by Salisu Suleiman
If the Nigerian police had not cold-bloodedly executed the leaders of Boko Haram, the country might have been spared the sect’s murderous rampage that has left large tracts of the country prostrate and in a virtual state of war. As it is, four years after the act, not one police officer has been convicted, though the faces of the culprits were clearly visible from the secret recordings of the extra-judicial killings.
The Nigeria police was established as a coercive arm of the British colonialists and is yet to change that mentality. For the police, it is always ‘we’ against ‘them’, which is why the fact police officers routinely shoot unarmed suspects without trial is no longer news, nor are we shocked by the rote killings of bus drivers for refusing to part with 20 naira bribes.
According to international convention that recommends of 1 policeman to every 140 people, the country has a huge deficit of police officers. Nigeria needs at least 1 million policemen, but we have less than half that number, most of whom are ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-tempered, and very prone to ‘accidental discharges’. Yet, many of these officers that can hardly be trusted with even the most basic and routine functions, and who have little or no legal knowledge actually prosecute cases in our courts.
The recent visit by President Goodluck Jonathan to a Nigerian Police college revealed the horrific conditions under which police cadets train, and also raises many posers. Were funds meant for rehabilitation of police colleges diverted, and if so, by whom? What happened to the Police Equipment Foundation and the trial is its management over fraud allegations? If the former Director in the Police Pension office could steal a staggering 23 billion naira and escape prison, did he steal the funds with the knowledge and active collaboration of the higher echelons of the police?
What is responsible for the state of the Nigeria police? What happened to the various police reform committees set up by government? Why has government consistently refused to consider the constitutionality of state and local police? To whom do state police commissioners report and what is the propriety of their relationships with state governors? As important as these posers are, the more germane issue, however, is what do we expect from the police when they have been so brutalized in training, live in such squalid accommodations in police barracks, are paid such poor salaries, then given guns to roam the streets?
And while we are at it, it is also important to open a about dialogue our dysfunctional criminal justice system: Recently in Abeokuta, a magistrate court headed by Idowu Olayinka sentenced 49-year-old Mustapha Adesina to two years in prison for stealing vegetables valued N5, 000. These were the same laws that fined former Edo State governor Lucky Igbinedion, a mere N3 million after was convicted of stealing N9 billion, as was Cecilia Ibru who was given six in a hospital for stealing more than N190 billion from Oceanic Bank.
Similarly, when the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun was charged for incorporating some companies to loot the police treasury through bribes and kickbacks on contracts through which billions of naira were fraudulently withdrawn from the police account and transferred to the companies to buy shares and landed properties and foreign currency, what was the verdict?
During the trial, the Judge, Justice Binta Nyako in her judgment said she considered the fact that Balogun was a “first offender” and had “shown remorse” throughout the trial and sentenced him to of six months’ imprisonment and a fine half a million naira on each of the eight charges against him. Though he was convicted of stealing money to buy shares and landed property amounting to 150 million US dollars, including money stashed in banks, shares in blue chip companies and 14 luxury buildings, he spent less than six months in jail and is a free man today.
On the other hand, the police detain thousands of citizens for years on suspicion of crimes that would not attract more than a few months in prison, or even a fine. Many are there simply because they cannot afford legal representation. Most observers agree that our police cells and jails are crammed with suspects accused by the police of stealing fowls, goats, tubers of yam and other mundane items.
The missive from the Nigeria police and justice systems seems to be: if you must commit a crime; do not steal a stringy fowl, famished goat, or tattered pair of shoes. Do not steal a bottle of palm oil or a loaf of bread because you may be detained for several years or more without trial, or a police bullet in your back for ‘attempting to escape’.
Ultimately, no one should be alarmed: With the nature of our police colleges, police barracks, and warped justice system, it is only normal that the Nigeria police would parade such a ghoulish mentality.
A version of this article was originally posted on the author's blog