President Jonathan’s surprise visit to Ikeja Police College and the rot he saw offered a unique opportunity to change the old ways behind the decay, but he chose to play along the same old lines, writes Vincent Obia
Nigerian politicians are famous for seeking scapegoats. President Goodluck Jonathan stayed true to form during his unscheduled visit to the Police College, Ikeja, penultimate Friday. He condemned a recent documentary by a local television station that got the picture of the terrible dilapidation at the foremost police training institute out in the open as a smear campaign against his government.
The documentary by Channels Television had revealed unimaginable decay at the over 70-year-old police college. It was the depiction of a huge blight at the heart of a key institution for the preparation of those on whose shoulders the responsibility for homeland security principally rests. And it offered enormous opportunity for both leaders and followers in the world’s most populous black country to appreciate some of the critical issues at the centre of the failures to deliver internal security.
Jonathan’s surprise visit to the police college was, therefore, a great moment to initiate radical measures for a positive change in the condition of the college and other police training institutions in the country. But the president chose to stick to the old ways. He tried hard to make Channels Television a scapegoat for the incompetence of those in charge of infrastructural and operational equipment of the police.
The president seemed to perceive the rot at the police college as a classified matter and he was, thus, more interested in ensuring that we kept our secrets secret. One of his first questions to the commandant of the college, CP I.F. Yerima, and other management members during the visit was how Channels Television gained access to the compound to film the rot.
Enraged by the documentary, Jonathan was quoted as saying, “This is a calculated attempt to damage the image of this government. The Police College, Ikeja, is not the only training institution in Nigeria.”
The Ikeja Police College is certainly not the only police training institution in the country. But judging by the state of infrastructural decay at most police residential and operational formations across the country, it is only clear that the about nine other training facilities of the force cannot be any better. Besides, Minister of Police Affairs, Caleb Olubolade, a retired Navy Captain, alluded to the fact that all the police training institutions needed attention when he said the federal government would address the problems of the Police College, Ikeja, alongside all the other training institutions.
Olubolade told newsmen in Abuja after a meeting with the police management team, “We will look at the training and re-training institutions… including the Police Academy in Kano as well as the Staff College in Jos.”
But as Action Congress of Nigeria put it in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary Lai Mohammed, “Subjecting police men and women to dehumanising and demeaning conditions, the type exposed by Channels, during training, means we cannot and should not expect them to be exemplary after their training. Nothing good can come out of what we saw in that college.”
If Jonathan had wanted to make a mark on an issue on which all Nigerians, his supporters and opponents alike, have long made a common cause, he could have used the opportunity of his visit to the police college and first-hand feel of one of the greatest problems of the force to initiate a real process of change. But he chose to reduce the opportunity to a comic relief and, once more, defer the hope of progress by sticking to the old methods.
Jonathan elected to blame Channels for exposing the ills. His police affairs minister hurriedly put together a committee to, for the umpteenth time, look into the problems of the police. A forum planned by Channels Television to bring together policy-makers from both the private and public sectors to brainstorm on the way forward for the Nigeria Police was also suspended. The forum, which had been scheduled to hold at the Muson Centre, Lagos, was to have in attendance international security experts, reportedly, including a former United States Federal Bureau of Investigation director. Though, Channels Television’s General Manager, Operations, Mr. Kayode Akintemi, said the suspension was to ensure the involvement of a wider range of stakeholders, many believe the conference was barred by the federal government.
Former Police Service Commission member Ayo Obe said she was surprised to hear that the president was quarrelling with Channels over the exposure of the decrepit state of the police college. “If they say it is a smear campaign, my first question would be, how can you smear somebody with the truth?”
To her, “The condition of the police training colleges is not new or a surprise to anybody who has read a single one of the many reports on the police that have been written and delivered to government since 1999.”
The issue of police reform committees has run like clockwork since the Fourth Republic, with all the successive presidents setting up one team or another. It has proceeded with unvarying regularity and predictability both in terms of spur for the committees and failure of their reports to be the basis for any far-reaching turnaround of the Nigeria Police.
In 2006, there was the Presidential Committee on Reform of the Police headed by Muhammed Dan Madami, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police. In 2008, there was the Mohammed D. Yusuf panel on the police, and last year saw the Parry Osayande panel on police reform. The Civil Society Panel on Police Reform in Nigeria also published its report last year.
The Nigeria Police has seemed to be a mirror of the country’s growing culture of paper activism. “I would have thought that if Mr. President was planning a surprise visit to the Ikeja or any other of the police training colleges, he would have read the several reports on police reform,” said Obe.
“In fact, he could even have saved himself the embarrassment, if he felt that it was embarrassing to go there and find that what Channels reported was true. The first question he asked was not how could you allow this to happen, but were questions about, this is a disgrace, it is a smear campaign. That’s unfortunate.”
Obe, who chaired last year’s Civil Society Panel on Police Reform in Nigeria, said, “There are so many committees on police reform that somebody would even think that we were in the industry of reforming the police on paper.
“Now what is required is to move from paper to action.”
Alas, Jonathan’s pronouncements and actions since penultimate Saturday’s visit to the Ikeja Police College do not seem to be those of a leader prepared to change the mere comic relief that negative revelations about public institutions have seemed to represent in Nigeria. The 11-member panel formed to look into the rot in the police are largely peopled by those many observers believe should be answering questions about what went wrong at the force’s training facilities. Headed by the Director, Special Duties, Ministry of Police Affairs, the committee is expected to submit its report on January 29.
While the seeming trivialisation of serious situations may have worked for some people on some issues, it would certainly be a dangerous gamble for Jonathan to take the issue of police training lying down at this time.