By BUKOLADEREMI LADIGBOLU
That the image of the police in Nigeria is nothing to write home about is like stating the obvious. So many people treat the police with contempt and disdain. Their uniform commands little or no respect any more. The stigma that goes with being called Omo Olopa (child of the police) may well be as bad as the one given to the child of an armed robber. The reason is not far-fetched. Nigerian policemen (and women, too) are noted for extorting money from innocent Nigerians, terrorising and illegally arresting harmless citizens who go about their lawful duties.
Often, in the course of discharging their duties, journalists have also been brutalised by the police. There have been numerous tales of accidental discharge from police guns, killing and maiming innocent people. We have seen cases where police officers arm themselves not only with their weapons of war, but also alcohol in one hand and cigarette in the other. This is the height of irresponsibility. Apart from getting drunk, they also sleep on duty!
This leads to the question: Are the police, indeed, a friend to be loved, respected and honoured or a fiend to be feared and hated? A friend was cracking a joke not too long ago that it would have been better to live in our society without police presence. I sincerely don’t share such view, probably because I have not had a bad experience with the police but that has not cleared them of allegations of hostility. Yet there are very few dedicated ones who are happy serving their nation although the percentage is small. Unfortunately, because the hungry and angry ones are in the majority, they are the ones that shoot indiscriminately and pose serious threat to the citizenry they are meant to protect.
Quite expectedly, the citizens curse and ridicule the police only to call on them in times of distress. Whenever there is a stolen car, the police become our friend, when there is a case of burglary and theft, the police are courted to tackle the challenge and when there is a road accident or a case of kidnap, the police are lobbied for assistance.
Really the police are men and women that should be respected and loved but the truth of the matter is, you are addressed the way you are dressed. A policeman that is shabbily dressed can never win the love and respect of the average Nigerian. A policeman reeling with alcohol deserves no respect, nor can anybody shower an aggressive and uncouth police officer with care. Never!
Policemen and women have their challenges too. Many wives of police officers have been prematurely turned to widows and their kids rendered fatherless. Today, many men and women married to police officers have lost their spouses in combat with armed robbers or other armed groups like the dreaded Boko Haram adherents. When these untimely deaths occur, it is one story of woes or the other. For such families, life is surely never the same again. An average police officer is easily provoked and wastes no time in telling you that his condition is pathetic. Take a look at their barracks; it is an eyesore. Indeed, the police appear to have been left unattended to and uncared for by past and present governments and the people they should be protecting. This, no doubt, explains their anger which amounts to transferred aggression as they find it easy and convenient to terrorise innocent people whenever they are provoked.
Although the average policeman is not regarded as a friend, we still want the best for him and desire to see a new improved police force. Most Nigerians really want the police to experience a rebirth and rebranding. It is surely going to be a pleasant surprise to see a police force with international standard, a force that will no longer harbour criminals and moles. How great will it be to have a force that can boast of officers with impeccable character and integrity! Thank God, there appears to be hope of such in Mohammed Abubakar, the inspector- general of police, IGP. Some people say he has the character and the charisma to give the nation a better police force. Enough of police chiefs that would be jailed for embezzlement, as was the case of a former IG, and police chiefs that would be indicted for killing innocent traders, as in the case of the Apo Six, in Abuja, where police officers were involved in vengeful killing of six innocent civilians. We don’t ever want a repeat of the case of George Iyamu a deputy superintendent of police, DSP, who was aiding and abetting Lawrence Anini, the notorious criminal of Benin City.
Nigerians desire a police force whose presence will cage the most hardened criminals, a force that will tame Boko Haram and their sponsors hands down and an institution that will be willing to serve and protect the people without fear or favour. I see it happening – at least some day!