Police walkout: Why they missed us more
There is nothing more demoralising than a small but inadequate income – Edward Wilson.
Nigerians are accustomed to seeing policemen at every junction of our cities. And when they stay-away, walkout or slowdown in subtle protest, we tend to miss them – but for the wrong reasons. Legally, police don’t go on industrial action and the authority would always dismiss its likelihood. But police officers can scale down operations as we have lately seen few policemen protecting only critical facilities, and responding to major security issues alone.
If you live in Lagos, you would have noticed police absence in the last two weeks following the riots, looting, and attacks on police stations. After the dust settled, arsonists nationwide torched no fewer than 60 police stations, with Lagos accounting for over 20. Scores of officers died; more were injured and lost personal belongings. It was a watershed in our modernity and it is just human for the police rank to be demoralised. Indeed, the chain of events was avoidable and most unfortunate. It is bound to affect the three publics – the people, police, and politicians – though in different ways.
What did the people miss in the police walkout? The roadblocks and police extortions! All the Inspectors General of Police (IGPs) have had a common theme song – the illegality of police checkpoints and officers’ attachment to VIPs. But the policemen have never obeyed any of the orders until exigencies of this crisis forced willful compliance. The people missed police checkpoints, as much as the VIPs missed their escorts.
If you regularly crisscross Lagos Isl,k,o,o099popand, especially the Lekki axis, you would have noticed that traffic has become hellish with the traffic lights now dead. Traffic has always been the second nature of Lagos and more lawlessness and impatience of road users will only worsen things. In other parts of Lagos, the mood is likely to be that of indifference, if not relief because security agencies had always been cheerleaders of lawlessness. Our policemen regularly drive against traffic, in official vehicles, convoys, or in commercial buses. On the same routes, they encourage civilians to break traffic rules at a fee. Their checkpoints also double as cash counters for the collection of tolls. They already employed some surrogates in mufti to chase danfo, keke, and okada for owo-olopa (police dues) and security levies! Most Lagos residents missed all of those. Though hoodlums have taken over such collections in few places, commercial motorists could tell that the new power blocs are cheaper to maintain than the regular police cartel; the reality is however different from private car owners who now have to pay for the ‘‘right of way.’’
It is not likely that crime has also escalated as often anticipated in most police stay-aways. Globally, there is no consensus on the impact of police walk out on the crime rate. When the New York police officers temporarily reduced proactive policing in the Eric Garner fatal chokehold incident of 2014/15, major crimes reports in the city actually fell, according to a study based on New York Police Department crime statistics. It suggests that police presence neither means crime deterrence nor their absence would always imply escalation of crime. Police presence is much more of a psychological advantage to potential victims of crime. In our clime, they lessen the likelihood of crime occurrence, though does not guarantee the safety of anyone, not even from stray bullets.
Safe to say that the policemen missed us more than many of us missed them at the checkpoints. The fact is that our police officers have been managing to survive from the proceeds of checkpoints and tips from VIPs. We cannot be paying an average police officer less than N50, 000 a month and expect him to get by without cutting corners. It is worse if the fellow is a breadwinner with mouths to feed. Beg, borrow, or steal, he has to meet some basic needs. So, a day without checkpoint duties is already a bad market. The fellow would appear fortunate if he or she is good looking and finds a VIP duty to attend. He is guaranteed lesser hazards on the job, except if his principal is one of those targeted for hoarding COVID-19 palliatives or has made more enemies than friends. Again, the problem of VIP attachment is that of being exposed to the splendor of wealth and comfort, much more than officers meager earning could afford. The officer daily sees the wealth of his boss, hears all his conversations, escorts his children to the best schools in town, carries oga-madam’s gold-plated bag to market, parties, church services, and other show-offs. At parties, his lot is to inhale the aroma and leave the taste to his imagination. It is psychologically devastating to come this close to wealth and privileges that are possible in the same country that pays a pittance to police, yet keeps asking why policemen are not behaving like normal human beings. And that is where the major problem lies.
It is not only that the politicians do not care about the people. They also do not care about the welfare of the police, so as to keep using the latter to suppress the former’s uprising against the status quo. Take the Lagos State Traffic Laws 2019 for instance. It is a well-detailed traffic rule such as you will find in all parts of civil societies worldwide. What is missing is the responsibility of the State authorities to guarantee good road infrastructure that often acts as incentives for willful compliance with the rules. Our rules forbid one-way driving and motorcyclists on major highways. Ideally, no right-thinking human being should embark on driving on such trips. However, that position did not factor in our decrepit infrastructure around here that ready means, going by the letters of traffic rules, the motorists would spend an average of four to six hours for a journey of less than an hour. That is to say, the traffic rule could in some cases violate the first law of nature – self-preservation. That is not normal. But in order not to allow total chaos and breakdown of law and order, the State deploys security forces to put us all in line. Meanwhile, the same police officers would not comply with such rules on a good day. That is why the police job in Nigeria has become doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
The point to make is that the policemen are not more morally bankrupt than the rest of the people. We all live in a state of anomie as created by the ruling class and ineffective leadership. The solution will never be a state of anarchy or stay-away from the duty posts. We all need one another – the people, police, and politicians – working for and not against one another. The police are one of the critical aspects of the system and should be reformed, trained, paid, and supervised accordingly. Our policemen are better off working intelligently and effectively. They should be felt rather than seen. And only that way would we really miss them. Ire o!