IG’s command and control ritual
If this is not already in the police handbook or manual for senior officers, then it deserves to be written in bold print and given a princely position in the said manual. I am referring to the now famous ritual every new inspector general of police must perform as part of his initiation ceremony before he can be confirmed as the major-domo of the Nigeria Police.
Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, the new inspector-general, in acting capacity, faithfully and dutifully followed the footsteps of his predecessors last week and performed the little but solemn ceremony by ordering the dismantling of police check points across the country with immediate effect. To add colour to the ceremony, he ordered senior police officers to assemble in Abuja.
And by the authority conferred on him by the ultimate powers in the land, he deftly moved to the highlights of the ceremony and proclaimed an end to roadblocks which have become ubiquitous, I did not say notorious, but which, like the beetle, have refused to die. In the place of roadblocks, he ordered visible motorised policing to deter criminals. The next victim of this new broom is the halting of the deployment of mobile policemen as personal security details to individuals. Now, end of ceremony.
But there are matters arising. It was the commander-in-chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, who ordered the dismantling of all road and security blocks on the high ways immediately he assumed office last year. And these included the military check points that mushroomed in the wake of the atrocities of Boko Haram in the major cities in the North. Apparently, he was persuaded not to make it a whole sale ban. And the military checkpoints were retained.
In fairness to the soldiers manning the check points, it is safe to say that many of the soldiers were civil as opposed to the incivility of the policemen who have turned the roadblocks into money making business centres where they extort money from motorists at will and on the pain of death. Taking a cue from the exceptions made by his commander-in-chief, Solomon Arase, the erstwhile IG, in July last year, ordered the restoration of roadblocks across the country with emphasis on roads in and out of major cities and towns. He hinged his order, which he said was temporary, on intelligent reports. What he preferred to static police check points, he said, was random stop-and-search on the highways.
But all these were abused with remorseless impunity. You only need to be on the highways to see what some policemen do to motorists. Whatever measures the authorities put in place to curb their excesses, apparently could not stop the real bad eggs among them. Some of them openly dare you to go report them to their bosses. It is not enough to carry with you vehicle’s papers that are correct, current and valid. “Na correct paper we go chop,” they would retort and proceed thereafter to demand from you bribe which is non-negotiable.
Even the way they wave you to a halt is full of risk to your life. They stop you right in the centre of the road and if you want to park well to make way for vehicles behind you, the gun is pointed at you because it appears to them you are being recalcitrant. For mere N50 bribe they could shoot to kill or maim, as they did this week in Osun State.
Some of these trigger happy desperadoes are as dangerous as armed robbers and kidnappers. On the highway, you never can tell the difference. From afar, they begin to wave and dangle their offensive weapons. You pray silently before you get to them; you pray that the men stopping you are policemen, not robbers or kidnappers. If policemen, they take your money and let you go. But not so with the other Jehu’s on the road, some of them also in police uniform. Ordinarily, police men on the road are supposed to inspire confidence and a sense of security. You would want to vote for their return to their numerous check points. But today, they have turned their check points into killing fields and you don’t know what to do or say in the circumstances.
Has the new Inspector General thought carefully through his command before he issued it? How does he intend to police his policemen? As at the time of writing, his men are still running rampage on the road and they are doing precisely what he says they should not do. I have just read a complaint from an aggrieved motorist in Osun State. He says: “In defiance of the operation no-road-blocks policy of the present IGP, some officers have continued mounting road blocks and extorting money from motorists at Ora Igbomina area of Osun State. I have informed the high authorities using the contacts on your website but the road blocks still operate till date.”
And from Benin, capital of Edo State, comes this complaint: “It is sad to learn that some officers of the Nigerian police no longer protect and serve the citizens, instead they extort money from them. The following division, namely New Benin police division, SARS Benin, Zone 5. They now find pleasure in harassing and maltreating youths of Benin City.” He went on to recount how he was ambushed by some policemen near an ATM centre and was accused of being a fraudster because they found N40, 000 on him. After threatening to take him to Abuja for fraud, he was forced to part with half of his money before he was allowed to go home.
How does IG Idris want to do it differently? He has also ordered the withdrawal of mobile policemen from very important persons, VIP. We have heard this order before from his predecessors. But it was an order carried out more in the breach than in the observance. Does he truly want this important people to go about unmolested by their victims, who have been pauperised by their corruption and their corruptive tendencies? Do you want to expose these important Nigerians to kidnappers and robbers and their multiple political and business enemies?
These yesterday’s ordinary people have suddenly transformed into very important personalities and their lives, in case you don’t remember, have become more valuable than the lives of very ordinary people, VOP. Among the perks of their very important status is the number of policemen, armed to the teeth – all looking tough and mean – that escort them and police their movements even when they want to visit their old mama in the village. Do you really want to stop that? Can you in fact do it? Don’t you see that some of them are no longer content with ordinary mobile policemen, they have to carry a battalion of soldiers and armoured vehicles any time they move around even in their own compound?
Ask some of your predecessors in office. If you ask them, they might tell you they went through this ritual merely as a matter of grandstanding, a show for the sake of showing they had just arrived. Otherwise why did they reverse themselves? Don’t put sand in the garri or the salad of the big men.
Nigeria is not another country. Definitely, it is not one of these little but civilised countries where you can see modesty in high office in its pure naked innocence.
Trinidad and Tabago: The president and his wife and only his Naval ADC serving his visitors at a luncheon in his hilltop palace. No security around the palatial compound.
Dominica: That country’s presidential lodge is on top of some hilly ground. The president lives in an embarrassingly small apartment with chairs not fit for the home of a Nigerian councillor. You hear the sound made by policemen changing guard in the next compound not too far from his residence. When he is asked why there is no single policeman in his own house, he says the house where there is change of guard is the residence of the country’s chief judge, a woman. She needs security because she is the one sending criminals to jail. Not him! And he does not live in Nigeria.
The new IGP has performed his first very important ritual. I want to believe he is fully prepared to disappoint the growing tribe of pessimists, who are willing to bet that his next important announcement would be: As waya, back to your duty posts at the road blocks.
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