KRocks Hotel, Jos. 8:46 pm, Sat 24 September 2011.
Two police officers wearing winter jackets on their uniforms hurried in with AK 47 rifles dangling from their shoulders. They marched directly to the outdoor bar, as if on cue.
The moment the bar attendant sighted them, he rushed to his transparent Nigerian Breweries fridge, flung it open and stretched into the deepest column of beverages to pull out two chilled bottles of star.
“Officer I greet o” he hailed the two police officers as he placed the ice-cold Star bottles before them.
Clutching their rifle belts, hung on their left shoulders in their left arms, both men grabbed the bottles’ necks with their right hands. They pinned the bottles to the counter while the bar man reach for his pocket and pulled out a steel opener. Pops! Pops! he popped the bottles open, one after the other, letting out its tingling gas. Both raised the bottles, bent their heads back, and gulped down the contents like a thirsty horse. After “gloop gloop!” and an “ahhhhh!” the shorter officer dropped his bottle, downed only a little. He let out a loud belch I could hear from the far end of the counter.
The other officer let his bottle out of his lips a little later, half empty. Soon, both men disappeared into the night with their half empty green bottles. A few minutes later, they reappeared with empty bottles.
“This one is for the road,” the taller officer told the bar man as they dropped off the bottles. “We go come collect the other bottles later,” he said.
The bar man nodded and reached for his empty bottles and replaced them in a waiting red plastic crate. The officers turned around and sauntered into a waiting patrol van outside the gate.
Drinking on duty – while carrying arms – is prevalent among police officers in Nigeria. it is a dangerous level of irresponsibility and indiscipline by police officers and the worst but least talked about threat to public safety.
The previous night, a hit and run driver knocked down a passerby few metres away from the hotel’s gate. A kind driver who saw the accident picked up the dying victim and rushed him to a hospital somewhere in Jos town.
About an hour later, the rescuer came back to the accident spot with the corpse of the victim.
Apparently, the hospital refused to admit the dead victim.
He pulled the corpse off his rear seat and laid it back in its caking pool of blood.
Before he made it back to his car door, he was blocked and arrested by police arriving the scene. He was accused of murdering the victim. Bystanders and eye witnesses’ accounts could not free him from police handcuffs. Neither did the arresting officers bother to check the scene for clues of the real suspect.
A police officer wearing similar winter jacket claimed the begging rescuer’s car keys and drove him away, to the police station, tailed by his colleagues in a patrol van, leaving back the corpse.
The body was only cleared hours later by people witnesses say are police officers too. Bystanders rained curse on the officers as they whisked the rescuer away in handcuffs. They called them “drunkards” who were only interested in dubiously making money off innocent residents rather than investigating crimes or gathering intelligence to keep peace in the city which is suffering chronic deadly clashes.
That night, as I tailed the drunken police officers to the hotel’s gate, it struck me that it is habitual for police around that area to drink while on duty and that some of their actions, like the arrest of the rescuer were possibly done under the influence of alcohol or other hard drugs.
The law explicitly prohibits policemen drinking alcohol on duty, or even visiting a place where alcohol is sold.
“Police personnel drinking alcohol while on duty is a legally impermissible but very common practice in Nigeria,” Okechukwu Nwanguma, the project coordinator for Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), an NGO, said. NOPRIN has been understudying police activities in Nigeria for the past decade and have written many proposals on reform of the police in Nigeria.
It is a common scenario seeing armed police personnel sitting down in beer parlours and other public places, drinking liquor or other intoxicating substances, and even smoking hemp, while in uniform and with arms.
Sometimes they take a short break from duty, walk into a beer parlour, and hurriedly gulp one or two bottles and then return to their beats, heavily drunk.
“Many policemen on road blocks are often drunk,” Mr. Nwanguma said. He added that many cases of police brutality and shooting are alcohol induced.
“Alcohol impairs human judgment and action,” he said. “A policeman who is drunk and carrying arms becomes a risk, a real threat to public safety.”Being a hierarchical force, the burden of ensuring discipline within the organization lie on the ranking officers, but the senior officers are involved in the act too.
Most rank and file personnel often have in their pockets, sachets of dry gin which they drink intermittently while on road block or other duties and alcohol is freely sold in most police stations.