Understanding Nigeria Police parlance

By John Ukah

The Nigeria Police has the primary responsibility of protecting life and property. Undoubtedly and in the light of the rising state of insecurity, the agency needs to be restructured or reformed to meet present-day challenges. The rising spate of criminality and blood-letting across the country has exposed the soft underbelly of our porous security machinery and the far from intelligent intelligence gathering methods and capabilities of the police. Considering the harsh conditions in which they operate, low morale, inadequate training, lack of basic crime-fighting equipment, and poor conditions of service, the Nigerian Police have exercised great restraint by not accidentally or deliberately exterminating us all with the arms in their possession. Sometimes they do lose it and mow down both law-abiding citizens and even their colleagues in bizarre shooting incidents.

The reign of carnage unleashed by the Boko Haram sect on the nation has not helped matters. Police stations have been sacked, police officers killed and armoury stolen. Policemen have probably never had it this bad. Extra-judicial killings and altercations with civilians and other members of the armed forces resulting in loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties can be reduced to the barest minimum if the uninitiated study the handbook on police parlance and the unwritten rules on facial expressions to understand what they actually mean.

Ongoing Investigation
There is a standard template for communicating police official response to any heinous act. The police, we are often told, are investigating the incident and will fish out the perpetrators of the dastardly act. What this means in reality is that the case file has been closed and flung into the lagoon or abandoned somewhere to gather dust. Do not be misled into thinking it means anything else.

This response covers cluelessness and apathy. No case is ever closed officially though. It is always ongoing, such that you can’t accuse the gallant but ill-equipped police of failing in their duties. But there is just never any closure on the investigation or anyone fished out or successfully prosecuted! Assuming a case file was ever opened in the first place.

When the Inspector General of Police personally intervenes
Occasionally, the IG of Police declares a personal interest and vows to intervene in some protracted cases. “I’ll handle this personally!” The IGP avowal is usually at a televised news conference. This show of bravado culminates in a temporary relocation of his office to the kidnap site or criminal hotbed. But those familiar with the police unwritten code know it is all as shakara.

The personal intervention speech is often spurred by the harsh reality that he might lose his job owing to public outcry. The IGP’s declaration only goes to show how “important” the case has become in the public domain or discourse – nothing more than that. Eventually after all is said and done (more is usually said than done), the investigation becomes ongoing (Please refer to the meaning of ongoing investigation).

Mysterious Death
This refers to all manner of death reported to the police. If a car knocks down a pedestrian on the highway, it is marked as a mysterious death. This is because that was not the only pedestrian on the road on that fateful day but strangely no other person was killed. If that isn’t mysterious then pray what is? Suspects who may or may not have driven on the highway that day might be arrested and investigated over the dastardly act. If you reach out to the police insisting on getting to the root cause of the death by scientific or deductive reasoning, then officially the investigation is ongoing. There is nothing more detestable, nothing rankles the rank and file of the police as much as a non-uniformed and uninformed member of the public teaching them their jobs.

Reporting a matter to the Police
It is a serious breach of the unwritten code to report an issue at the police station that you as an individual can’t resolve on your own. Harassing the police on duty to act urgently is also highly offensive. If you can’t deal with the threat or whatever the issue is, what makes you think the ill-equipped policeman can or will lift a finger to assist? Also, weigh your personal crisis against other prevailing national issues. So your car was snatched by armed robbers? Just how significant is that in the face of the recent bomb blast at the police headquarters that left several people dead and more expensive cars damaged? The IGP escaped the bomb blast by the whiskers. That gives you an idea how inconsequential your stolen car is in the bigger picture of national or global events. Take the loss in your stride.

A running policeman
Whenever you see a policeman running, never hesitate! Also, run or at least walk faster in the same direction until you get to a safe place. If you can’t run for any reason then hide immediately. If he is armed and running away, you should be afraid of what he has seen or what is chasing him.

Check Point Rules
A recent report has it that up to six people are extra-judicially killed daily in the country. That’s the frightening dimension that extra-judicial killings have taken. Quite a number of these killings occur as a result of disputes at police check-points. The correct behaviour at police check-points is very simple. If the policemen wear a smile then start frowning. If they wear a frown then smile in return.

Most people will assume that an armed, smiling policeman is a good omen. It isn’t necessarily so. The policemen at a check-point are usually on edge and like a shiver of sharks. When they smell blood or fear, they go for the kill. The smile on their faces is akin to placing a tentative toe in unknown waters to test the depth. Just like the proverbial thin line between life and death, it is an even thinner line between the smile of an average policeman and his frown or rage. The right response to a smiling policeman at a check-point is a deep frown. Do not ever smile back. That’s a sign of weakness. Always negotiate from a position of strength and keep them guessing.

It will help if you are proficient in the over 450 Nigerian languages. Having something in common helps. You can tell the tribe from their name tags. Greet the policeman in his dialect. You could both fortuitously belong to the same ethnic fraternity, cultural association, or regional interest group such as the Arewa Congress, Ohaneze Ndigbo, OPC, MOSOP, MASSOB, or even Boko Haram.

“Wetin dey your boot?” “We are here working.” “Happy weekend.” “Where are your particulars?” Do not translate these police statements literally. Call it an invitation to show appreciation, egunje, roger, tip or whatever. You also don’t have to give. Explain that you understand the request but you have given all the change that you had to the other 10 collection points that you have passed before getting to their particular check-point. The police is your friend, they will understand.

Daily Independent