By Olusegun Adeniyi
Following a viral video in which police escorts attached to a prominent Kano-based musician, Dauda Adamu Kahutu Rarara were shooting bullets into the air like village hunters, authorities in Abuja have waded in. “The NPF has condemned the unprofessionalism and act of indiscipline displayed by the policemen caught in the video that is trending where some policemen were seen firing shots to rob the ego and hype a musician in Kano city”, according to a statement by the Force spokesman, Olumuyiwa Adejobi. “The police officers have been identified and arrested. They will be brought to the force headquarters for an interview and necessary disciplinary action. Such an act is unpoliced and cannot be condoned.”
Whatever “unpoliced” may mean, it is unfortunate that this misuse of police officers persists. And that is because those who should protect the dignity of their rank and file have commercialised personnel deployment. Today, a Force that is constitutionally responsible for law and order has become one in which its rank and file are deployed to run errands for whoever can pay for their services. The two orderlies of Rarara may face disciplinary action but that amounts to treating symptoms rather than the disease. I don’t know of any other country where such high numbers of police personnel are deployed on guard duties.
If we scratch the surface, we may discover that the mutual distrust and barely disguised animosity between the police and ordinary citizens they serve is traceable to low self-esteem and suspicion that their worth and work are not appreciated. Yet, those whose duty it is to enhance their dignity are the very people who turn their men and officers into servants of the high and mighty of our society.
In a recent story, ‘Insecurity: Worries over growing number of police escorts attached to VIPs’, The Guardian newspaper raised serious issues about police personnel attached to private businessmen, political appointees, actresses and even their children, noting that this security protection is at the expense of citizens and has become a public nuisance. “In traffic situations, ‘the big man or woman’, or their children and nannies, could be seen seated in the vehicles behind. Trucks in quasi-military motorcade trail them. Inside are police officers, on secondment to these Very Important Persons (VIPs). At traffic bottlenecks, these officers, armed with AK-47 rifles slap bonnets of nearby cars, dishing orders to other road users: ‘Move. Clear. Give way’”, according to the report which detailed the ugly scenes many of us experience or witness daily on Nigerian roads.
For years, despite security challenges that plague the nation, the status symbol in Nigeria is to go about with as many police orderlies as possible. And you don’t even need to hold public office to enjoy such indulgence. Foremost stand-up comedian, Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, aka Ali Baba, once shared his experience:”I spent three hours today directing traffic on Alfred Rewane Road (Ikoyi, Lagos). The drivers obeyed until three gun trotting policemen jumped down from two escort vehicles… to do their priority traffic control. I told one of the officers to take it easy because if I had not been there helping with the traffic, they wouldn’t have made it this far. ‘Oga dey hurry’, one said. I walked up to the vehicle and asked oga to wind down. But another set of three armed policemen alighted from the escort Prado Jeep by which time the gun brandishing officers had made way for our very important personality…10 security details attached to one man! Anyway, what do I know? Shebi I am just a comedian.”
In my August 2022 column, ‘Police Orderly, Not Maiguard’, I raised this same issue. A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) sent me a note after reading it. “Segun, your column this morning is only for the record, it will not correct the ills. It is a self-inflicted malaise as you rightly pointed out. No IGP, I repeat, no IGP can stop it because none has the balls. We all saw on television the recent burial of the Queen (of England). How many dignitaries did you see with orderlies? And everything went perfectly. The weekend is almost here, go to any socials, you will see the nauseating abuse of police personnel. I have over the years confronted the high echelon of the Force on it. All I am always told is ‘Oga, don’t worry, we are working on it’. Notwithstanding my statutory entitlements regarding orderlies and aides as a retired AIG, I have refused to activate the entitlements. Let them serve the public instead. Segun, I feel both angry and frustrated by what is happening in the police…”
Like the retired AIG, I too am angry and frustrated. I cannot count the number of columns I have written on this vexatious issue as well as on the need for improved welfare package for the police. But even if I am beginning to sound like a broken gramophone, I will continue to harp on the fact that unless we deal with it, we will never resolve our security challenges. Besides, police personnel are the ones paying the supreme price for serving these big men and women. In a recent piece, ‘Bulletproof Saviour’, I alluded to the five people, among them two policemen, who lost their lives when gunmen ambushed the convoy of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah. Two additional police officers were also injured. A month later, it was the convoy of a popular Christian cleric, Apostle Johnson Suleman, that was attacked by gunmen. Seven people, including three police officers, were killed. At about the same period, the lives of four policemen were gruesomely terminated when the convoy of a former Imo Governor, Ikedi Ohakim was attacked by gunmen in the state. In each of the three incidents, and many similar others that claimed police personnel, the target of the attacks and members of their families escaped because they were being driven in bulletproof vehicles. Meanwhile, their police escorts are condemned to some ramshackle Toyota Hilux vehicles.
If there is anything that the Rarara video shows, it is that there is a crisis of mission in the police. We can only hope that the next administration will deal with it. And for emphasis, I am rerunning the August 2022 column to insist that our policemen must stay true to their role as law enforcers, not Maiguards!
As the principal custodian of peace, order and security in a constitutional democracy, no institution is arguably more important than the police. But so abused is this law enforcement authority in Nigeria that most of their personnel have been reduced to playing guard duties for members of the business and political elite. It therefore came as no surprise when the Police Force Headquarters announced last week that one ‘Professor and human rights activist’ as well as her housemaid, brutally assaulted a policewoman “due to the refusal of the orderly to breach professional ethics by carrying out menial and domestic chores at her house.”
While the said professor and accomplice have been charged to court, I am surprised that the police could publicly express outrage over a self-inflicted problem they have refused to deal with. We must recall that more than a decade ago on 5th April 2012 in Calabar, Cross River State, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, warned police orderlies to cease carrying handbags belonging to politicians and others for whom they provide security. In explaining that the duty of an orderly was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their principal and not to run demeaning errands, Abubakar said, “So, VIPs should take note that when we give them orderlies, they are not supposed to be turned into house boys and house girls.”
Pushing the responsibility to accord dignity to those being served presupposes a lack of professionalism on the part of their personnel, but police authorities can also not feign ignorance about the abuse to which those personnel are being subjected. And the reputational damage such inflicts on the Police Force. From holding plates of food at parties for fat cats who cannot dish their own meals, to carrying bags at airports, it is as if many of these law enforcement agents have been deployed to run errands for our big men and women. Some orderlies even shine shoes for their principals in the public. And by refusing to streamline the list of those entitled to police/security protection, all manner of people, including renowned ‘419’ fraudsters and kidnappers, go about with police personnel in a status-obsessed society.
I am delighted that the Police Service Commission (PSC) understands where the problem lies by calling for a review of the operations of the Special Protection Unit (SPU). “The commission frowns at the abuse of police orderlies by Nigerians who now use them as status symbols or convert them to house helps who clean, cook or do menial jobs”, said the PSC in a statement by their spokesman, Ikechukwu Ani, who condemned the attack on the policewoman. “With the security problems ravaging the nation, there is an urgent need to free many police officers loitering in private houses and following big men around.”
That precisely is the point. Statutorily, only the president, vice-president, governors, local council chairmen, legislative principal officers in the states and at federal level, magistrates and judges are entitled to police protection. But this privilege has over the years been extended to just about anybody who can pay, leaving ever fewer personnel for real police work. Such is the level of degeneration that many go about with contingents of policemen in Toyota Hilux vehicles that have become part of the convoy of every prominent person in Nigeria. To worsen matters, the number of policemen deployed to serve political office holders is mind boggling.
In April 2017, following a public altercation between the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and then Inspector General of Police, (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, the Force Headquarters released a statement, apparently oblivious of its implication. Responding to the claim by the governor that the IGP had marked him out for execution, then police spokesman, CSP Jimoh Moshood gave the number of police personnel attached to Wike as 221. The same number serves each of the other 35 governors, according to Jimoh. Highlights he provided were beyond scandalous. “The breakdown is as follows: One ADC (SPO); one CSO (SPO); one Unit Commander (Special Protection Unit) SPO; one Escort Commander (SPO); one Camp Commander (Counter Terrorism Unit) SPO; one Admin officer (SPO) to administer the Police Personnel, 54 Inspectors of Police; 136 Police Sergeants and 24 police corporals,” said Jimoh who concluded the statement with this self-indicting line: “Obviously, the total number of 221 police personnel attached to His Excellency, Mr Nyesom Wike, the Governor of Rivers State, is more than the strength of some Police Area Command formations in some states of Nigeria.”
I found it quite shocking at the time that the police would publicly admit allocating 221 of their personnel to protect one man in a nation so challenged by insecurity. When you multiply that number for 36 governors and add those allocated to other elected and appointed political office holders at federal and state levels, you get a picture of the number of policemen performing ‘mai guard’ duties. And we have not included those serving bankers, businessmen of all hues, the idle rich and even ‘professors’ in unidentified universities.
The very idea of using our police personnel as a private army undermines their integrity and self-worth. We need to put an end to this abuse. No case has brought home the illegal use for which many of our policemen are deployed better than the 1st June 2018 shooting at a political rally in Ekiti State by a policeman “attached to 20 PMF, Ikeja Lagos State where he was posted on guard duties”. Although the politician who conspired and removed the said policeman from where he was posted by his squadron commander was said to have been arrested by the police, the fact that nobody has been brought to trial over the incident is telling. Till today, nobody knows the politician concerned and the case has ‘entered voicemail’ as they say.
To refresh the memory of readers on that sordid episode, the Ekiti State Police Command revealed at the time that the mobile policeman who accidentally shot Senator Opeyemi Bamidele during the All Progressives Congress (APC) rally was on “illegal duty”. According to Caleb Chukwuemeka, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), the accused policeman was procured from Lagos to Ekiti State by an unnamed politician. “He is attached to 20 PMF, Ikeja, Lagos State, where he was posted on bank guard duties somewhere in Ikeja. The policeman came on illegal duty to Ekiti State. A politician, who conspired and removed the said policeman from where he was posted by his Squadron Commander and came to Ado-Ekiti with him for an unofficial reason has also been arrested.”
Who is this politician? What has happened to the arrested policeman? These were questions left hanging while the case was quietly swept under the carpet. In fact, many believe that the response by police authorities to the current case was spurred not by any sense of outrage but rather due to social media interest. That is not good for the police. For the institution to regain public trust, they must begin to deal with the issue that concerns the dignity and welfare of their own personnel. When police personnel begin to perform domestic chores for husbands, wives and concubines of government officials, council chairmen, traditional rulers, celebrities, high net worth individuals etc, it impacts negatively on the image of this critical institution.
Given the current period of national security emergency, the misuse of police officers and other security outfits should not be allowed to continue. With a police force of approximately 350,000 serving a projected population of about 218 million, Nigeria is far from the United Nations recommended ratio of one policeman to 400 citizens. So, this issue needs to be addressed. Maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, and preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities are the primary responsibilities of the Police. They cannot play such roles effectively if most of their personnel are running errands, including for those with no visible means of livelihood.
ENDNOTE: I have nothing more to add!
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