Nigerian police officers cannot survive without bribe money from roadblocks to supplement their income, a Wikileaks cable quotes the commissioner in charge of Operations Force Headquarters, John Haruna as saying.
The leaked United States cable quotes John telling US official when he was the Deputy Police Commissioner for Lagos State in 2003 that police officers cannot survive without the bribes forcefully collected by officers at roadblock, called egunje.
Mr. Haruna, who until a few months ago was the FCT police commissioner, lamented to the US officials that it was impossible to live on a “policeman’s salary” at any level of the force.
“No officers can survive without engaging in the corruption that flows from top to bottom,” Mr. Haruna said.
He explained Nigerian police constables earned about N5000 a month – approx. USD 45 – and that officers are “forced to supplement their incomes and often use ‘roadblock money’ (bribes extracted from motorists) to subsist.”
According the cable John confessed that he augments his income illicitly with a construction
business that is made possible by his position and rank on the police force.
“Although uniforms are promised by the government, most policemen buy their own because there are never enough for everyone. Sometimes this results in incomplete uniforms or uniforms of differing colors and fabric types.
“Some policemen even chip in their own money to gas up the police cars. Others use the courtyards of police stations as places to sleep,” he added.
Asked why anyone joins the police, John stated that he “believes” in the force although he admits that some use it for criminal activities.
“Some join because they see opportunities to make money through extortion or because they have no other prospects,” he said.
The police commissioner told the US official that despite a tradition of testing for competence, the police force today checks neither background nor ability.
“The illiterate, miscreants, and even those with criminal records can and do join. It is not surprising that criminals, politicians, and the public treat the police with disdain,” he said.
Mr. Haruna explained that when he first was posted to Lagos, he instructed his officers to arrest criminals in the Oodua People’s Congress, a Yoruba vigilante and criminal organization but to his chagrin, he was openly reprimanded and his instructions reversed.
In Lagos, Mr. Haruna said he learned that police do not arrest the OPC.
Pointing to the corruption of people in power, Mr. Haruna called the electorate apathetic and predicted that in April the voters elect “whoever gives them the most rice.”
“Visibly distressed and admitting that he hates the military, John said that a Jerry Rawlings style of
housecleaning might be the only way to solve Nigeria’s problems,” Hinson Jones, the author of the cable said.
“Reminded that corruption is not unique to civilian governments, John rationalized that military
governments were surrounded by fewer sycophants and supporters looking for financial favours. Therefore, more money trickled down to the masses,” Mr. Jones added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Haruna predicted that extortion and other abuses will continue as a way of life, as will the force’s bad relations with the community.