IGP: How not to visit a commercial capital
The measure of man is what he does with power – Pittacus.
Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous – William Proximire.
Imagine waking up on a fine morning to find your neighbourhood under siege. Heavily armed security officials have barricaded all entries and exits. You would certainly be livid by the brazen incivility, especially to know that the siege is a street-party of some sort. And if you are highly connected and freely throw weight around, you may put a call through to the governor or his Commissioner of Police to report the imbeciles – for immediate arrest and prosecution. But what if the feedback mentions the Inspector General of Police (IGP) as the chief host of the malfeasance?
The scenario is no longer a hypothesis. It actually happened in Lagos penultimate Wednesday when the IGP, Usman Alkali Baba, opened the police public relation officers’ three-day conference. The outing, from Lagos resident’s perspective, was another case of power show and flagrant abuse of privileges that makes the police look uglier. And with such bad examples at the peak, it ceases to surprise one that the current crop of policemen freely violates the law they aim to uphold.
Beginning from 8 a.m. that day, all entries inwards the Government Residential Area (GRA), Ikeja, were barricaded by assorted police officers. Residents of the high-brow community had minor difficulties getting out. But getting back home, into workplaces or business zones was a tough call. All private and commercial vehicles were barred at connecting junctions. Many that were determined to get into the ‘red zone’ abandoned their vehicles and set out on foot – young or old, rich or poor. Out of frustration, some residents had heated exchanges with unruly police officers. It changed nothing. That way, the traffic backflow from Joel Ogunnaike junction snarled into Awolowo Way end of Ikeja. Ever-busy Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way was also not spared of the chaos and attendant agony and pains.
It was not the first time an entire corridor had been shut down in an emergency or for easy passage of a high profile personality. In a volatile country like ours where almost anything could happen in daylight, it is oddly familiar to have an entire State on lockdown for visiting president. Frequent air travellers and airlines are used to that misfortune. Each presidential air movement readily grounds all others for security reasons. That has been the standard practice globally, except in more civilised countries that value their citizens, their time, and understand that public offices are held in trust for the people, and not an instrument of oppression.
For instance in 1993, President Bill Clinton provoked consternation when he grounded the presidential plane — Air Force One — in Los Angeles, causing two runways at the airport to close for an hour. The president was having a $200 worth of haircut, while the giant taxpayer-funded plane sat on the tarmac with its engines running. “Hairgate” was one of the scandals that blighted the Clinton-era. Though the extent of the disruption on commercial and general aviation was debated, the president had to apologise for the abuse of privileges that is tantamount to “ethical failure” in leadership.
Our third world leaders are not known for such accountability or remorse. The question is: does the IGP fit that bill of a high profile person to warrant an area shutdown? Who gave the order without notifying residents and stakeholders concerned? Is it the State governor, the IGP, Police Commissioner Odumosu, or some overzealous police officers that wanted to show off in a State that has since 2008 prohibited street parties and obstruction of traffic on any road for commercial or social purposes? Who was in-charge of the imperial hubris? Who pays for the operating cost of over 100 police vans and motorbikes that lined both sides of Isaac John Street and beyond on that Wednesday? The IGP or taxpayers? What is the worth of the visit itself? And who bears the brunt of losses incurred by resident banks, supermalls, hospitals, outlets and other businesses that were disrupted by the IGP’s visit?
For a fact, IGP and his entourage didn’t arrive at the Renaissance Hotel venue of the conference past 10 a.m. – more than two hours after the GRA had been shut down. It suggests that the IGP had not even left Abuja, nor had his shower when the commercial hub was put under siege. His value-added to the event and policing in the country was also a suspect. The IGP merely declared the conference open. He was not a facilitator and he didn’t even talk to the press on burning national issues before departing the conference that had the objective of fine-tuning how the police spokespersons relate with the public.
Lagos, in particular, and the country, in general, deserves a better comportment from the police and its leadership. The investment of Lagosians in the police, through the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF), is unrivalled nationwide. It is from the magnanimity of residents and private businesses that the police have been equipped. They are the same benefactors that the same police are trying to run out of business to make room for a prodigal visit. Lagos residents deserve more of “friendly” disposition from a police that has consistently parade a battered image.
The unruly behaviour itself contravenes the ethos that set up a modern police system. By design, the police derive its authority from the people, to ensure a safe and secured polity in the interest of general well-being. As the famous Peel theory (from Sir Michael Peel, the British Home Secretary in 1822) sums it: “the police are the public and the public are the police”. That is the standard ethics of the police, which the 21st Nigeria police rarely live up to, and one of the reasons the country is at its depressing precipice and the drumbeat of state-owned police keeps getting louder.
Going by the IGP’s last visit to Lagos, it was a public relation’s scandal that communicated wrongly with the people. If the Nigeria Police must change the narrative, it must begin with the IGP leading by good example; showing the way of a people and service-oriented police. Because, if the police hierarchy would not demonstrate civility in conduct, what moral rights have they to demand compliance from the general public? And if the IGP would not be another bird of passage, upon him rests enormous expectations to salvage what is left of this sinking ship. That is, if he is willing and able. Ire o!