As they often do as soon as they are appointed to that seemingly ill-fated position, spewing fresh no-nonsense commandments and generally displaying the image of hard-headed, uncompromising cops, Inspectors General of Nigeria’s intensely reviled post-colonial police would find it hard to convince the average Nigerian that they do not enjoy playing to the crowd. Most Nigerians know that these officers, despite their advertised confidence, hardly believe in their own long list of promises to revamp the force, talk less of getting fellow compatriots to believe them.
And so when they begin to talk tough, echoing that typical verbiage about firmness, impartiality, restoring professionalism and giving the police a new respectable image that would compare, if not better, with what obtains in the developed world, Nigerians, rather than respond in categorical approbation, merely shrug in absolute indifference. That cold gesture of apathy, invariably, is quickly followed by hisses and a deafening chorus of Na Today? – a very common, contemptuous phrase often used by cynical pidgin English speakers to dismiss perceived boastful statements of intention. Statements which, to paraphrase Shakespeare, are full of sound and fury but amount to nothing ultimately.
It was the same reaction that met one of several apparently laudable declarations by the current Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammaed Abubakar, in which he barred police details from operating as if they are domestic servants, carrying briefcases and handbags of their civilian masters and mistresses in public and generally cutting a pathetic figure of institutional indignity and chaos to the utter shock of onlookers. He warned that any policeman or woman caught flouting the order would be instantly dismissed. Again, Na today? It’s an ugly practise that predates Mr. Abubakar, an unmistakable pointer to the infinite drift and eternal turmoil buffeting contemporary policing in Nigeria.
To begin to recount in this piece the extent of rot in that system would seem like a lavish exercise in needless platitudes. But it is relevant to state that not even the Ag. IGP himself believed the order would be heeded when he announced it. He merely issued it for effect, to create an impression of genuineness like virtually all his predecessors, but essentially as one of those statements made to complete one of the rites of initiation into the ruling class’ guild of high priests in the synagogue of duplicitous statecraft. And lest anyone is deceived, the dire influence of that infernal temple as an unyielding sustainer of bad governance in this country cannot be discounted. It is in that dreadful shrine that the police boss now solemnly worships.
This is the reason his directive that the police rank and file should shed the demeaning public image of “houseboys” and “housegirls” has turned out to be what it truly is: empty talk. Indeed it appears as if this is the time the unsightly culture is relishing its irrevocable consummation. This era of liberal impunity, open-ended corruption and permissive extravagance of rogue political and corporate elite has ensured the permanence of this tradition. It therefore would not be a miscue to contend that many members of this so-called privileged class who use police details for unintended jobs are known to Mr. Abubakar, and could probably be his good friends.
Without prejudice to his directive, the police boss should be informed that a country as unspeakably anomic as Nigeria is liable to all sorts of abuses, including an informal conscription of a vital segment of a security outfit entrusted with the maintenance of law and order by a band of pleasure-seeking retrogrades with connections in government. With police men and women hovering around, these self-styled VIPs barely suppress the air of superiority that goes with the aberration.
Evidence that Mr. Abubakar was only grandstanding with his directive soon came to light right under his nose one torrid evening in one of the posh hotels in the heart of Abuja. In a resounding vindication of cynics, a heavily-built, light-skinned woman in a Senegalese robe holding a cell phone to her ears with one hand and a handbag slinging from the other sauntered into the lobby. Slouching behind her was a dark-skinned beautiful lady smartly dressed in police uniform carrying another handbag belonging to Madam. As Madam flung her massive body onto a seat in a far corner, the police detail moved closer and stood beside her like a statue. All eyes were now riveted in their direction.
With Madam still rapping on the phone, the constable quietly put the bag down beside her and walked out of the lobby, only to hobble in again with a luggage which she set at Madam’s side. Then she walked out again and emerged with a heavier luggage. Rather than being amused, everyone in that lobby was filled with revulsion. Meanwhile, at the car park was a battery of armed policemen lazing around a Toyota Hilux with which the VIP was apparently escorted to the hotel. All this happened around the vicinity of police headquarters.
It will take a rare political will from a disinterested police boss to drag the Nigeria Police from its present state of muddle to one of core professionalism. How on earth can a 21st century policeman or woman be seen all over the place dragging luggage and handbags for people whose activities in most cases are much more harmful to the progress of the society? In a profession whose driving force is intelligence, and in a country where the populace remains confounded by a shocking rise in crime, to reduce young, promising officers only to the level of messengers for the big man is an indicator of a society gone astray.
Those who disbelieved him are right after all. To prove them wrong Mr. Abubakar should tell the world how many policemen or women have been arrested and dismissed from the police since he gave the order. If not, he should forever keep quiet, enjoy his tenure while the decay continues.
Godwin Onyeacholem is an Abuja based journalist.