The Police And Us


One day in 1959, on the eve of Nigeria’s independence, I stood by the road at Eruwa in  today’s Oyo State wishing to board a vehicle to Igboora, a distance of about 21  kilometers. The first vehicle that came and I waved down was a police van by which I was  allowed to travel with the three policemen inside it. In the course of their  conversation, what I picked and noted from one of them is this: “I like this police work  because a policeman can bloody-fool anybody.” It was spoken in the tone of Pidgin  English.

But why in the name of authority of the crown (that is, the Queen of England, the ruler  of Nigeria at that time) could a policeman bloody-fool anybody at will? That showed the  type of training given policemen by the colonial authority in Nigeria. They were  principally trained to protect the white governors at the cenre and in the regions. The  governors as well as the divisional and district officers called D.O’s were all Britons.  They were also to protect the proxy of each of them at all levels of authority. The  content of the protection was to bully an intruder or whoever wished to move too close to  the ‘Oyinbo’. Theirs was to instil fear in everybody so that the ‘Oyinbo’ might gain  absolute respect from the people.

The same training was given to the AKODA who was lower in rank to the policeman but was  to protect either the D.O. or his proxy. AKODA was an acronym from the Yoruba expression  of “A Ke Order”, that is the officer who shouts “order!” He could not speak English but  he was like a barking dog whose duty was to protect his oga in that way.  When he shouted  “Order!” it could mean “stop talking” or “stop making noise,” especially when the court  was in session. His “order!” could mean “stop complaining” or “stop there, do not move  close to Oga.”

The colonial policeman had Khaki shirt over short knickers with a beret cap on while his  Akoda counterpart put on a jumper over short knickers but with a cylindrical cap with a  dangling tassel.

There is a reason why the two levels of security personnel painted above behaved the way  they did. All the governors and D.Os sent in from England then were children of poor  parents usually from the provinces who enjoyed government scholarship. They were never  Londoners who never left London like the old Lagosians who like “lizards” did cross the  lagoon. On appointment to come to Nigeria they were specially instructed to behave to  exalt the crown. They must not behave like the ordinary downtrodden persons they were at  home. In other words, they were acting for the queen of England and must act with  corresponding dignity. One should understand why they created such fear around  themselves. But harshness is a facesaving ploy to mask their weakness.

In reality, harsh training and harsh behaviour today still remain with our policemen.  Because of the high-handedness with which they handle criminals, we hardly have criminals  confessing their crimes, rather we have hardened criminals. But they succeed in making  themselves enemies of the people!

Today, wherever there is post-war peace keeping in any part of the third world, the  Nigerian police are often drafted there and they usually perform well as  quasi-soldiers.To date, be it the Mopol or the regular police, they always behave even in  Lagos megapolis like the army of occupation, trampling on people’s rights. The way  policemen harass danfo drivers and bus conductors with their rifles in order to force N20  from them is a show of barbaric shame. And despite the fact that all radio stations in  Lagos broadcast such jungle behaviours police authorities have always remained silent by  turning deaf ears to such disgraceful complaints.

May be if the former British colonial police had trained the Nigeria police on the type  of policing skills the British police acquire, things could be different from what we see  the Nigeria police perform today. These points to adequate and unrivalled crowd control  devoid of any shooting incident on the mob as well as crime prevention, detection and  investigation – all which come under internal security. It does not mean that the Nigeria  police lack those skills but that theirs could need to be upgraded and modernised.

If our policemen wish to track down and bring genuine criminals to justice they have the  capacity. One could bring to memory the Wahum robbery of the 80s where an armed robbery  gang killed some policemen. All the criminals were promptly picked up and made to face an  armed robbery tribunal which tried and sentenced the robbers. The were publicly executed  at the old bar beach. May be the millennial stronger fire power of armed robbers has  killed that zeal in our policemen of today. However, increased but domineering negative  societal influence is also standing – by to inhibit their performance. The French  expression “esprit de  corps” which has become a slogan in the police force combines with  other forces to affect  effective police performance. Esprit de corps simply means  brotherhood.

Three kinds of esprit de corps or brotherhood exists in humanity generally. These are  positve, diabolitical and criminal brotherhood. Positive brotherhood among other things  holds a group or an organisation and a nation together in unity for development and  societal peace. Diabolical brotherhood could result from bitter opposition or rebellion  among a smaller group within an organisation while it also links members of occult  organistions. Criminal brotherhood exists among privileged persons siphoning state funds  as well as among pure criminal gangs.

As a teacher in Lagos during the civil war in Nigeria, I also trained as a special  constable doing police duty one evening a week either for desk work or night patrol. I  was on duty at a station in Mushin one evening when about four or five members of the  public wishing to have their members in police cell released met and addressed me with an  occult password in Yoruba: “Awo tabi ogberi?” meaning “Are you an adept (member) or  novice?” I simply laughed and told them that their question was not for me. Later they  met a senior police officer and had their request granted immediately.

Many prominent Nigerians have been brutally murdered for whatever reasons known by their  assailants and there has not been police success at bringing the culprits to justice! The  relations and friends of the victims with members of the public have cried and lamented  in vain for justice to be done but nobody heeds their cry! It may not always be right  however to blame the police alone for such security lapse in our society. They are only a  small pocket of people operating under high ranking citizens in authority. Definitely the  hands of the police could be “tied”.

We are in a society where people fear to voice out or tell the truth to save their lives.  It has been stated that a people deserve the government they have. If a regime comes into  power tomorrow and descides to sack the entire police force because of backlog of  uninvestigated murders it cannot sack Nigerians from Nigeria. Cultism is not a religion  but it is practiced in unison by people from all walks of life, be they from the  religions, the low and the high echelon of society. Emphatically, the professionals,  politicians, the military, police, Christians, Moslems, Animists, etc. are Nigerians in  all cadres of life among whom negative esprit de corps or diabolical brotherhood  subsists. Nobody sings his membership of any cult group. Many Nigerians use occult  membership to rise and to stay in authority. Yet nobody tells anybody the truth as  friends keep friends in the dark in that regard. Power also often times equates cultism  in our society.

It is in Nigeria that we had a supreme court judgement that cannot be cited as precedent!  The hands of the judge “are tied”. Similarly, military Decree 4 of 1984 criminalised the  journalism of writing the truth but which the government considered embarrassing. Two  journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson of The Guardian newspapers were jailed  because they wrote the truth which were considered embarrassing to the Buhari/Idiagbon  military dictatorship. These two examples were unbridled misuse of power.

Let us consider the following issue whether or not it forms part of the Nigerian problem.  In 1962, I read the following statement advertised in newspapers almost weekly for  several months: “Where blacks hate whites today, blacks will kill blacks there tomorrow.”

The caption for the piece was MRA. What I knew MRA to mean was “Moral Re-Armament.” There  was no explanation or any follow-up statement. The motive was never known. As a student  at Wesley College, Ibadan at that time, I was puzzled. But, is that statement not now a  prophecy fulfilled in our Nigeria of today?

One of our problems in Nigeria is that as our former British overlords and the entire  west are scientific; we are either spiritual or spiritist. To be spiritual is to directly  pray to God for whatever need and to be spiritist is either to use any nature material or  sacrifice to appease god or through occult practices.

By the last alternatives, spirits of the air, most of whom are demonic, are set at work.  The scientific method could be tortuous but verifiable while the spiritist way is quicker  but with dire consequences. In fact, the compulsory wages of demonic forces is human  suffering in diverse forms, even human misbehaviour.

In the cistern of options presented via this article there is no Nigerian that is not  influenced by some if not all the tabled options – who he is in the society and his  religion notwithstanding. What one lives with daily becomes nature for him in the end.

The police are not the villain of our problematic society. Policemen could be ubiquitous  as their assignments make them but they are in contact with fellow Nigerians of all  shades of opinion and cadres of life. The police cannot change the society in our own  case. But if our society changes, the police will change. We cannot wisely compare our  police with those of other nations in the west or in the third world because every  society has its own peculiarities.

Of the myriads of steps capable of changing the Nigerian society only seven can tersely  be mentioned for consideration. Indoctrination in the name of specifically designed  education is the first step needed to be taken. Moral and civic education must be taught  in schools. Home training and culture should also be inculcated in our youths.  Laisseze-faire and loose human rights that turn the west against nature cannot sanitise  any society, not even ours.

The principles of being one’s brother’s keeper as well as that of live and let live must  be engendered by the people. Discipline and doing the right things only must be part of  our nature. The dignity of labour must be enthroned and imbibed. If Nigerians live by the  tenets of their religions, there will be paradise on earth.

Lastly, only those who love the society should go into politics while political office  must be less attractive. That means there is need to reverse the 1999 unjustifiable wage  boom for which our politicians have been killing themselves to earn. Sacrifice is a  necessary tonic for public life.

•Olubayo Lawore writes from Ketu, Lagos.Tel: 08057501806

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