By Dele Momodu
Dear Sir, let me start by expressing my deepest sympathy at the ordeal our Police men and women face in the course of their duties in Nigeria. I knew you to be one of our finest officers during a brief encounter I had with you at the Louis Edet House in Abuja about four years ago. At that time, you were of the rank of Assistant Inspector-General of Police but I was very impressed by your charisma and carriage. You did not bear the mien of a typical Nigerian Police officer. You spoke eloquently and intelligently. I was happy when your name was announced as the Inspector-General by President Goodluck Jonathan. But I was also sad at the same time.
The reason was very simple. I had anticipated that, despite your vast experience, knowledge, and competence, you were going to be bogged down by excessive officialdom and our uncommon bureaucratic fiasco. The big men of power would never allow you control your own budget. They know where the fat allocations are and go after them like vampires. The Nigerian system has already erected more than enough obstacles to human progress and development. You are definitely going to be working at cross purposes with the civil servants and the gluttonous politicians at the Ministry of Police Affairs. At the end of the day, the Inspector-General would have nothing to inspect other than the rot of a nation completely at the mercy of public and private criminals.
Your officers will grow leaner like vultures while the reckless Administrators will grow fatter at their expense. The yearly allocation to your Ministry is enough to build our own Scotland Yard or Federal Bureau of Investigation but the greed of a few leaders and their collaborators will never allow such to happen. Nothing has ever changed in practical terms about the Nigerian Police Force. They have been sentenced permanently to a miserable life of penury. They are disrespected, abused, and exposed to danger without commensurate remunerations. It is such a shame that criminals are able, willing and ready to take good care of them than their own employers. I knew there is little you would be able to do to ameliorate their acute suffering no matter your level of determination.
While it is good that you’ve reached the peak of your carrier, it is not an enviable height to attain with all the humongous problems awaiting your attention. Virtually all your predecessors had failed to curtail and contain crime and criminals. A few of them even succumbed to the alluring temptations of fraud and corruption which forced the hunter to become the hunted. I pray such evil will not befall you. No man can do it all but I wish you can make the difference and achieve some tangible results. I will offer a few useful tips after regaling you with my personal encounters with the Nigerian Police Force.
My direct experience dates back to around 1988. I was travelling by public transport from Lagos to Ile-Ife. The Peugeot station wagon was stopped at a police checkpoint around the Lagos-Ibadan toll-gate. The driver had whispered something like “this police people are going to take the little money I’ve made today.” At that time, and as a journalist, I did not know the ways of the Lagos people that well. I was a bushman straight out Great Ife and bristling with ideas and idealism. I asked the driver why he wanted to waste his money on the police when he had committed no crime. The driver mumbled some mumbo jumbo that I could not decipher. But I imagined he was thinking what my business was in the matter, if he chose to dash out his entire day’s income. As one Yoruba adage would have put it, “who did we slap, who’s the one crying?”
I was like an outsider weeping louder than the bereaved. I still don’t know what demon possessed me that afternoon as I jumped out of the car to challenge the officers. One of them had collected the vehicle particulars and kept it in his sweaty arm-pit. I waited a few minutes and opened my big mouth to query why the officer was wasting our time when all the documents were in place. That was almost a grave error. The officer asked why I poked my nose into what did not concern me. I committed a more fundamental error by announcing confidently that I was a journalist. The last thing I recollected was that I felt some heavy explosion on my face. Thereafter, I got a few quick jabs that would have made Mohammed Ali green with envy.
It did not end there. I was dragged to the police post near the toll gate where I was accused of, among other things, slapping an officer on duty, tearing his uniform and insulting them black and blue. I was too stupefied to talk. The pain on my face did not help matters. It all appeared like a bad dream and I just wished this cup would quickly pass over me. The officer behind the counter did not waste any time in sentencing me into his odoriferous detention centre where I could see some semi-lunatics yelling. There were no mobile phones in those days to make contact with my bosses at Concord newspapers. I was therefore completely at their mercy. They were the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. As they say in our country, it was a matter of “God’s case no appeal!”
But as fate would have it, an angel miraculously appeared. An officer in mufti had peeped at my face and asked “is that not Dele Momodu of Concord?”. I answered pronto, even before he completed the sentence. He tried to speak my Edo language to me: “Ogbo…” He didn’t realise I couldn’t speak my dad’s language, due to no fault of mine. Most parents did not take their kids home for fear of witches and wizards in those dark ages. I pretended to speak the language and he warned me not to interfere in police matters again. He didn’t have to tell me. I had already learnt a great lesson. Since that day, I tried to avoid the police like the plague. But I did not quite succeed.
Greater trouble came shortly after the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was won by my mentor, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, but was annulled by the Babangida government. I had gone to Chief Abiola’s house in Ikeja, Lagos, that hot afternoon of July 30, if my memory serves me right. My plan was to spend a few hours, as was usual then, to review the way forward. Chief Abiola kept me in the house till about 4a.m when his last visitors left. He went into his bedroom and handed me some documents which he said I should hand over to the dare-devil reporters at Tell magazine. As dangerous as the mission was, I did not hesitate in accepting to undertake the risk of visiting one of the Tell directors clandestinely. I eventually decided to visit Mr Kolawole Ilori who lived towards Iyana-Ipaja/Akowonjo area of Lagos at that time. As soon as I handed the documents to him, I headed home somewhere in the Adigboluja-Ojodu area of Lagos, where my wife of only seven months was waiting with bated breath.
I had hardly climbed into bed when we heard a heavy bang on our door. The unwanted visitor left no one in doubt that whatever our own decision, he needed to see us by force. My wife ran into the bedroom in panic and told me of the persistent knocks on our door. I came out of bed and as the man of the house asked in my croaky voice who was at the door. The man at the other end said he was from the Force Headquarters at Kam Salem House in Moloney and that it was in my interest to open the door or have it forced open. I didn’t test his threat or resolve. I simply obeyed.
He introduced himself and announced that he didn’t come alone. His boss was waiting downstairs and I said he should please come up. The officer turned out to be Assistant Commissioner of Police Ganiyu Daodu (he was the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Operations, who died recently. May Allah bless his soul). He told me they were inviting me for a friendly chat. From experience, I knew there was nothing so called. As a matter of fact, I had a premonition of my arrest and detention. It was only a matter of time. I pleaded with my invaders to let me take a quick shower since I had been out all night. They told me they had been trailing me all that time and were just waiting to for me to go home.
I eventually followed them and that friendly chat ended up with my unexpected detention at Alagbon. The Alagbon experience taught me why our police cannot act like normal officers elsewhere. These guys were just too poor. I was happy to have as the President of my cell, Mr Tunde Awelewa, a handsome gentleman and former Managing Director of the 21st Century Finance House. Immediately the Police brought me in, Mr Awelewa gave me a warm welcome and made me to escape some of the excruciating drill new-comers like me were expected to undergo. He told me to contribute money to the State, which was called Kalakuta Republic, which I promptly handed over to OC Treasury. Our in-house IG showed me round the filthy cell and gave all the conditions we must obey.
Sir, Nigeria is an amazing country. Your officers ran a powerful cartel in the detention camps. The bigger the detainee the happier they were. The place was as expensive as Sheraton Hotel because we had to buy our comfort. Our wives could bring us any food and sumptuous soups with catfish and other delicacies once we struck a deal. The President gave me the privilege of sitting outside the cell with him at night and we ordered our beer into pure water bottles smuggled in by friendly officers. It was our tranquiliser against the infidel mosquitos that bit us with a vengeance. We nicknamed one officer, Iku Baba Yeye, after he told us he’s worked with the Police for over 20 years but had never seen N10,000 cash in his life. He said he would be tempted to free a murderer for as little as N20,000.
There was another officer who used to harass me every 5a.m when I first landed in the cell. He would come and start screaming and sending subliminal messages to me by saying: “Everybody wake up. We have to count you and you have to go and fetch your water now. There is no big man in prison. You’re all equal.” I did not realise it was all braggadocio to terrorise us into dropping some cash for him until one officer tipped me off. I asked how much I needed to pay and the man said N50 was good enough. I was too shocked that all that yelling was worth just N50. I decided to double it and it worked like magic.
Every morning the man came in and greeted me nicely. He gave me the sobriquet of OC Information, and got me some young guys to fetch me water and wash my plates and so on. It opened my eyes to the sad state of Nigeria and why crime cannot go away so easily. Officers in charge of weapons were encouraged to rent them out to criminals in order to survive the vicissitudes of life. I’m sure the situation is much worse today despite billions spent on the Police yearly. Nothing illustrates it better than the patriotic expose of the Ikeja Police College by Mr John Momoh and the Channels crew. My jaw dropped as I watched that ugly documentary.
But all hope is not lost. I just have a few suggestions. I don’t know how you will get your Ministry to act decisively, but you must try. The Nigeria Police needs a total overhaul. Fortunately for you, but sadly for Nigeria, we have PhD holders roaming the streets. Henceforth, you should give priority to First Class brains. You will get more than enough to recruit today.
You need to urgently retrain and re-orientate your entire workforce and take advantage of the advancement of technology and telecommunications in particular. If we can obtain 10 million phones for ten million farmers, you should be able to equip each officer with modern gadgets for tracking down criminals.
The welfare of the entire Police force must be paramount. They must be paid salaries that would make them less dependent on criminals. Their insurance package must be such that their families will never suffer if they suffer serious injuries or even death. A situation where criminals carry more sophisticated weapons than our police is totally unacceptable. You must clean up their environment and turn our police centres into objects of beauty. I am aware that one of your senior officers, Yinka Balogun, revamped Panti and the SFU at Milverton making the environment conducive for criminal investigation and detention. I am certain that such measures replicated on a larger scale will inspire and stimulate your officers to work harder and dramatically reduce crime within their ranks and thus also in our society. This is not an impossible task and I pray that God will assist you and crown your efforts with monumental success.