Nigeria police officers face terrible work conditions in Abuja

Mpape police station is a set of used container

(ph: Three years after it became a division Mpape Divisional Headquarters remains the worst station in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital)

Nigerian authorities are insincere about Policing within the country.

When Chief Superintendent of Police Musa Garba said the challenges facing the Mpape Police Station in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, are “enormous”, he wasn’t overstating it. For the past three years, this Police divisional headquarters has remained an eye sore.

On a tour of the station during the annual Police Stations Visitors Week (PSVW) held from October 31 to November 6 in 21 countries across 5 continents which aims at improving police-public relations, Mr. Garba showed members of the public four discarded shipping containers turned operational base. It is from here 93 police personnel manage one patrol vehicle and is expected to give security to one of the most densely populated satellite towns in the country’s Federal Capital Territory.

“As you can see there is no block building. The whole police station is made up of just four containers,” said the Mpape Divisional Police Officer (DPO) who occupies one container. “This place initially served as an outpost but ever since it was upgraded about three years ago nothing has changed. We currently have only one non serviceable vehicle which is presently grounded. This is what we have to make do with.”

The station has just one obsolete computer with no internet access found in one container serving as a stuffy administrative office, while the third container houses the station’s grossly understaffed traffic unit. It is however in the fourth container which has no light fittings and adequate ventilation coming from a portion cut out to serve as a window that male detainees are cramped up. Female suspects and street urchins are kept in a rundown make-shift wooden structure constructed into a police counter and charge room.

The toilet used by the police officers

(This is the toilet both male and female low ranking police officers use)

“This does not qualify as a standard police station. It is just disheartening seeing the cell and how they are packed like sardine,” said Umari Ayim, a lawyer, gender activist and first time visitor to the station. “No person, suspect or even criminal, should be kept in this kind of place. The conditions are terrible for humans to live in. Even for the police officers it is unacceptable. This is really bad.”

One suspect who said he had being locked up for five days, contrary to 24 hours as the law stipulates, narrated the sanitary conditions detainees face in the container.

“Make the police no lie to you say we dey go outside use toilet. Na for inside here we dey shit [defecate], piss [urinate] and sleep. Na so we dey suffer,” the young man said as he pointed to the extreme end of the container from where emanated a putrid smell.

His testimony was contrary to the police claim that detainees used a dilapidated toilet in an open space; which actually serves as the toilet being used by lower ranking police officers. Senior police officers make do with another toilet, though enclosed, but not better off. The Mpape Police station has no running water or drainage. It relies on containers donated by Julius Berger Construction Company years ago. Most police officers with several years on the job described the station as “the worst” place they have ever worked.

The situation in Mpape is a depiction of many police stations across Nigeria. Another true picture of policing in Nigeria was seen on another day’s visit to Maitama Police Divisional headquarters in one of Abuja’s most high-brow areas, it was revealed that as many as 278 of the station’s total 397 officers are security guards to top government officials and politicians; leaving 119 police officers to insufficiently provide security to the larger community.

“We are handicapped as we have insufficient number of personnel. Almost all the VIPs live here and 60 to 70 percent of the policemen deployed to their homes on guard duties are from here,” The station’s Divisional Police Officer, Hayatu Usman, a Chief Superintendent of Police, told foreign nationals and Nigerian visitors.

Coupled with the station having only four patrol vehicles in deplorable condition, CSP Usman said the situation has resulted to the few remaining personnel, though now having to work longer hours, not meeting up to the security requirements in the area, which include foot and vehicular patrols especially at night, traffic control operations, surveillance and intelligence gathering. The circumstances are worse as police officers, unable to afford accommodation within the city, travel far distances to come to work.

The visitors couldn’t help but feel that Nigeria Police stations are specially designed to fail going by the present framework where the Police hierarchy don’t take into account the specific immediate needs of police stations in their diverse localities. A major problem with the current system is heads of police units don’t make any input into the formulation of the budget of the police force. They only contend with the subventions they receive from their superiors, when they come.

“The budgeting process is top to bottom,” says Kemi Okenyodo of CLEEN Foundation, a partner of the Altus Global Alliance, organisers of the police stations visits. “As a result how do you gage what they need at the bottom? The police budget is supposed to take into cognisance the entire cost of running the organisation including each police station in the country. But what you find is people even senior police officers don’t have access to the police budget, which leads to ask how do you then hold the police accountable?”

This question of accountability further lends to who bears the cost for fuelling the working vehicles, generators, down to the stationary employed in the offices of every police station in the country. Many times, at the risk of compromising professional ethics, Police officers rely on donations by people and organisations to carry out their duties.

It is common place to see police officers use personal items for official work. In Mpape, CSP Garba used his own money to build the wooden interior in the container he occupies. In Maitama, where there is not even a first aid box, CSP Usman disclosed that only this year has he received a meagre sum of money to cover the stationary needs of his station. The welfare of suspects in Police detention is another case in point.

“The feeding of suspects is handled by contractors but they don’t come because they say they are not being paid,” CSP Usman said. “Only once since January I think N10,000 was given to cover feeding of detainees. For now it is their relations and some voluntary organisations who feed them.”

The hypocrisy of the management of Nigeria Police system is visible via the demoralising expressions on police men and women. When Napoleon Enayaba, a Nigerian historian, visiting the Mpape Police station asked one police officer at the Police counter/charge room why, as against the rule, there was no information displayed on the detainees board which should give details of the 12 suspects who were in police custody, the officer said off-hand, “we don’t have chalk”. Another police officer replied “we didn’t bother to keep account” when the noticed that the crime dairy is not regularly updated. A glance through the register also showed several suspects had remained in detention for days on end for minor bail able offences.

“I am clearly disappointed. This Police station is a slap on the security situation in the country. It is a reflection of the systemic failure which has eaten deep into the Nigeria system including the Police,” Mr. Enayaba said.

Culled from Sahara Reporters