That Our Police May Not Rot Away

 Some policemen on patrol

Some policemen on patrol

Have you been to any police barrack in recent times? What’s your impression about the place? In case you’ve not, just take a walk to the one at Iporin, Surulere and see things for yourself – the buildings are in very bad shape. Even the one at GRA Ikeja, is not different, except that here, the garage is dotted with better automobiles.

Again, how many police stations have you visited in Nigeria? What’s your candid opinion about the environment where these officers operate? This is not just about poor infrastructure for the police; it’s about the number of impounded and abandoned vehicles that litter police stations across the country.

Aside from their buildings and walls, which are usually painted in police official colours, and maybe their signposts, the sight of rickety patrol vehicles and other automobiles impounded by the officers as exhibits, tell you where you are. In most cases, these abandoned vehicles practically occupy the parking lot, forcing visitors to park their cars poles away from the station.

No matter how beautiful a police station is at the point of commissioning, it’s just a matter of months before it takes the usual shape: shabby and unkempt. Aside from the Area Commands, which seem to operate under stringent rules, the case is the same in almost all stations.

Following a motion sponsored by Hassan Saleh, a PDP legislator from Benue State, and unanimously adopted by members through a voice vote, the House of Representatives recently urged the Federal Government to renovate and build modern barracks across the country as a way of improving the living condition of police personnel across the country.

Based on that resolution, the House urged the Federal Ministry of Interior and the Inspector General of Police to design modalities for partnering with well-meaning investors to renovate existing barracks and build new ones with maintenance obligations. On the other hand, the Committee on Police Affairs was also mandated by the House to monitor the development and report back quarterly for further legislative action.

Originally, police barracks were built to provide cheaper, safer and reasonable, comfortable accommodation for men of the Nigerian police, as well as ensure discipline and imbibing the code of conduct. But for many years after the barracks were built, continuous renovation, improvement and repairs have been a major challenge. Notwithstanding, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the Police as an establishment.

A Divisional Police Officer (DPO) told The Guardian under anonymity that, “We run police stations on bribes and charity, with no computers, no uniforms and no stationeries.”

Another police officer told The Guardian during a visit to one of the Police Barracks in Lagos that officer were being treated like animals in their own country.

“Do I need to explain how I feel about the state of the barracks where we policemen and women live? You have seen it all yourself here. It is the same situation in many places. Please, let’s talk about other things because it appears that we have long been forgotten,” the officer lamented.

Lamenting the poor state of police barracks across the nation, the female officer informed that, “the soak away recently got filled and we had to contribute N4,000 each to get it evacuated. Even the toilet we are talking about is nothing to write home about. About 10 of us from three apartments make use of a dilapidated toilet and only one bathroom is usable on this floor and many people make use of it.”

As far as she’s concerned, the barracks can at best be described as a “refugee camp” as it is simply an eyesore.

“Even at that, rent is being deducted from my salary monthly,” she frowned.

While the sewage pipes in many of the barracks The Guardian visited were damaged, their rooftops bristling with satellite dishes were adorned with largely broken, sagging roofing sheets, many of which had fallen off.

At the Obalende Barracks, wives of policemen have simply turned their respective kitchens into shops of some sorts, where they engage in petty businesses to support their poorly remunerated husbands. In most cases, cooking is done in the open; that’s how bad the situation has become.

But just as the rank and file of the police lament the state of the barracks, those in the officer cadre are not left out in the sad tale of neglect of their housing units. At the Ikeja GRA Police Officers’ Quarters, occupied by those in the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police, up to those in the Deputy Commissioner of Police cadre, occupants have since resorted to self-help to make their environment habitable.

An officer, who lives in the quarters, explained that their various apartments appear to be in a fair state compared to other barracks because of the huge sums of money they expend on general maintenance individually.

The zero allocations that put police stations across the country at the mercy of charity from communities and criminals, the appalling accommodation of policemen largely contribute to the several factors, which make the Nigeria Police Force one of the most uninspiring institutions to work with.

From Obalende, Surulere, Iponri, Pedro, Ikeja, Bar Beach, Vitoria Island, Ikoyi and Ijeh Police barracks, all in Lagos State, it’s a story of utter neglect. In other states, the picture is similar.

Indeed, the Nigeria Police is faced with myriads of problems; some of which range from poor salary, pauperized officers and men, appalling accommodation, lopsided promotions, poor forensic laboratories and many more. For the new Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, it is not time to celebrate. Besides ensuring that he addresses the issue of monumental security challenges bedeviling the nation, Arase has an onerous task of winning trust of the public and changing the face of Nigeria Police.

At police stations, there is a poster that announces that ‘bail is free’. In practice, every bail enterprise is paid for. In fact, justice at police stations goes to the highest bidder.

There are rampant cases of extra judicial killings right inside police stations and on the highways. These stories dent the image of the police.

Some are quick to come to the defence of the police. They say that a sizeable number of the nation’s over 300,000 strong police force were poorly paid and have low morale for the task. Many policemen and women wear tattered uniforms, worn-out shoe, faded belts and scruffy headgear. Policemen readily accept menial jobs of escorting goods and being aides to powerful in the society, because of the lack of welfare and poor pay.

There are also cases of officers who are promoted for upwards of three years without a change in their remuneration. In some cases, officers stay in one position for upwards of 12 years, not minding that the officer or rank-and-file may have undertaken further educational improvement courses.

During the tenure of many IGP’s, noises were made of the need to stop the use of policemen as house helps and bodyguards to the mighty and powerful. But nothing has changed.

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