BY Ray Morphy
I had been restraining myself from writing on the police for many reasons. In 1983, as a fresh graduate undergoing national service, NYSC, at Minna in Niger State, I applied to join the Police Force as a Cadet. Those days, we had to travel all the way to Moore Road at Ikoyi to make the application. I made the journey by train from Minna because I really wanted to join them. I was accepted but I was also accepted by the NTA.
That’s how the police lost me, and mass communication gains me. Before then, I was in Boys Scout Movement, and in Man O War too. Those days of youth, I loved uniforms, discipline, strength and manliness. On top of that I felt that the police was an instrument of law and order and one could serve society through such a body since my mother had foreclosed the possibility of joining the Army.
I have met again some of those who were accepted along with me, who had gone on to join the force. Most have retired after attaining top ranks. First, let me make it clear that the rot in the police did not start today. However, we now have an opportunity to revitalize the Police and have the police that work for us as a nation.
I love the police but that love will not make me close my eyes and my mouth to the mess Nigeria Police are gradually turning out to be! Indeed, I am heart broken with their continuous slide into infamy!
For many years, the Police Force as a whole was the subject of my prayers and meditation. I said tons of prayers for the entire force without judgement and without condemnation because I understood the weight of the challenges they face!
I willingly part with tips at most checkpoints I encounter in my numerous trips along our highways. I know that without those young men out there, the roads will be so dangerous that most of us will prefer not to travel. I give them tips because I know that more often than not, those police operatives manning checkpoints do not receive their hazard allowances. I know for a fact that they feed themselves out of the tips (call it roger if you like) that they get on the road. They often buy fuel by themselves for their patrol vehicles and they treat themselves when injured!
So I understand their plight. Many of us who have had cause to visit police stations whether as a complaint or an accused, we know the truth of the situation there. You pay for paper, you pay for biro, and you are never invited to sit down and if you do sit, you might have to pay a fee for sitting! It is that bad.
It is worse if you went there to bail someone. We know that bail is free but I am not sure the police know that! I am not sure if parking is even free anymore in police stations. Indeed, I have never visited a police station without leaving money for the OC Cell to buy Izal or Dettol to help clean the holding cells. The smell from those cells is horrendous to say the least!
And to imagine that humans are held there for days and weeks in the sweltering heat leaves deep sadness in my heart. Sometimes I wonder if the smell is part of the punishment but then, all inmates in police cells are innocent until the courts have ruled otherwise, so it is a transgression of their human rights to keep them in such inhumane and degrading conditions!
I won’t even talk about reports of extra judicial killings or interrogation by torture! I won’t even bother to go there because those have been so dutifully compiled by CLO and other human rights bodies!
So I really don’t need any international body to tell me about our police. I love them and I appreciate them but they need to up their game. I need the police hierarchy to get off the denial mode and do something quickly to salvage the force! They just have to do the needful to improve the force. They should start from retraining and this retraining in ethics should start right from the top.
They should ask the universities for help, they should ask faith based organisations for help, they should ask volunteers for help, they should get help from world police bodies and other aid agencies who are genuinely interested in helping Nigeria build a humane and crime fighting police.
All Nigerians know that the police need to clean up their act. We all have seen or heard where police failed to stop crime; we have all experienced police failing either as brutality, dereliction of duty or outright aiding and abetting of crime! We need no one to tell us that our police need improvement.
Certainly, they need more hands to correct the atrocious police to citizen ratio! They surely need more funding so that they can get more training and equipment but most of all they need to clean up their image and their ethics! In this age of social media where every Nigerian has a camera in his pocket, the atrocities of the policeman on the street can no longer be hidden or tolerated!
The media is awash with videos and pictures of police misbehaviours.
The fact that many of these reports are not investigated properly by the police authorities do not help the police gain citizens’ trust and cooperation!
Therefore, to be rated worst in the world by the police rating agency is not good at all but if you ask the Nigerian citizen, they will tell you that the rating is fair, true and well deserved.
Obviously, this rating can serve as a wake up call for the nation as well as the police authorities! I hope and pray that this will be the turning point for the fortunes of the police and the citizenry! I trust that we do not miss this opportunity!