Nigeria’s Changing Police

The Nigeria Police Force has suffered and still suffers from negative public perception. The fact is that Nigerian policemen are still on the motorways collecting N100 notes or more from drivers, under the guise of checking for vehicle documents. The Nigeria Police need to overcome incidents of random bullet discharge and collection of bribes however small.

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For years, the writer has had a very negative perception of the Nigeria Police until recently. The general consensus is that they are getting better. Why? Could it be that even the Police have self-regulated under this government? Could it be that they have been caught several times on social media collecting bribes? Could it be that salaries have increased? Your guess is as good as mine.

In 2000, whilst helping my father to market his ‘pure water’, I was pulled over by an anti-robbery squad. My late father had a sachet pure water-making factory and every one chipped in to support the business. The car was laden with bags of water, remember it was a new business at the time and it is not a criminal offence to carry bags of water in your car.

The lead officer of the anti-robbery squad appeared educated, but he was rough and lacked much finesse. A much heated argument later, and we (my friends and I) ended up at the Idi Ape Police Station in Ibadan, Oyo State. We were not jailed or anything, but it was just an embarrassing and even humiliating experience. We were only trying to make some money to assist the family effort.

Police also often stop people carrying home appliances and other materials they consider suspicious in their cars.

In the UK, the Metropolitan Police are not well resourced to check receipts of the mundane things you carry in your car. They have important things to deal with. They have their own limitations as well, but you are not pulled over unless you are speeding, hogging the middle lane, using a mobile phone while driving, not wearing a seat belt or tailgate.

The police can pull off the road vehicles, which are not road worthy. The defects they look out for include cracked light lenses or lights not working, worn tyres, illegal number plates amongst other reasons. You could also be pulled over if they detect that you lack the correct vehicle documentation. These are MOT, vehicle tax and insurance.

The Nigeria Police stop cars and search vehicles without being able to objectively state that there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the driver is in the process of committing an offence; has committed an offence or will commit an offence. Remember, Police public duties must correspond to their mission statement: ‘provide safety and security in Nigerian communities; protect and respect human rights’. It is unclear how random and dangerous ‘stop and search’ on Nigeria’s motorways, ‘provide safety and security’ or how the Nigerian Police respects our ‘human rights’?

The Metropolitan Police are not a yardstick to measure the Nigeria Police. There is the fact that Metropolitan Police were labelled an institutionalised racist organisation for blundering the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. Further more, in terms of race relations, the Metropolitan Police is unashamedly a ‘white’ organisation.

The Daily Mail published on May 5, 2015, some data, which showed that the proportion of new ethnic minority recruits has fallen despite a drive to make the Met Police more representative of London. The latest figures show that only 16 per cent of new police officers recruited in 2013/14 were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to 21 per cent in the 12 months before.

The percentage of all police staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds also fell from 22.4 per cent to 18.5 per cent. Just 11 per cent of all Met Police officers are currently from ethnic minority backgrounds. Little wonder why the Met Police suffers from poor community relations in black areas like Brixton, Tottenham Hale, Enfield, Peckham, Wood Green amongst other areas.

The 2011 London Riots lasted five days, killed about half a dozen people and injured hundreds of others. It cost the nation £200 million in clean up and restoration costs. Unfortunately, this could have been prevented had the Met Police been savvy and sensitive with their race relations.

The Nigeria Police is doing a lot of work to repair their damaged image and a chance meeting with a policeman recently has helped the writer examine her own prejudices against the Force. The officer spoke very good English and when he disclosed he was a police officer, it was a shock. He did not look harassed and ominous like roadside policemen do.

This is not to say that one has not met possibly other fine and good-looking policemen. But this officer, took time to explain what he does in the Nigeria Police Force, the pride exhibited, was endearing. He then narrated that there are good police officers and bad police ones. I had to admit rather naively that I did not think there were any good police officers. Arguably, it is assumed that low ranked officers would not be so generous in their assessment of their employer.

The Metropolitan Police uniform is one that is worn with pride. The Nigeria Police is changing the police uniform from dirty black to a new sky blue, which is a million times better than the evil-looking black uniform. The Nigeria Police appears to be upwardly mobile but they still have a lot more to do. For starters, their website could actually include live chat, motor vehicle database, missing and wanted persons database advertised.

All those police officers, who ask for bribes should be dismissed immediately. This friend confided that his paycheck was good enough for a man with his status. It begs the question, why are policemen seen as paupers? Premium Times exposed in a damning report, what life was like for Police officers last year. The bottom line is that low ranked officers earn peanuts whilst police chiefs like my friend earn a lot more.

Whilst in Nigeria, we attended a wedding in Ondo State. Most of the guests stayed in a three-star hotel, which had flushing toilets and power showers. For security, the bride’s family arranged for Police officers. The policemen had been around since 6p.m. and had been seen openly drinking alcohol. For reasons still unclear, the policemen knocked on our door several times and even attempted to open the door at about half past five in the morning. They did not kick the door down. There was no bomb attack and the fire alarm did not go off. Why were they knocking? What did they want?

Later on, we gathered that they wanted some egunje, a euphemism for bribe. And they wanted the door open just because of their greed. Imagine if the door was unlocked and the writer was in bed with her partner naked, or with her children in bed?

The Nigeria Police have come a long way but a lot more needs to be done in terms of their public image and the need to stop vehicles on motorways and in cities randomly must now be critically scrutinised.

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