The Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, appears to be living up to his rating as a no-nonsense cop who is not ready to take the Nigeria Police along the ancient path of business as usual. Before him, several IGs have come, talked tough and did little or even nothing worthy of note at all. But Abubakar will not be satisfied with talking tough alone. He seems to be matching his talk with action. Recently, while decrying the sorry state of the Nigeria Police, Abubakar disclosed that the Nigeria Police has fallen to its lowest level and has become a subject of ridicule within the law enforcement community and among members of the public. According to him, police stations, state Criminal Investigation Departments and operation offices have become business centres and collection points for rendering returns from all kinds of squads and teams set up for the benefit of superior officers.
As he put it, “Our respect is gone and the Nigerian public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of the police to do any good thing”. Not yet done, Abubakar lamented that police duties have become commercialised and provided at the whims and caprices of the highest bidder. Policemen are posted to rich individuals and corporate entities such that the police now lack the needed manpower to provide security for the common man. Abubakar further bemoaned that police investigations departments could no longer equitably handle matters unless those involved have money to part with! Still displaying his utter disgust at the state of affairs within the force, Abubakar declared that the State Anti Robbery Squad had become killer teams, engaging in deals for land speculators and debt collection, while toll stations in the name of checkpoints adorn the highways with policemen shamefully collecting money from motorists in the full glare of the public.
From his outburst, the IG has demonstrated that he is not content with the current situation of the police. It is a clear departure from what obtained in the past when the police hierarchy would do anything to protect ‘image’ of the police. Also, the IG has shown that he has the will to go the whole hog in ensuring that sanity prevails in the force. Not quite long ago, as part of his agenda to clean up the police, he recently ordered the officials of the Nigeria Police Force to stop detaining suspects in cells for more than 24 hours as required by law. According to Abubakar, this new order was part of his reform agenda for the police force. He also warned that torture will no longer be allowed any more in police cells and that any command found wanting will be heavily sanctioned. Perhaps, one of the most populist actions that the IG has taken is the outlawing of roadblocks across the country. In announcing the dismantling of roadblocks, the IG decried what he described as “merchandising” by policemen, whom he said have converted themselves to beggars.
It is longer news that roadblocks in Nigeria have become a source of embarrassment to the country. The consensus, across the land, is therefore, that the ban was long overdue and as such a welcome development. Not few days after he made the proclamation, trigger-happy policemen in Onitsha, killed a commercial bus driver because he allegedly could not produce the N50 bribe demanded of him at a roadblock in the metropolis. This killing almost brought the commercial city to its knees as rampaging youths went on the streets, seeking to convert the killing to ethnic cleansing as they claimed a Hausa has killed an Igbo man in Onitsha of all places. It is, however, pleasing to note that the IG has reiterated that non-compliance to this directive shall attract severe sanctions. Since the directive was pronounced, it is interesting to observe that sanity has returned to roads and major highways across the country. In Lagos, for instance, the police-induced traumatic traffic gridlock usually experienced on major roads such as Apapa-Oshodi; Toll Gate-Berger; Oshodi–Abeokuta Road; Mowe–Ibafo axis, among others have since disappeared.
Unfortunately, there appears to be concerted efforts in certain quarters to make the IG reverse his order in respect of the roadblocks. Recently, it was reported that armed robbers now operated with ease across major highways in the country. Pressures are being mounted from high places so that the IG would rescind his order concerning roadblocks in order to keep the highways free of bandits. This position is, to say the least, quite laughable. For one, roadblocks had never been really instituted as a strategy to curb armed robbery operations. Except we want to embark on self-delusion, the intention of those who promoted roadblocks was really not to protect Nigerians. Every Nigerian that travels across the land knows that the checkpoints are simply extortionist points. They are serious embarrassment points to the country.
Last year, on my way to Ile-Ife, Osun State, I came across over 17 police checkpoints just between Asejire Dam, Ibadan and Ile-Ife, a distance of 70 kilometres! What I saw on the road was quite disgusting. It was so bad that policemen were willing to change money for drivers with higher currency denominations. You can imagine the number of foreigners that witness such gory sights on our roads.
In advanced countries what is in vogue is constant police patrolling along highways. So, the police authorities should put in place a professionally trained Highway Patrol Unit that moves from place to place and report to the nearest police post if there is any problem along the highway. Equally, where they are not available, police posts should be established along major points on the highways while, where they already exist, efforts should be made to equip them to meet new security challenges. Also, the police could periodically introduce proper ‘stop and search’ exercise along major highways when it is absolutely necessary. If bandits are conscious that police are constantly patrolling the highways with sophisticated equipment, high level of professionalism and genuine desire to combat crime, they will definitely think twice before embarking on any dastardly mission. This has been reinforced in Lagos State when the state government professionally empowered the state anti-crime outfit, Rapid Response Squad. Armed robbers in the state read the handwriting on the wall and quickly moved to neighbouring states with less concrete crime bursting arrangement.
In recent times, the level of crime and the fear of crime have increased tremendously in Nigeria. Nigerians have since lost confidence in their police. Quite often, most of the roadblocks are unauthorised barriers on our highways which have in most cases led to fatal accidents. There are cases where policemen have intentionally or accidentally killed innocent Nigerians because the drivers failed to pay unlawful mandatory fee at police checkpoints. It is this sad trend that the IG wants to reverse. He must not allow himself to be blackmailed. He must continue his current agenda to reform the Police. Every well-meaning Nigerian should support his effort to purge the system of corruption, which has in times past, crippled and frustrated every honest effort at repositioning the police. Top cops who have become serious embarrassment to the system must be shown the way out. The current system of institutionalised corruption in the police cannot just continue.