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Posts Tagged ‘The Nigeria Police’

Bail is FreeAlong with “police is your friend”, one inscription you are certain to see boldly written in every police station in Nigeria is “bail is free”. You might have even heard the police top brass make such claims in public statements. If you believe any of that, then you will believe anything.

But it ought to be free, or at least on paper it should be. Bail is the temporary release of an accused person, or a suspect, from police custody pending the conclusion of investigations or the final determination of the case, on the condition that he would report to the police station when necessary or attend court for trial. It flows from Section 35 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which intends to preserve the liberty of a suspect and is built on the assumption (at least among democratic states where the rule of law is more than a mere campaign slogan for politicians) that an accused person is innocent until he is proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Anyone who has had a police case will tell you a different story. It doesn’t matter whether the arrest was for a criminal or civil offence or even a mere disagreement with a neighbour. The Nigeria police will demand money in exchange for your freedom, the amount charged and paid depending on such factors as the size of the greed of the investigating police officer, the profile and bargaining power of the accused and the nature of the case. It is now almost a non-issue. Bail payment is sacrosanct. And when you fail or are unable to meet the payment terms, the Nigeria police, who do not have the best of human right records nor regards for the rights of citizens, will torture you, even sometimes to death as was recently reported in Ibadan.

That this sad situation which is illegal and a mockery of the popular police lingo continues to prevail is however not the subject of this intervention. So many legal minds and human right groups have been in the trenches on this matter for so many years and the struggle continues. To them I pay my respects for the thankless job they are doing. My interest in this piece however is to ask what exactly the police do with the bail monies they receive from people?

You see, ideally, the bail payment is a bond placed as guarantee that an accused person will be available to the authorities when needed and forfeited otherwise. That’s ideally. Nothing about Nigeria as we know is ideal. Here it is a payment for freedom. Are there any records of such payments kept? Does the police issue receipts for such payments? Does the police account for such payments and/or forward same to revenue generating agencies of government? Are you really able to retrieve from the police any payment you make to secure bail after an arrest if investigations later indicate you are innocent of any offence?

The answer to these questions is obvious to all of us. What we have done is that, in furtherance of the rent seeking culture, we have created an industry for criminal minded police officers through which they dubiously make money from the public by extorting innocent and often hapless citizens. Because there is no consequence whatsoever for this, it is not uncommon for a team of police men, who need money to augment their paltry pay, to carryout raids, and round up innocent people including bystanders and pedestrians minding their own businesses, to whom they read no charges and cram them up in filthy cells. They then each have to pay a negotiated amount to secure release or be left to languish. This money collected is shared by the police officers.

This is a very sad situation. You don’t fully understand how bad it is until you have experienced it. When we talk about corruption, I wonder if we capture such as corruption. When you remember that the Police is supposed to be an anti-corruption agency of government but has successfully institutionalized this daily act of fraud, you then appreciate how deep the rot is.

Who do we look up to for help? The protection of the rights of citizens including enforcement of their bail rights lies with government. But when government itself is a culprit, disobeying court injunctions and rulings and infringing of the freedoms of expression of citizens, then there isn’t much to expect from them in terms of succor.

Nigerians, especially those who are not wealthy, who cannot afford lawyers, who are by virtue of their social status even ignorant of the law and their rights, will unfortunately continue to be taken advantage of by officers who are paid to protect them and a nation they had the misfortune of being born in.

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We see and say nothing good about them, these men in uniform. The colour of the uniform doesn’t matter, our collective loathing for them cuts across. They carry with them the burden of everything wrong with our country. Of corruption, incompetence and abuse of power.

In the past as is now, we see them as a symbol of oppression. They take bribes. They break the law. Some elements among them can be extremely annoying, unreasonable and brutal. Their image has been anything but good in recent time with the rising insecurity in the land. All these and many more are true; but I make bold to say that the Nigerian security officer deserves better from us. If not respect, at least some appreciation; and If you will hold on a while, I will explain why.

These men put their lives daily in harm’s way so we are (or feel) a little safer. As we leave our homes every morning to air-conditioned offices, spending the day punching away on Internet enabled computers, even finding time to throw banters on social media, the officer leaves his house daily to a poorly furnished office, the street corner, under the sun, into some fast moving vehicle, or condemned to walking/standing behind some politician or his wife, every second of the day, prone to danger and insults.

The Nigerian security officer is poorly trained and poorly equipped. What could be worse?  He is groping in the dark for a needle. There is no intelligence to support him. No forensics. Communication gadgets are of the last century. His work is made even tougher because the community sees him as an enemy, so would not volunteer information to him. In the absence of intelligence, he falls back on brute force and grand standing. He takes bribe, which profession in Nigeria doesn’t? His take home pay, we all know, cannot take him home.

We give a hungry man an AK47 and place him in the harsh sun, what do you expect his psyche to be like?

                       

Yet they have been resilient. Daily we hear of officers killed by criminals. Does it make any sense to us? Do we realise these are men with dreams, with families who love them? Do we recognise their sacrifice? The Police are the number one target of Boko Haram; do we sympathise with them? No. We squeeze our faces and blame them for the extra judicial killing of the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf; thus reducing the product of national failure to a police problem. By our silence and lack of sympathy, we sentence them again and again to death.

Many of those police officers who die today know nothing about Yusuf or the conspiracy that led to his death. Many are so low in the ladder to have a say or to have played any part. They have no hand in the poverty, deprivation and hunger in the land. Indeed, they are victims as well. Ever seen a barrack? Or the worn shoes of an officer?

Each time another bomb goes off; we renew the venom in our tongues against them. “Our security agencies are not doing anything” we say. Maybe it is not apparent because they have not made it go away totally, but for every bomb that goes off, we can never imagine so many that they thwarted even with their handicap. I have friends, young men my age, graduates who signed up into the army. They command troops. They do those patrols night and day in far flung and very dangerous parts of the North while we sleep or catch fun. They share their tales of near fatalities and of friends and colleagues that are no more.

It is difficult for me to sit around and say they are doing nothing. It is indeed grossly unfair really, to make such sweeping accusations.

Last week, Deputy Inspector General of Police, John Haruna, and three other officers died in the line of duty. They were in Jos because some elements among us have decided to make the country inhabitable; to keep our blood pressures perpetually on the high. They paid the supreme prize doing their job.

Yes, it comes with the job description you would say and no one forced them to sign up; but then, think of it, what if no one went into the force? What if they do not make the effort no matter how inefficient we think them? What if no one controls the traffic? Does that not qualify them at least for some salute?

And for the majority, when they die in active duty, the highest recognition they receive is that anonymous mention in the news: ‘Five police men and a soldier were today killed by a drive by shooter”. We don’t even mention their names. Like they were objects, not human beings.

They become nothing but statistics. In our heads, they don’t count. In fact, we even blame them for their deaths. They died wrongfully (apologies to Fela) and the family they left behind receive pittance, if ever they do; and then we send some fresh boots to take their place.

In truth, security officers are not meeting our expectations. But then, which department of our polity is? They cannot give what we as a society have not given them; and in my thinking, given the kind of mess we are in, they are really giving quite a lot.

First published in Daily Times Here

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