by Dolapo Aina
When this writer listened for some minutes, it dawned on the writer that these officers were university graduates. What made this writer take interest in their conversation was what one of the five MOPOLs said. He said “we are a punch of poor people”.
The public generalisation and perception of a typical police officer is one of disdain and if probable, people would state that a policeman and a politician in Nigeria would continuously jostle for the number one spot reserved for national villains. But the above is a hasty public generalisation for the Police Force, considering the fact that there are police officers who are diligent. And these diligent officers do win hearts and minds through their propitiation and are setting the blaze for others to follow, though; “all isn’t well” with them in terms of welfare et al. The reason for this statement can be found in the short stories found therein this article.
On Thursday, the 11th of July 2013, this writer was in the waiting room of a firm in Lagos. While this writer was neck-deep, reading a book whilst waiting for an agreed appointment, this writer couldn’t but pick up snippets of a well-articulated conversation amongst Mobile Police Officers better known as MOPOLs. This writer was taken aback by the well-spoken and articulated sentences without “Englicides or verbicides” (or what is locally called shelling, missile or “ibon” loosely meaning Wild-Wild West-like gun). When this writer listened for some minutes, it dawned on the writer that these officers were university graduates. What made this writer take interest in their conversation was what one of the five MOPOLs said. He said “we are a punch of poor people”.
If an educated police officer can make such a confession, then what behoves for an uneducated officer? Their conversation was triggered by a newspaper article/news item they all read. It was about a Senate committee report on the police or the dismissal of some Commissioners of Police or so. The most vocal officer revealed to his colleagues that he can count the number of government-manufactured uniforms he had worn (only three) in his entire career spanning a decade and a half. With those uniforms, he had to make sure he was very careful with washing and ironing of those fragile uniforms.
And the second topic for discussion amongst these learned and perspicacious officers was quite revealing. This writer had to compose and save the revelation as a text message draft on phone. They talked about patrol vans. Paraphrasing them, they said “each police station has four patrol vans, i.e. 40litres per van. That is, a police station has to fill up four patrol vans with 160 litres. How would they cope when the allocation for it isn’t sufficient? But our bosses won’t talk. If they do, they would lose their jobs. Boldness puts the DPOs-Divisional Police Officers in trouble.” It would appear that boldness to challenge the status quo isn’t a virtue. The officer’s statement was confirmed to be true by the other officers who opined that the DPOs that spoke to the journalists/reporters concerning the dismissal of some Commissioners of Police preferred to be anonymous.
These learned police officers also discussed the rippling effect of Channels TV special report on the deteriorating state of the Police Force Academy in Ikeja and the President’s unannounced visit to the Academy. Apparently, when the President arrived, a wedding reception was in full swing, (with the bride and groom probably giving the uninvited and August visitor of a President some skelewo and atala dance moves) to his chagrin, since he came for some serious business. The officers all concurred that presently, the security at the Police Academy is air-tight that this writer would want to believe that even a stray dog wouldn’t venture there for daily scavenging trips. This writer won’t re-visit the police college issue. The documentary is there for all to see online. What this writer would touch base on would be the uniforms and the patrol vans.
In the month of August or early September 2013, this writer heard on a show that the Federal Government allocates funds for new Police uniforms yearly. The Inspector General of Police gets his new uniforms and doesn’t pay to get his. But how come a lot of Police Officers’ uniforms are always looking faded-black rather than shining black if they do pick up new uniforms yearly? If they don’t get their new uniforms yearly, why is it not so when officially, uniforms are available? Is the disbursement of uniforms contracted like that of the National Youth Service Corps?
The issue of adequate petrol for four patrol vans per police station vis-à-vis the inadequate allocation for petrol clearly clarifies or sheds some light on the reason behind the continuous unofficial levy placed on commercial buses by police officers. In present day Nigeria and in particular Lagos, how can police stations, afford to fill up four patrol vans with 160litres of petrol? Are the security officers’ salaries (even if increased) meant for bridging the gap between the funds available and what is needed? With so much funds allocated to security in the budget, should security officers (the rank and file) christen themselves “a punch of poor people”? Without any iota of doubt, something is fundamentally wrong somewhere.
And on the 26th of September 2013, while trying to confirm and validate the uniform issue and conclude this article, this writer discussed with a MOPOL officer who is on the security detail of a billionaire’s palatial home. When asked if he collects his uniforms from the government, the officer laughed and told this writer that during his over 18years deployment to Lagos, he hadn’t collected a single uniform from the government. According to him, most officers don’t get uniforms, so they have to sew their uniforms themselves. The only way an officer would get the government uniform is by paying for it. When asked how this is done, he revealed that the factory where the uniforms are made is in Nigeria. But if an officer is waiting for the government-approved uniforms; it would be like the Flying Eagles football team of 1983, who haven’t received the promises and scholarships from the government (you would have to wait forever, if you are the rank and file).
To get the uniforms manufactured by the factory (which has the contract), an officer would have to part with 10,000Naira. Ironically, officers buy their uniforms from another officer (who probably is the agent of whoever has “colobied” the unrecorded and un-awarded contract of selling the uniforms-colobi loosely means colonised or greedy apportionment. Asked if corruption can be curbed, he looked at this writer with surprised laughter saying “how can it be curbed at the ground level whilst the top level is oozing with it? It can be curbed but not with the present set of leaders.”
This writer walked away, amazed at the open-heartedness and humanness of a police officer. Inadequate wages, officially free uniforms being paid for, inadequate weaponry and insufficient funds for patrol vans; and the reader begins to fathom all the challenges these brave men and women have to surmount on a daily basis. Social media is abuzz with several videos of officers requesting for 20, 50 or 100Naira. Ever wondered that these tokens demanded are gathered to fill up their four patrol vans with petrol. Ever asked crack detective officers (in the mould of Jack Bauer) who risk their lives busting armed robbers, criminals and most especially affluent people apprehended coming from occultic nocturnal gatherings and stained with animal blood but who place calls and orders from above truncates the officers’ duties?
Isn’t something utterly amiss when the Inspector General of Police is the lowest paid boss amongst his peers from other security agencies? The government should fix the Police officers’ muted challenges before the lamentations of the officers of the Police Force who aren’t machines but human beings become the citizens’ vocalised consternation. I walked away, not wanting to analyse the officer’s remark on corruption at the top.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.