The Nigerian policeman: Friend, fiend, or foe?

The Nigerian policeman: Friend, fiend, or foe?

A suspected offender being forcefully arrested by policemen attached to a task force team.
From extortion at checkpoints to extra-judicial killings and accidental discharges, Nigerians now love to hate a Police Force they need so badly

Mohammed Dahiru  Abubakar probably wrote his name in gold as Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, IGP, when he ordered the dismantling of police checkpoints nationwide. This order was carried out on January 30, 2012, leading to the dislodgement of over
3,500 police checkpoints.
The action was widely hailed in the country, thus elevating IGP Abubakar to a cult hero in the eyes of most Nigerians. What informed this sentiment was the common belief in the country that checkpoints were usually set up by the police principally to extort hapless Nigerians either as motorists or commuters.
IGP Abubakar also endeared himself to Nigerians when he went ahead to successfully launch a code of conduct for the officers and men of the Force. The code of conduct was considered significant because it was thought to be based on the international code of conduct for police officers issued by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, which is an integral part of the Law Enforcement Oath of Honour, Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, Law Enforcement Code of Conduct and Cannons of Police Ethics. These important codes derive in turn from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Personnel and the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officers.
Abubakar’s actions in this regard only  underlined the fact that something was seriously wrong with the Police for which he needed to clean the Augean stable of the Force. But whether he succeeded in doing that before retirement still remains to be seen. But the fact remains that he would be fondly remembered for taking the bull by the horn in dismantling police check points which many regard as notorious torture points.
Checkpoint culture: For the average Nigerian, the checkpoint, just like the police station, is a place that clearly defined the police man as an unrepentant corrupt law enforcement official. Whereas in many climes, a motorist has nothing to fear when stopped at the checkpoint as long as he has not broken the law, the same, however, cannot be said in Nigeria when a motorist is stopped at a checkpoint by the Police.
Once flagged down or asked to pull over, the motorist is instantly made to feel like a law beaker or criminal even when no offence has been established against him or her. Reason? The popular sing-song question: Wetin you carry? is asked in a manner that implies that the motorist has already been adjudged guilty of an offence, known and unknown.
Invariably sometimes something goes terribly wrong when a motorists tries to assert his right or his innocence when stopped by beat police men. Indeed the media is always awash with reports of incidents of police shootings of otherwise innocent motorists, commuters, pedestrians at the checkpoints or during stop and search operations. Sometimes the resulting killings are blamed on accidental discharge by the Police men involved. Other times, the police find reason to justify such killings, which gave rise to the spectre of complete dread of the Police during the “kill and go” era when men of the Police Mobile Force otherwise known as MOPOL, seemingly gave the impression that they possessed the authority to kill at the slightest excuse in the course of carrying out their security assignments.
Police: Friend  or foe?
This is why to most Nigerians, the Nigeria Police Force is the most corrupt and compromised security institution in the country. And given the opportunity many will readily cite several reasons derived from bitter encounters with cops to buttress their belief in this regard. This is why the public relations attempts or campaigns to sell the Police as a friend to the public have always failed to achieve the desired objective.
As far as the average Nigerian is concerned, the Police, based on the conduct of its men, can never be a friend. Rather, many feel they have very strong reasons to be wary or to fear the Police even as much as they fear men of the underworld.
For instance, try telling travellers who were often on the receiving end of police high-handedness on the highways before ex-IGP Abubakar banned police checkpoints that the Police is their friend and watch their reactions. For them, it is inconceivable that a man who would readily abuse the powers reposed on him to take advantage of them could ever be their friend.
In fact, many Nigerians say that they have learned from experience not to trust the Police who they accuse of being corrupt.
A good example is Mrs Akinlawon Rasidat, a hotelier in the Somolu area of Lagos who shared a disturbing experience about her encounter with crimi-nally_minded police men. She said: ‘’There was a day I was coming from Cotonou and the commercial bus I boarded arrived Mile 2 at about 11.30pm. The driver said he could no longer continue with the journey and advised me to find somewhere to put up for the night. I was told that Mile 2 was safe provided I minded my business. I was also told to put up with a Hausa petty trader.
“With mixed feelings, I accepted to do so. But shortly at about 1am, a Police Land Rover stopped by the Mallam’s shed. A policeman alighted, opened the boot of the car and brought out two cartons which he kept beside the kiosk. He re-entered the vehicle again and drove off. Thirty minutes later, another white vehicle parked at the same spot and somebody alighted from it, picked up the cartons left by the police man, loaded them in his car and drove off. I shouted to draw the attention of the Mallam to what was going on, but he just tapped me and said: ‘Ha! I tell you make you keep quiet, that one no concern you…’ At that moment, I became apprehensive and could no longer sleep, waiting for the day to break. Then at about 4am, another car returned the cartons; and 10 minutes later, the police van also returned to collect the cartons and took off again. At this point, the Mallam simply told me: ‘One carton for money, another carton for guns but make you keep quiet because of another time…’ On hearing this, I became even more afraid. And from that moment, I no longer have respect for Policemen.”
Modes of operation and ideologies
When asked why the police men are generally perceived as corrupt, a policeman who pleaded anonymity said: ‘’When the body is rotten, it starts from the head. Several Inspectors General of Police have come and gone with different modes of operation and ideologies. Many officers are members of secret cults who use some advantage over others. For example, a superior officer might be involved in a matter and the suspect may be a member of a secret cult who may coincidentally have a link with another superior officer and before you know it, the fraternity will use its strong connection to quash the case and nothing happens”.
Another policeman who also pleaded anonymity gave another example thus: ‘’Imagine when an officer puts in so much effort to investigate a crime, even refusing any gratification or bribe from the suspect in a bid to handle the case professionally; then a superior officer decides to intervene only to turn the situation around after money has changed hands. ‘’


CULLED FROM VANGUARDNGR