It seems nothing constitutes a surprise among Nigerians any more, no matter how weird the incident and the circumstances surrounding it. Hitherto, strange things in the affairs of men are becoming a norm in our society. People are gradually throwing to the dogs those esteemed values and fundamental traits that distinguish man from a beast, because what determines a bad conduct at present dependent on the interpretation of the deviant.
I happened to have been a victim of an inferno in January 1996 at Efon Alaye Street in Mushin, Lagos State. A neighbour of mine had plugged an electrical appliance and ignorantly loafed within the neighbourhood for a while. It was a part of the periods in the life of our country that Nigerians could fairly predict the actions of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). So, with the bright and steady power supply, the delicate appliance turned crimson red and snowballed into a ball of fire. None of us resident in the building, including myself, could salvage any precious personal effects, including academic certificates, because of the pall of smoke that accompanied the inferno.
By day break, I went to the nearest police station, of course, in borrowed robes, no literary meaning intended, to inform the police of the disaster. A childhood friend of mine, Olaolu Fasogbon, had accompanied me intuitively. Neither of us knew that his going with me was beyond the fact that he was sharing in my grief and sorrow having lost virtually all I had laboured for from school to a career in journalism.
I had thought that the story of my predicament could make the policemen on duty, specifically the officer, detailed to incident the disaster, to perform their duties based professional ethics. Rather, it turned out the other way round. I was shocked to the marrow. Olaolu could not withhold his anger, as he thundered loudly why the policeman should be asking for egunje or kola from a totally depressed soul.
Until last Thursday, I had assumed that such acts of insensitivity and lack of conscience by some bad eggs in the Nigeria Police were limited to the streets and roads where they now collect N100 from motorists on Lagos roads. Though I have heard claims that even bereaved families, who required police report on victims of auto- crash , banditry and other criminalities are subjected to extortion, I thought it was all bunkum until I experienced such a callous attitude from people who are being paid with the taxpayers’ money.
At about 11:00 a.m last Thursday, some armed robbers went beserk near the popular Aswani Market in Isolo. One of their victims was a car owner, who was on his way to Eko Hospital in Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way, Ikeja. His child, who had a urinary tract problem, had just undergone surgery at the hospital. The robbers threatened to kill him if it was found that his car had a demobiliser. He pleaded that they spare his life after they had frisked him and deprived him of all his personal effects, including cash and handsets.
Dejected and left in the cold, their victim later headed for the nearest police post in the area to lodge a complaint, where he was subjected to all manners of treatment that tend to undermine the Nigeria Police. After suffering all the indignities, he was able to convince the police to incident the robbery attack. Even though it had become unsafe, he had to leave the station at about 11:00 a.m for his residence in Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, a distance of about 15 km away because of the trouble he passed through before receiving the wan attention. He arrived home safely in spite of having to pass through the ubiquitous black spots on the dark streets of Isolo, Oke-Afa and Ejigbo Road.
Whereas the robbers had advised to recover his car at Agege if he still needed it, they eventually abandoned it somewhere in Ejigbo, where it was taken to the nearest police station. His efforts to retrieve the vehicle hit a brick wall in Ejigbo, as he was advised to go and ‘settle’ with the Aswani police post as the first stanza of what looked like a tragicomedy. But he could not afford the ‘price’ on offer when he got there so his car was still in the ‘police cell’ as at Tuesday.
I guess a lot of Nigerians could have similar tales about the improper conduct of some of our policemen. The Police have consistently received bashing from many stakeholders, because of the unprofessional conducts like flagrant demand for gratification from complainants, indiscriminate arrests, open brawls with members of the public and outright killing of innocent citizens by a few irresponsible men in the system. Most of their crass display of unethical behaviours at the nooks and crannies of the country have unarguably contributed to the security challenges of the country, as there appears to be emphasis being attached to intelligence gathering.
The unwholesome attitude also defeats the cardinal aim and objectives of the campaign that members of the public should see the police as their friend. Friendship is about mutuality; it also about a symbiotic relationship. The cord of the friendship breaks if one of the parties believes his uniform confers him with the power and authority of oppression, torture and harassment. So, it will be difficult for an individual, who has had a raw deal in the hands of policemen to be willing to cooperate with the police in every circumstance. Yet, unfettered information flow from the citizenry to the police, concerning suspicious movements and acts amounting to a breach of the laws of the country by individuals, groups and organisations, is vital for effective and efficient policing.
The usual excuse that the decay in the force is a reflection of the larger society begs the question, and in fact, no longer tenable, otherwise, nobody would still be speaking about the modicum of sanity we have in other spheres of our national life. We need policemen, with conscience and human face, who will appreciate taxpayers and discharge their statutory responsibilities, based on professional ethics. It is nauseating, if not criminal, that policemen could occasionally tell the victims of a crime that they knew the members of a gang that could be responsible for the dastardly act.
That means they know the bad guys around town and their hideouts. Period!