibited subsequently. Who's fooling whom?

So we move onto another situation where the hunter becomes the hunted and where the protector becomes the victims. So we ask who would protect the Nigerian people if its protectors are running scared, if its protectors are helpless victims as well and who would dare to confront the anomaly where the lawless now rules the streets and our law officers cower in broad daylight. Flashback to the dying weeks of the last year when a high ranking police officer steps out of his office in the course of duty in Abuja and he is gunned down by men of the underworld and our force remained hapless in the face of this obvious provocation. Flashback to several instances where policemen were routinely gunned down by armed robbers and others of the same ilk and naught was forthcoming in terms of reprisals against men and women of the underworld. Rewinds to present day and you have an Inspector General sounding most belligerent when the matters of elections are discussed.

As a child, I remember being told the story of a hunter that went to the bush and came back empty handed. When he was derided by the townspeople of being an ineffective hunter, he chided them and stated they did not recognise his valour and hunting prowess because they had not seen blood. He therefore proceeded to slaughter a hundred fowls before a word of wise caution was whispered in his ears. Such was his desperation to prove his valour. Sounds familiar?

Can someone please tell the IG that his recent statement comes out very hollow in the face of the glaring inadequacies of his men to do their constitutional duty of protecting hapless Nigerians from the ravages of criminals and other underworld elements. We do not need lectures from the police about our duties more so when they appear to be ineffective at doing or recognising their own duties. Can someone please inform Mr. IG that his term in office has been a massive failure inasmuch the security and general safety of the populace is concerned? Can Mr. Ehindero also be advised that he is paid to do a job that remains largely undone and there is no excuse for this to happen in present-day Nigeria?

If his excuse is that he is yet to be confirmed in post, then I would advise OBJ to fire him now rather than later. The nation cannot afford to carry dross at this stage in its development. A lame duck NPF is as good as no law enforcement agency. Hence my derision at his attempt at sounding bellicose when the matter of monitoring elections come up.

Cynically, I am tempted to state that the IG is sounding a note of warning to soldiers about the forthcoming elections in the same manner a dog would growl at another that dares to come near its bone. The message coming from the IG, simply interpreted is this, "the 2007 elections is my big chance at feeding fat from the 'egunje' that comes from politicking and electioneering and I don't want any khaki boys around at this time as I am not interested in sharing the spoils'. Capiscé?

Pity, he has not demonstrated the same zeal when it comes to the matter of providing the country with much needed security of lives and limbs, ensuring that the rank and file of the force is motivated enough to do its constitutional duties and stopping the situation where the police force is simply used as glorified errand boys for the monied and privileged few Nigerians.

Nigerians do not need cash and carry policemen at this stage in its development. OBJ, what are we waiting for? Sack this man and put someone competent in charge. We can no longer tolerate an officer who would give us platitudes when we want actions. If need be, get rid of the driftwood at the top of the NPF to allow a breathing space for younger and more motivated officers to perform. Half a loaf is better than none and the present NPF is as good as no loaf. It is the same force that produced Mr. Ribadu. OBJ, please do something different to bring a change in the NPF. It is only a madman that would continue doing the same thing repeatedly and expect different results on each occasion. The NPF is not working!

Baba Iyabo, can you also please remind the IG that it is not up to him to create a conducive atmosphere that would engender peaceful elections to take place if you do not plan on getting rid of him? This task is a by-product of diligent governance. All Nigerians want from him now is for the NPF to live up to its constitutional duties and guarantee the safety and security of our limbs and lives.

Peaceful elections would come with a more contented populace that takes great pride in who and how it is governed, not by fiat, and most certainly not by the amount of kola or góro that our IG can chew.

God bless Nigeria.