By Sunny Awhefeada
When Muhammadu Buhari finally stirred and fired the disaster that Muhammed Adamu was as Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police (IGP), the nation did not applaud the move even though Nigerians have long clamoured for his sack. That Adamu was shown the way out and Usman Alkali Baba was ushered in as the acting IGP meant nothing to Nigerians because to them, both men represent the same calling that has evolved to become the worst institution in the nation’s history. The ENDSARS uprising and its aftermath more than anything else exposed the disaster that the Nigeria Police Force has turned out to be. Some states set up judicial panels of inquiries to investigate allegations of police brutality and what has been coming out of the panels, especially the one in Lagos State, depict many policemen as tragically inhuman and murderous. Besides the issue of human rights abuse, the police have again and again clinched the trophy of being the nation’s most corrupt institution that it has actually become Nigeria Perverse Force (NPF). Nigerians now hold the police in extreme derision and think about them only in negative terms. The last six years have been really traumatic for Nigerians who have to bear the excesses and dehumanization in the hands of a rabid police force.
Alkali Baba’s two predecessors must have had their training at a location adjacent to hell. There was Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, of the “transmission transmitting” fame, who was succeeded by the lacklustre Muhammed Adamu. Under the two men policemen simply went gaga and enacted the motto of “shoot at sight”. The notorious unit that went by the name Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) appeared to have been populated by blackguards who swarmed our roads and streets and unleashed hell on the citizens especially the youth. Yet, it must be said that the police has some gentlemen and highly refined professionals among the hyenas that have brought the institution to disrepute. Nigerians will remember some recent IGPs like Mallam Dikko Abubakar and Solomon Arase, two fine officers, who struggled although with little success to reposition the police and reclaim its lost glory.
This is not the place to list the legion of sins the police committed against the Nigerian people. The present intervention is in solidarity with the new IGP as he sets out to contribute his quota to reforming the police and ensuring that the institution regains the confidence of Nigerians. IGP Baba on resumption did appeal to Nigerians to see the police in a new light and promised to treat the citizens with civility and respect their human rights. Two things happened after IGP Baba’s entreaty and pledge and both reflect the good and ugly sides of the police. One was the case of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Sunday Erhator who was badly assaulted by a young man in Lagos. A video which captured the incident saw the ASP taking in the assault without shooting or harming the attacker. This act speaks to the policing credo of the new IGP. The other event sadly portrays the police as a leopard that will not change its colour. It is the story of an encounter between another young man who just returned to Nigeria and policemen. He was arrested for nothing and asked to pay fifteen million naira. The fellow eventually paid two hundred thousand naira. However, he raised alarm and the same police force ensured that his money was not only returned to him, but the robbers in uniform were arrested.
The two stories above, real as they are, should serve as anecdotes to IGP Baba. ASP Erhator’s case has elicited immeasurable commendation from Nigerians and the Lagos State government. A group raised money for the cop just as many Nigerians condemned the rascal who assaulted him. This only shows that Nigerians have right judgment and could appreciate good works. The second case involving the extorted returnee depicts that the police can self-reform if it chose to. The boy who assaulted ASP Erhator and the police who extorted the returnee are already in detention and being investigated just as it should be. They must be punished to serve as deterrent. The police, as an institution, is rotten through and through, but within the rot are still men and women who are not only courageous and patriotic, but honest and committed to an ideal. IGP Baba should search for such men and officers and begin the task of evolving a new police force that will enjoy the confidence of Nigerians. This task will be herculean as the police have become an Augean stable. But IGP Baba should not be fainthearted. Whatever gesture he offers should be reciprocated in order to see if truly the police can be reformed and redeemed. IGP Baba has rolled out a 12 point agenda for police reforms. Although previous attempts at reforming the police fell flat, let us hope that the present one will be different and yield the desired result.
IGP Baba is taking over at a most trying time. The depraved and demoralized institution he inherited from his predecessors is a police force that has become the target of the people it was intended to serve and protect. How did we get here? In the wake of the ENDSARS riots, Adamu went all over the country instructing policemen to defend themselves by shooting at Nigerians. There was hardly any instance of his admonishing the police for their atrocities to which Nigerians reacted. The people simply had enough of the police and turned against them. In the South-South and especially in the South East, there is an ongoing war against the police. But this must stop as it is a step towards anarchy. No society can evolve with this kind of stance against its police. Nigerians should endeavor to join hands with IGP Baba and see what can be salvaged of the police. Anarchy and tendencies that point towards it should not be encouraged. Patience and optimism are needed at this point. The new IGP should be given a chance to walk the talk in the task of reforming the police. Certain things must give way as the clamour for a new Nigeria gains ascendancy. The brutal and corrupt old police force must give way to the one truly serves the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.