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 and remanded at the Suleja Correctional Facility till 5th October, 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 well being 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 their 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, late 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 a number of ‘professors’ in unidentified universities. The epicentre of the criminal justice system is the police.
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 the abuse. More than a hundred police personnel posted for one person is an indictment on the Force. And police orderlies should not serve private citizens. 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. And that should begin by putting an end to the demeaning practice where those deployed to provide security are treated with disrespect. 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.
Beyond ensuring justice for the brutalized policewoman in the case now in court, police authorities should reconsider the way and manner they deploy their personnel to service all manner of people. 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.