Corruption And The Nigerian Police

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Corruption And The Nigerian Police
 

By

 

Moses Ihonde

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, August 9, 2006

 

 

Today it is banal to observe that corruption is the bane of the Nigerian society. What seems more appropriate to declare is that it looks more like a way of life and evil is accepted by many as the norm. Until the Obasanjo administration, successive governments talked a lot about ridding the nation of corruption but were very short on performance. What President Obasanjo has brought to bear is courage in tackling some, not all of the problem. The pity is that he stopped short of waging a thorough war.

How history will judge him will depend largely on how selflessly he responds to the morass into which the nation further fell in spite of his seeming relentless campaign against corruption in the remaining months of his tenure. The saving grace is that Obasanjo is a wise man who, I pray, will not let down those ready to swear by him. May history not see his effort in this matter as self-serving.

The dismissal, trial and conviction of the erstwhile police boss, Alhaji Tafa Balogun is one of the outstanding testimonies of the determination of the Obasanjo administration to deal with corruption and corrupt practices. There were speculations that the dismissed IG would spill the beans if he was brought to trial. Indeed owing to the ignoble role the Nigeria Police played during the 2003 elections in full view of the public, it was generally believed that spilling the beans was an event that was waiting to happen. But Tafa Balogun was tried and convicted and nothing happened. Instead, Tafa Balogun engaged in plea bargaining which resulted in the mitigation of punishment for his wrong doing. I hope the prison afforded him the opportunity to reflect on the great harm his malfeasance did to the Force he presided over, and to the nation at large.

Ordinarily, bringing the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police to book would have had the effect of putting fear in the mind of public functionaries particularly the rank and file in the Police Force; but this was not the case. The one fact that stands out to all careful observers in all of this is that corruption has become so ingrained in the psyche of the average Nigerian that it appears we have come to the state in the nation in which a great majority of our people accept evil as business as usual.

Shortly after the conviction and imprisonment of Tafa Balogun, I undertook a private survey of its effect on policemen on road blocks between Lagos and Benin. My driver and I counted 37 Police road-blocks on one occasion and in none of them was any remorse or shame shown or felt by the police officers and men I chatted with. I could not say whether the large number of road blocks was part of police reaction to the conviction and imprisonment of the former IG. The corrupt practice of illegal toll collection was carried on like business as usual.

So many months down the line, there has been no mitigation in the depth and degree of corruption on our highways (or more appropriately check points). There are as yet no highways in Nigeria. What used to be expressways have been reduced by our Police operatives to local motor ways. About two years or so after Tafa Balogun was disgraced out of office, I had cause again to investigate and found that the number of check points or road blocks between Lagos and Benin City, Edo State had risen to 47 from the last count of 37, with some road blocks within sight of each other. Ironically, the question policemen ask motorists are the same from one check point to the other.

The Hon Minister of Police Affairs has attempted to proffer some explanation as to why our police resort to corrupt practices on our roads. His well publicised explanation portrays the nation as shameless in condoning police extortion. This certainly should not be acceptable. For any war against corruption and corrupt practices that does not seek to eliminate corruption from the rank and file of the Police Force cannot be won. It is noteworthy that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Chairman recently publicly declared the Nigeria Police and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN, formerly NEPA) as the two most corrupt bodies in Nigeria.

And yet, traditionally, the police used to be the symbol of justice in the eyes of the common man. Today it is the exact opposite. Many policemen are perverters of justice. And yet for the ordinary man seeking justice, the Police Station is, of necessity, the first port of call. In those days, like in the 50s and 60s, when the police were regarded as friends of the people, the police stations were thought of as havens of justice. There was honour then in being a policeman. Indeed, the ordinary man could be assured of justice.

Today with the discovery of real and authentic policemen parking their official patrol vehicle in a nearby bush path to rob road travellers on our inter state routes, the verdict is different. We are not now referring to improvised road blocks for toll collection that all road travellers are used to; no. We are talking about policemen identified in their official uniform, and on official duty, stopping passenger buses and other vehicles on our interstate expressways, and robbing the passengers one after the other and dispossessing them of their cell phones.

The quality of life in Nigeria today is poor and corruption has played a crucial role in making it so. It is believed that the nation cannot make any meaningful progress if the evil of corruption is not dealt with. This is one issue that all presidential and other aspirants to political office must show they have an understanding of and credible solution for before they should be taken as serious candidates.

As for the police, it is becoming glaringly clear that the nation needs a new Police Force. The root of the present dilemma of the Force can be traced to the time of Inspector General Adewusi when approval was given for policemen walking the beat to be armed with guns instead of with batons, biros and notebooks as it had always been and as it still is in the United Kingdom that gave birth to the world's first police force. We now have, in Nigeria, generations of force men who do not have any practical knowledge of what it is to walk the beat.

How do we go about solving this problem? Should we not begin by disarming the police and retraining and re-orienting them? The question is what can we do about the large cache of arms and ammunition that corruption in the Police Force has allowed free passages into the country and to circulate so freely and so widespread as to constitute a grave danger to innocent lives and property?

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Ambassador Ihonde is the pioneer and only chairman of former Guardian Express Bank Plc.

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