The police must be well provided for

With the manner in which contributions have flowed into the GoFundMe account opened for the family of the late Sergeant Chukwudi Iboko, following the intervention of a national newspaper, it was obvious that Nigerians could appreciate professional policemen who give everything in the line of duty. But the whole incident also exposed the poor welfare package as well as lack of care for the rank and file by the police authorities.

Until the story of their gallantry went viral, the families of Idoko and another Sergeant, Sunday Agbo who died from gunshot injuries as well as that of Sergeant Otu Attang (who lost one of his eyes) had been abandoned. It was the public interest in their ordeals that gingered the police authorities, four months after the incident, to grant them belated posthumous promotions for their heroic acts.

Although the bank robbery occurred on February 22 this year, it attracted public attention when footage of the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera which captured the incident was released. In the video clip, Sergeant Iboko was seen engaging the robbers in a gun duel, killing one of them before he was himself shot. He died the next day from the wounds. While Zenith Bank has reportedly announced that it would compensate the families of both the deceased and the injured, there are critical issues that should not be glossed over.

Since at the epicentre of the criminal justice system is the police, it is a shame that in our country, policemen are treated almost with contempt. Four years ago, a police officer’s wife at the Obalende barracks in Lagos made a public statement which revealed the indignities to which their families had been exposed: “We have been suffering in silence,” she said. “These barracks are like a refugee camp. We have no toilet facilities, no pipe-borne water and no electricity, and we are now being threatened by flood and reptiles. This is a place of death.”

As we have stated in the past, even those Nigerians who for one reason or the other do not like the police must admit that what they do is a dangerous and thankless job as they confront the brutalities that the rest of society only imagine or watch on television within the comfort of our homes. That the public rose, after the interview granted by the distraught widow of Sergeant Iboko (who left behind seven young children) was a demonstration that they appreciate the police and the work they are doing, and indeed help in their small way to cushion the suffering, neglect and dejection which many of them feel as well.

For sure, there are issues with the police in Nigeria. There were stories of police officers collaborating with armed gangs. We have seen officers taking a nap under the shade of a tree in the patrol cars provided for fighting the criminals that menace the populace daily. But that is one side of a bad coin. For we also have to ponder whether we are facing the consequences of our own neglect of this vital organisation.

We must recognise that there is a strategic relationship between the well-being of the police and the security and safety of the nation and the citizens. The two cannot be separated. It is only when we take due care of the rank and file that we can legitimately demand that they perform their duties with optimum zeal. A demoralised police force cannot fulfil that duty. We hope the authorities will use the current situation to look into the issue of police welfare.