‘Those protecting this country are underpaid’
Samuel Balogun is a retired neighbourhood police officer for the Detroit police department. Born in Nigeria, he migrated to the United States over 40 years ago and has spent 21 years in service.
Since retirement, he worked for the Attorney General‘s office, protecting the attorney general of the state of Michigan under the leadership of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, he shares his concerns on policing Nigeria, the welfare of policemen in the country and how the government can improve their lot to advance the security of life and property in the country .
As a security expert, what are your concerns about the security situation in Nigeria?
I am worried about the security situation in Nigeria. Those protecting this country are underpaid; a sergeant in the Nigeria Police earns between 70, 000 and 80, 000 naira a month. When you pay someone that low, it gives a chance for corruption. Again, there is no zeal for the job.
In the US, if a police officer dies in the line of duty, every police officer in the state attends the burial ceremony. His family gets insurance money. Here in Nigeria, a policeman gets shot while working and there is no arrangement for burial.
The officers themselves have to contribute money to their colleagues. So, if there is no insurance for whatever happens to you, then they will embrace armed robbery to make ends meet. Even their uniforms, it’s nothing to write home about. I talk to a lot of officers who say they have to pay for their own uniforms. If you call a police station for duty, there is no petrol in the police van. You can see that the whole system is messed up.
When you look at the strength of the police force, it is a little over 200, 000. In America, with the same population as Nigeria, we have more than a million officers. When you have 200 000 people protecting 200 million people, it doesn’t make sense. Again, out of those 200 000 officers, there are those assigned to governors, chiefs and other VIPs who can afford security. When you break it down, you have less than 50, 000 police officers fighting crime.
We walked around and asked questions; everybody seems to be talking about the corruption of the Nigeria Police. I will be corrupt if I see an armed robber coming by and I know if I get shot no one will take care of me and I have a family to protect. I heard a police officer who got injured in the cause of his job wasn’t paid or compensated, he just stayed home after being injured protecting the citizens. You see that the whole system is broken down. For me, I cannot solely have my security company say I am fine, because we don’t have the power to arrest, we need that synergy with the government. Things can be done better; the elections are coming, and the number of police officers cannot give out that assignment. So there should be mass hiring.
Where are you coming in and what is the first step the government should take to address security issues in Nigeria?
First, I think they should hire more officers and the training should be better. There is a saying that the way you are dressed commands respect. You see some officers with gym shoes and bathroom slippers, how can you run after a criminal in slippers? Your uniform should command respect and that is not there because there is no financial allowance for that. Also, for equipment, a lot of police officers here do not work around bulletproof vests. In the United States, except you are doing undercover work, you want to fit in, so why should they not have a vest to protect themselves in the line of duty. I honestly believe that if the pay is good, it will attract more people. People look at the profession as a low-income job that does not command respect, because of the way they are treated. Look at the barracks they stay in, it is like a dung site.
Tell us about your security outfit.
I am doing private security for firms, companies and expatriates in Nigeria. We provide protection for them wherever they go. Even with that, we still have to work with the police because we don’t have arrest power. If there is a need, we call on them. Hence, the police still have to get paid to carry out their tasks.
Share with us your experiences in your years of service.
There was a time I was chasing someone, I caught him and was trying to arrest him, I put in the first cuff and was about putting in the second cuff, he jerked and started running, it broke my fingers. They had to put in a medal inside, I was compensated, I was off work, and I got paid for the treatment even though I had my personal insurance. When anything happens to you on duty, the city takes control of it; I got out of work and rehabilitation to start using my fingers again. That’s why you have to treat people right and give them a reason to take on the job.
Have you always wanted to be a police offer?
It was just an accident. Growing up, I would put a mark on my locker and if someone goes there, I would know, so I have always had that stint. When I got to the states, I worked for UPS, I got tired of doing the same thing over again, and then someone said they were recruiting for correction officer, I put in my application even though I had applied earlier to be an FBI agent and it took almost four years before I got a response. By then, I was already a police officer. I love what I do; it is one of the best professions because even when you retire, people still need your experience and expertise.
From your experience, do you think we need state police in Nigeria?
I don’t know if that will work here; every city in America has its police, but overall we work together. We do have state police whose power to arrest is within that state, but the local police cannot leave their boundary to make arrests. What Nigeria is doing is federal policing which has its disadvantage.
What do you think can work here from your analysis?
The state police can work; every state should have its own manpower to run its police force. Who knows the state more than the locals that live there? Also, the AK-47 rifle is for warfare not for a patrol. I think the Nigerian police officers carry that more often for intimidation.
What is your philosophy of life?
I believe in karma, whatever you do to others will come back to you. Also, be positive, and take care of yourself health-wise because you can have all the money, if your health is not good, it is nothing.