‘President Buhari, your boys are here’
That’s your typical police officer asking you for a gift, in a nation that has over the years turned her police officers into armed beggars. Usually I give them money. Now, some vainglorious folks amongst us will say this is a way of encouraging corruption in the force. That’s laughable, when you consider their conditions of work. In this country, nobody respects the police. They are perceived as armed robbers who mount illegal toll gates but call it check points, and extort money from innocent people. To most of us, our police force is the worst in the whole wide world and even the World Wide Web! They are the butt and subject of many of our jokes and a favorite punching bag for our famous and not so famous comedians. Even when describing a slum, you liken it to police barracks!
One of my in laws told me long ago, about one of their brothers who wanted to join the police force. The mere mention of it caused so much uproar within the family, their father swore he would disown the young man. Many believe that because these guys extort money from a lot of innocent people who in turn rain curses on them, their lives will always be filled with misfortune! Alas, it seems no policeman can live a happy life. I do not know how many people reading this article would like their children to join the Nigeria Police. It’s that bad. I do not think there is any institution in this country today which suffers as much derision as the Nigeria Police. Yet this is the body primarily responsible for one of the most important functions of government which is the security of our lives and property. Why then have successive governments failed to reposition and rebrand the Nigeria Police?
Many of us remember how the Former President Goodluck Jonathan paid a surprise visit to the Police College in Lagos. When he saw the deplorable conditions under which the young men were kept he wept in shock and made promises. We thought here at last was a new dawn for our policemen. But sadly, that was not to be. It was an all too familiar story of promises and empty talk, with no action. And as we speak, our police force remains a national disgrace. It seems only the most wretched and hopeless in society are condemned to enlist in this force. It appears you only join the Nigeria Police, when all hope of a better life and career is lost. You run to enlist only when you have run out of options.
This, most unfortunately is where our police is right now. And it has been this way for decades. You can tell the state and wellbeing of a people by the state of their police. And ours is in a sorry state. Even more disturbing is the fact that we all seem to have accepted this anomaly. This shouldn’t be so. Thankfully, Lagos has already given us a hint of how a few changes can make a world of difference. The Rapid Response Squad was recently rebranded by the Lagos State Government, with brand new well branded vehicles and other equipment to motivate men of the force and help them perform better. Unfortunately Lagos State doesn’t control the Nigeria Police, so there is a limit to what the state can do.
On their part, the police don’t seem to have helped themselves much. Recently I received a message on my phone stating that ‘The Nigeria Police has advised all to avoid the following places as they have been identified as hot spots for Ritual Killings.’ The message lists 18 locations in different states. Which makes me ask: If they have identified these hot spots, why haven’t they apprehended the killers? If everybody avoids these places, which is impossible, won’t the killers relocate accordingly? When they arrest robbers, they call the robbers “hardened criminals who have been terrorizing innocent citizens” but if the robbers escape, they’re described as “hoodlums”. We could say there are many ways our police could show more professionalism and seriousness. But the fact is they need help, and some of our expectations of them, require a lot of training and re orientation.
Much as we like to deride our policemen and make them the butt of jokes, we must take a moment to appreciate how tough their job is. Made even more so, by how poorly paid and ill equipped they are! They stay awake so we can sleep, and so often they lose their lives to save ours. But we never see these sacrifices. We only see bribes and extortion. In a country where the ruling class is so irresponsible and greedy, every policeman is a hero to me, for even accepting to do the job. And now is the time to reposition the force and create a strong Nigeria Police Brand.
If properly repositioned, and this we must do, our police force can attract people of honour and valour. People who will take pride in defending the weak and protecting others. This is what the police is all about. It is actually a job to be proud of. And we must make our police force an institution of pride. Those in the position to make these changes know exactly what to do. As you will find with many other problems bedeviling our nation, many studies must have been carried out to diagnose the problems and I believe you will find many “white papers” and communiques detailing plans of action and strategies. There will be tons of reports on how to solve the problems of the Nigeria Police. The only missing ingredient is commitment.
President Buhari must therefore show that commitment and rebrand the police force. We need a police force that’s compliant with 21st Century standards. The technology is there. The resources are there. Give them a robust welfare package in partnership with a consortium of insurance companies. The Lagos State government has successfully enlisted the support of the private sector, and this is working. If the Federal Government also enlists the active support of the private sector, a lot of progress will be made. We all want a better police and the government should begin a new culture of patriotic contribution to national development. This means we should begin to see adverts for “Expression of Interest to Provide Free Services”. Companies that provide such services free of charge should in turn be granted some tax exemptions. This am sure will elicit a lot of interest. And hopefully soon, we will drive around freely, without our friends telling us “your boys are here”.
• Muyiwa Kayode is the CEO at USP Brand Management and Author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding.