Why is police corrupt from bottom up? And why does the Nigerian police on duty abroad excel as a good ambassador of his country but fail at home? It does seem the police is a reflection of the Nigerian society and until corruption is cleaned off our moral fabric, no one should expect so much. Having tried all the rules in the playbook to re-create the police system may be, just maybe, a decentralised police would serve the people better and curb corruption, argues Nduka Nwosu
“Happy weekend Sir” is the title of an unfinished essay by a member of a protest group campaigning against gender discrimination and police brutality. Happy weekend sir is an appeal by the police on duty, to help make the week pleasant, to be part of millions of families looking forward to a memorable and eventful week end.
That explains why improved conditions of service in terms of wages, allowances and housing are central in dealing with the psychology of the policeman and his incessant desire for money, across the counter deals and all that back hand business. The nature of the job and the tendency for corruption is probably worldwide. In New York, corruption was fought hands down by ensuring the grass eaters or low cadre policemen were put in check by their bosses and if they wore the corruption tag as a norm, the meat eaters or high level policemen among them were held responsible and punished. In Nigeria, this may prove difficult to adopt because corruption starts from the topmost rank down to the lowest, the leadership problem or the trouble with Nigeria as Chinua Achebe postulated.
In one of his appearances on Arise television Professor Chidi Odinkalu re-emphasised the fact that there is a culture in the police rank and file encouraging corruption from the bottom to the top, more precisely from the top down. This institutionalized trend is called making returns from the loot garnered from victims for various offences, extortion not excluded. It puts a strain on the policeman on the road and leads to all manner of criminal acts. Returns are also done in a similar fashion in the Immigration and Customs departments. Ministers supervising revenue generating departments of government receive returns by way of rent. The list goes on and on. So why should an inspector general of police for example, not expect returns which do not include the budget he manages and the billions of contracts that come under his purview? The system is ridden with institutionalised corruption which a policeman tries to exploit to help himself when the victim is caught with his hands deep in the cookie jar. Oftentimes attempts to plug these corruption leakages fail because systemic corruption is bottom up. Victims of police in the cell contribute money to buy candles, match boxes, mosquito coils et al. If you have a case with police, you have to pay money to fuel the car that will drive the accused to the station and if you have to bail yourself as an accused, there is an unofficial fee attached the same way old NEPA officials would need a transportation fee and an additional reconnection fee to fix a disconnected line. That is what makes the job exciting, the unofficial sources of income that come with the territory.
The police can hide your iniquities once money exchanges hands just as a smart accountant does window dressing to secure a bank loan for a fledgling company that may collapse shortly after picking up the loan. Don’t forget the bank manager gets factored into the deal and his DPO friend gets regularly ‘greased ‘to protect him In the event of trouble. If you want police to guard your estate, you will have to pay for every bullet fired into the air warning potential bandits to keep off. The shopping list of a corrupt police officer is humongous but as in all cases only the big boys go to the bush on a hunting exercise, kill their loot and bring it home.
The rest make do with the sprinkles down the road. Someone once had his car impounded by the police and was advised if he wanted the assistance of a top police officer to secure the car, he must part with a certain amount of money. His boys would make photocopies for needed documents and his contact would have to be settled for a consultancy fee. That moment the top officer who was always in the news was demystified in his consciousness.
In all of these, the gun with its bullet is the intimidating weapon used to terrorise the public it is meant to protect. Sadly the police have become the Roman sentinel who guards the gate to the city but prefers to turn the gun on those he is meant to protect.
Of course when the executive sends in a bogus budget with several question marks, two things are possible; either the executive agrees to a deal when the budget is revised upwards by the National Assembly which expectedly will factor its demands such as constituency projects, renovations, travels, furniture and other allowances or the executive would have the budget revised downwards. Since the police know it operates in a corrupt system, it expects society to bear its burden. When it does, it amounts to nothing just as minimum wage solves no problem for the beneficiaries. The policeman knows what to do to settle himself. This is summed up as corruption.
How about revising extant laws for positive results?
Before we crucify the police, his problem and the way he approaches it is the problem of the average Nigerian, how to short change the system and live like others in the rat race. How much does the police man take home for a salary? A misery index wage that is below two square meals tells it all. He lives in a barracks that at best approximates to a zoo. Worse of all his kinsmen have minimum regard for him and this lowers his self-esteem.
The reason is not too far-fetched. The police mentality scorns the Biblical injunction, which says it is better to give than to receive. During the book launch of Ikedi Ohakim while in office, a popular comedian said the only reason he has issues visiting a certain Oba in Lagos is that you end up giving and if he were to visit you or attend your event, you would also be the one giving. This is the way of the policeman; he receives from both hands and does not give. In the church while offerings and donations are being made, he goes into hiding and it is probably not difficult to hazard a guess if the policeman pays his tithe since cheating rules his soul. The problem of a typical policeman summarises the problem of the average Nigerian, how to secure today against tomorrow. In spite of all this, some of the finest breed have made their impact and left. Inspector General Etim Inyang comes to mind followed by a host of others probably unsung. What about the dancing traffic officers who transform traffic control to high art, making the soul of workers rushing to work glow?
The reason for corruption in the Nigerian police is not different from why the average Nigerian is corrupt, one is to meet the demands of everyday living, putting food on the table for the family and then going the extra mile to seek for self-actualisation even if it means to kill and loot.
The summary is that like most Nigerians, the policeman on the road has been largely marginalised and no matter the efforts made in the past, his characterisation approximates that of a hungry man, an endangered species in search of a game for feast.
Marvellous Iheukwumere, a Harvard Law student did her research and concluded there was need for a legal reform governing the police and these extant laws have been there since 1943 without much revision. Training and retraining of police has been a recurring mantra needed to elevate the standards and quality of the Nigerian policeman. Has it made any difference? May be it has made some minimum difference. The Esprit de Corps approach of the French Civil Service remains a global reference point that could help in the total reform of the police. That means a whole generation of new police men and women recruited with a high level of expectation and new vision statement should be the ideal for our future police recruitments. Everything about him should be one of a new age of great possibilities. While doing that, ethical reforms which Iheukwumere advocated, should be pursued vigorously.
Again this is not new. All the propositions in the play book of police reformation have been tested and tried. Many who became radicals seeking to play the role of the new kid on the block collapsed like a pack of cards early in the day. Alozie Ogugbuaja, a Mass Communications graduate from the University of Lagos, who made a name as a police PRO is a good example. No one remembers and talks about him any longer for his gallantry in exposing police exploits against armed robbers. Ogugbuaja in his days made a hero out of devoted police men and women working daily to rid Lagos of crime. His pepper soup narrative against soldiers became his undoing.
How do we call the riot act if we add an integrity code of conduct and disciplinary measures such as bribe taking, bullets that cannot be accounted for through an audit check et al? Will CCTVs installed in critical points in and outside the place of work help to check corrupt practices and who then will be the chief security officer patrolling in and out to keep the police in check? All these could come under an internal audit check system, which again is there as part of the police system of checks and regulations. The police through its community relations system have tried to recreate its image but how far has it gone? May be, just maybe, it calls for greater sophistication in human relations management.
What manner of policemen kill and sell human parts? Some #Endsars protesters had talked of how the SARS police in Anambra State led by a certain DSP James Nwafor and his kind for many years eliminated his victims whose body parts got missing. James Nwafor trended for a long time on Twitter and other social media platforms before the #Endsars protests began. Surprisingly, the Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano only hurriedly disengaged him as his staff when the protests gathered momentum.
In an explosive interview granted to Leadership newspaper which this reporter managed at the time, the Oluwo of Iwoland in Osun State, Oba Abdulrosheed Adewale Akanbi claimed without equivocation that he has been fighting a war against his fellow Obas in the Southwest for their unbridled consumption of human parts for sacrificial purposes. The human parts industry in the country, it is claimed, is a multi-billion naira business. These body parts missing when a policeman carries out an extra judicial killing and secret burial are often needed by ambitious politicians, businessmen, obas, ezes and other forms of traditional rulers and their associates, for their regular propitiations and esoteric rituals to the gods they serve. They make the industry a money spinner for the foot soldiers. These things once thought to belong in the realm of conspiracy theories have acquired protean imageries actualised as truth. The human parts business was one sore point of the #Endsars protest that no one is talking about. Why are we even now as a people so rooted in the worship of Baal and Molech, something our forefathers robustly practiced?
What the police authority or government needs to largely curb or stem corruption, not to totally halt it, is to create an El Dorado, a pampered paradise for the emerging cadre of policemen and women both at work and on retirement, a satellite environment containing all the good things of life, a constant training and retraining at home and abroad and a code of conduct that will instill best practices and sanctions when profaned. That our policemen earn laurels when they travel to other countries means our environment has been harsh to them. The minimum luxury and return given to them abroad should not be anything less in their country.
The same expectations we demand from the other ranks of the police on the streets and elsewhere, should be extended to the Inspector General and his deputies whose loyalty would be to the nation, not to any president or the ruling party when it matters. His mode of recruitment through a board set up by law would go a long way to achieve this.
More importantly, the police outside the barracks, should be made to live among the people they serve and protect to earn their love and appreciation, which is also saying a decentralised police would serve the people better than a centralized one.