The Police… Friends Or Fiends? By Taiwo Obe

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Have you been to a police station lately? If you are an adult, that is, above 18 years old, and living in Nigeria, you should consider looking in at one police station today; perhaps the one in your locality.

For one year, between 1980 and 1981, I used to frequent the police station which almost everyone referred to as Bolade, because it was in the vicinity of Bolade Bus Stop, in Oshodi, Lagos State. The famous Alozie Ogugbuaja was then the District Crime Officer. Before then, he was the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, which was where our paths first crossed. Or, was it vice-versa? I was then a 20-year-old crime reporter on the then irrepressible Evening Times under the tutelage of one of Nigeria’s better crime reporters, Chinaka Fynecontry (RIP), then our news editor.

Thirty-one years after, I found myself within a police station; this time not as a crime reporter (don’t they say, once a reporter, always a reporter?) but as a crime victim. Lest I forget, I had also lived, for about 15 years until recently, around the corner from a police station, but I can’t recall ever going into that one.

The first thing that confounded me was that the gates of this police station were locked.  I grew up believing that the police station and a church/mosque were places you could run into if you were escaping from danger. They are supposed to be sanctuaries. Well, besides the locked main gate here, you still have to contend with a gun-wielding policeman at the side gate. Double jeopardy?

Reason: according to one policeman dressed in mufti, who eventually opened the gate for us to drive in, after he had ordered that we move our vehicle away from where it had been parked, “it is the situation in the country.” You guessed right, the fear of Boko Haram Inc. I wondered: can’t this be solved simply by installing CCTVs in every police station in the land? So that every approaching fly could be spotted before it gets into unwanted places. How much do these things cost? Is someone taking notes?

Now, let’s go inside.

The second shocker: the place where I wrote my statement – Interrogation Room?  – was not much different from a litter room. It was a Portakabin contraption with a table and four plastic chairs and a long wooden bench.  The ceiling was crying, “fix me, fix me.” Rain soaked and about to fall off. Case files were scattered on the table. So, it is possible that I could, in the absence of any police(wo)man, do any havoc if I was that minded. No file trays. No file cabinet. How much do these things cost? Is anyone taking notes?

A friendly chat a few days later with the Divisional Police Officer showed that I “ain’t seen or heard nothing yet,” as they say. He had only just assumed duties in that station, and one of the first things he did with his own money — thank you, very much —  was install a toilet, so that when pressed for, particularly No 2 job, he won’t have to look for the nearest bush or come to work every day with a potty or something like that.  I wonder where the rank and file would be doing their own things.  Certainly, not O/C’s “personal” toilet. He let it be known that the comings and goings of his men to carry out the necessary investigations on the crime in question – and such others – were entirely at their expense. Little wonder, one of the officers had lamented to my co-victim that I was not “funding their investigations.”

For the information of that officer, the assigned lady photographer who took pictures of the crime scene demanded N1,500 from me for her services. I paid, and later got three photographs (sent through one of the policemen on the case). At those parties you attend, each of those photographs would not cost more than N100, c’mon. The photographer had given me a lecture on conversion from digital photograph to analog to produce negatives which would be tendered in court, in case….

Apart from the first day when the police came in their patrol vehicle to pick the suspects, the other visits to the neighbourhood were either in my friend’s vehicle or the other victim’s own. At another time, the chairman of our residents’ association gave money to the policeman to take a motor bike back to the station. Otherwise, we would have had to ferry him back; after all we brought him.

There would definitely be other operational challenges, visible and invincible. For instance, there was no electricity on our first visit. I am not sure I cited any generating set, not even the I-better-pass-my-neighbour variant, on the premises. There could be, but in a situation where police investigators expected the complainant – may be even suspects’ relations, if you allow me to stretch my imagination a little —  to “fund investigations,” fuelling would be an issue. The crime that I was there for would have involved getting information from telecoms operators but while talking with the DPO, he said that it could take one month to get a call log from the operators. I don’t want to believe him….let’s hear from our friends at the telcos.

If anything, my confidence in getting the crime solved at this police station was at the lowest ebb. Suffice it to say that I was at the station in the first place because it was my civic duty to report a crime, especially one that I was a victim of. I refused to listen to some of the neighbourhood folk, who said without mincing words that, “once it becomes a police case, that was the end,” and would rather that the suspects were treated to jungle justice.

Would it not bother any right-thinking person, therefore, that, instead of how to transform the police to a modern effective one, the burning issue in the police high command would be whether or not to have the states control the police. The other day, former inspectors-general, including one that was convicted for embezzling police welfare funds and another facing a criminal prosecution, wrote —  and some visited — the President to urge him “against state police.”    The other day too, a former police brass and the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Parry Osayande, with his commissioners in tow, told journalists that “we are not ripe for state police.”

Who really cares about who is in charge, if there is a police that can give you confidence that in rain or shine, thunder or lightning, you are firmly protected from scallywags, bandits, hoodlums and militants by whatever name they are called? Who cares?

I used to tell people who lamented that they were tired of everything to visit the nearest public hospital. There, if they spent a little time, they would not only find those whose ailments were more than their little stress but also see that those people may not readily get needed succour.  I formed that impression long ago when we took a relation to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital for a respiratory condition, which battle he lost – at the hospital. We were lucky to get some attention much quicker than usual because we had in our company a friend who was a doctor in a private hospital and who could speak their language. But not so, a lady who had acute appendicitis and was writhing in pain for more than an hour while we were at the Out-Patient Department: no hospital personnel was ready to attend to her – and, no, doctors or nurses were not on strike.

Now, perhaps, I would be telling such people to go to the nearest police station — where they could find the police as their friends or fiends. The Inspector General of Police M D Abubakar can remain social friends with his predecessors, but if he wants to be permanent friends with Nigerians, he should seek the friendship of such a personality as the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili who transformed his country’s notorious police and customs and has become a hero around the world.

Seriously, we are in some deep shit, pardon my twisted tongue.

Culled The Guardian Sunday, 26 August 2012
Obe is the Group Editorial Director, Harpostrophe Limited, a Content Marketing Agency in the TaijoWonukabe Group.

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