By Sunny Awhefeada
African lore is rich with anecdotes which speak to life as it is lived. Part of the African continent’s claim to culture and civilization inheres in her variegated verbal practices which have become codified as orality or folklore depending on choice of usage.
Lighthearted or simple as many of these verbal practices might appear, they are endowed with profundity of meaning as they abut on philosophy. Protean and pragmatic, lucid and alluring, these verbal practices continue to expand their oeuvre and cohere with contemporaneity.
Even the primordial ones which attest to archetypal tendencies remain relevant despite distance in time between the dim past and the present. The inaugural moment of written African literature benefitted a great deal from the rich and inexhaustible mine of verbal art forms which attest to the profundity of the African mind, the range of its creative imagination and the dexterity of the tongue which gave vent to the lofty thoughts woven by the race. Side by side the evolution of African literary offering was the emergence and consolidation of African philosophy. The essence of our verbal arts, their meanings in their breathtaking and connotative expansiveness only showed that Africans could think and express themselves beyond the mundane. It is a validation of the African imaginary.
The Urhobo people have a treasure trove of proverbs and other witty sayings which ventilate their philosophical and sociological orientation. One of such is “the dog’s nose”. When an Urhobo mentions “the dog’s nose” under any context, fellow interlocutors versed in the delicate verbal configuration of the culture will quip “can never be clean no matter how well it is washed”. The saying and its riposte signify pessimism, the kind of which derives from hopeless incorrigibility. The saying is a taunt which is given validity by the physical attribute of the dog’s nose. The dog’s nose is black in its extremity and no attempt however strenuous can alter the colour. Here then is the pointer to the taunt and the signification of hopelessness. Like other items in the inexhaustible body of such witty sayings, no one can lay claim to its ownership. It is communal and deployed by those versed in the exploitation of its plenitude.
In the present context, the Nigeria police easily fit the bill of “the dog’s nose”. The police refuse to amend its heinous ways despite many years of attempted and failed reforms, public outcries, declamation and poor image arising from its rating as Nigeria’s most corrupt institution. Never to be erased from our national memory is the #ENDSARS anti-police brutality uprising that caused a wave of social disruptions across Nigeria.
Our beloved country is yet to recover from the carnage which attended the crisis that was enabled by Nigerian youths. The crisis which snowballed into a major youth uprising as it took the character of a harmattan fire started in Ughelli where some policemen brutalized a youth who refused to bribe them and left him for dead. Youths across Nigeria turned against the police who in turn fled and went into hiding; a classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted.
Overnight, the uncountable number of notorious police checkpoints vanished from our roads and streets. The equally notorious and ubiquitous Sienna buses that the police adopted and adapted as their patrol vans also disappeared from our roads and streets. The police simply went on AWOL and the people thought of alternatives to secure their lives. Community vigilantes, neighbourhood watches and hunters sprang into action to do some of the work of the police.
For some time, the people heaved a sigh of relief from police dehumanization. Then one could drive for as long as one wanted to without encountering police menace and its attendant psychological discomfiture. Surprisingly, crime rate didn’t increase! Then, gradually, the dust raised by the uprising began to settle and the police, intimidated and frightened by people’s power, returned to work. They became cautious in their dealings with the populace. They shunned bribes and discarded acts of brutality and for once the people thought that the police was truly their friend. But that was not to be long. The police went back to its old accustomed ways.
Yes, like the dog’s black nose that can never be washed clean our policemen returned to their old ways and retained the medal of Nigeria’s most corrupt institution. It is also the most despised and untrusted. A month ago, a youth requested a friend to link him up with an online business. The friend did and after a while the business failed. Another friend asked the victim to report the matter to the police, but he declined citing the police tendency to criminalize both parties in reported matters. Eventually, the boy reported the matter to the police after much pressure.
The policemen who took charge of the matter collected a hefty sum from the victim to commence “investigation”. They requested the victim to lead them to the guy who introduced him to the online business. The victim assured them of his friend’s innocence whom he described as a victim like himself. The police assured him that the visit was just for questioning.
Reassured, he led them to the friend’s. The poor fellow was arrested and taken to the station. The parents came to bail him. On the wall was a rider BAIL IS FREE, but the policemen demanded a hefty sum for them to release the boy. The father, a leading vigilante official, begged and begged to no avail. The boy was detained for two days, until the father was able to raise the money.
By this time, the primary victim had become tired and told the police that he was no longer interested. “For where?”, the police asked him. “No be you go teach us our work”, they added. “Na market you bring come give us”, they said further. The police twisted the tale and threatened to detain both boys as internet fraudsters and get them moved to Asaba and then Benin and later Abuja.
The boys and their parents were petrified and more money followed. By this time, the amount of money the police extorted from the victim and his friend’s family had doubled the sum he put into the business that failed. One month after, the police have not been able to crack the matter. The victim thus suffered double loss! This incident took place in Ughelli of all places, the same Ughelli where the #ENDSARS crisis that rocked the nation started less than two years ago!
We badly need a new police for Nigeria to experience social cohesion. The rank and file of the present police force stand indicted for nearly, if not all of the nation’s social crises. Every new Inspector General promises police reforms which never see the light of day.
Such statements like “the police is your friend”, “bail is free”, “see something say something” really mean nothing to our policemen. Nigeria is in grave danger with this crop of policemen. A recent report indicated that the police lost nearly one hundred and eighty thousand firearms. Another report said armed robbers were in police recruitment camps to get recruited! We are in trouble! Something urgent needs to be done. The truth is that the government is incapable of doing it. The police can also not save itself from itself. The onus now rests on the people especially organized civil society to begin a process that we give us the kind of police we truly desire.