A day at a Lagos police station

The other day, I was summoned to a police station in a neighbourhood in a popular area of Lagos. An early morning telephone call from an acquaintance was all it took. The distressed young man, a tailor by profession, had called to inform me that early Saturday morning that he, alongside two of his friends, one of whom is a Mass Communication undergraduate of the Lagos State University, was arrested the previous night on the street leading to his shop by a police team that raided the area in “response to a distress call by a member of the public that miscreants were gathered at the street corner smoking Indian hemp and if left alone could cause a breach of the peace”, the police claimed.

I left all I was doing and drove to the station, in less than no time, and demanded, from an amiable policewoman I met on the premises, to see the Divisional Police Officer. As of the time I arrived, the police operatives who were on night duty were still hanging around, waiting for proper handover to another team. On being told the DPO was not available, I was advised by a young man cleaning his office to wait for him or meet the Station Officer while waiting for his arrival.

I was directed to the reception of the station from where I saw the three young men and others also arrested for other infractions sitting behind an unkempt counter manned by two policewomen sitting on damaged plastic chairs. One of the women was busy eating her breakfast while attending to my enquiries. The whole place smelt like a dungeon, apparently emanating from the adjoining rooms used as offices filled with personal effects of the operatives. The chairs and tables were disjointed.

Not too long after, I was pointed to the office of the Station Officer, a pleasant-looking man, who already had typed, in the only computer system I could see in the station, the alleged offences of the youths preparatory, as he told me, to moving them to the notorious Lagos State Task Force office in Oshodi for onward movement to only God knows where. He narrated how he led the team that raided and arrested the young man and his friends at an “ungodly hour” of 10.30pm near the scene of a police raid, a charge the young men vehemently denied and maintained, evidenced by the bag containing the clothing materials they had with them when they were arrested while walking towards their shop, where they claimed they were going to work all night to make clothes for a customer who had an engagement the next day. The boys’ denial infuriated the man who ordered they be sent back to the cell where they were brought out from that morning awaiting my arrival. He told me only the DPO, who personally ordered the raid, he said, could say what would happen to them. So, I would have to go outside the premises to wait for him, he insisted. He followed as I walked out of his office.

So, outside I went. And that was how I came to behold an absurd spectacle at the entrance of the station. Police operatives milled around. One of them was openly clutching a bottle of Red Label Whisky, the content of which he poured to his animated colleagues who gleefully emptied the same into their empty stomach. I watched in disbelief as fully attired cops, with their rifles strapped on their shoulders, engaged in the consumption of alcohol right there in the full glare of all. A few minutes later, as they regaled themselves, I noticed a sudden movement with the one holding the Whisky struggling to hide it from an approaching figure. It turned out it was the DPO, in mufti, resuming that morning after the night duty. One of them jokingly urged the bottle-bearing colleague to “surrender” to the DPO, an elegant and urbane cop, who caught their joke and sat down on a damaged chair at the gate. A little was poured for him, and he downed it, and cleared his throat. Knowing I was a guest, he offered me warm handshakes followed by formal introductions. Mutual friendship established, he directed the Station Officer to attend to me on the matter. This was after he poured out his frustrations and challenges, which are archetypical of the Nigeria Police, anyway

“See, they want us to clear Lagos of criminals and rid every blackspot in the state of criminally-minded elements, yet, nobody cares how you’ll do it. We are expected to ensure 24/7 electricity in the stations, but only N5,000 per month is provided for fuel. What type of magic do you think we can do? This patrol vehicle you see here, (pointing to a rickety vehicle that has seen better years parked on the corner) was refurbished by me when I resumed here recently. That is the only one we have. How can we chase criminals and cover this area all with one vehicle that is not even in good shape?”, he asked. “It means I would have to find the ways and means of doing those things if community members fail to come to our aid or the local government refuses to honour our request for assistance, as has been the case now”, he lamented in a soft voice.

This lamentation is replicated across the country. The police are underequipped, and underfunded yet we are safe in the thought they can secure us all in Nigeria, and at the same time fight crimes, contain rising violence and maintain peace. When I accosted a weather-beaten vehicle used by a police patrol team drawn from the Alapere Police Division at a filling station recently, the leader of the team lamented to high heavens. The car was even donated by a woman from the community, he told me. When the Imo State Police Command needed to mobilise personnel to restore order in a community in Ohaji/Egbema area last year, the former Commissioner of Police went through hell to get a patrol van for the team. But the community was burdened with the additional task of paying for the repairs subsequently. It has since been withdrawn.

This disturbing reality should be reversed by the government in our collective national interest. Sadly, there is no indication this will ever happen anytime soon. In 2017, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, disclosed that out of the N1.13tn needed for police operations, they only got N36.1bn in the year’s budget. He bemoaned that, “this difference is alarming and has sounded the loud trumpet that the regular budgetary allocation to run the police is sharply inadequate and requires urgent measure to address, if the Force must be effective and responsive to the security needs of Nigerians in a complex and dynamic policing space.” His request for N700bn to “rehabilitate barracks, police stations and build new ones across the country” was not heeded either. The results are what you see in every police station you go.

It is impossible to have friendly cops on the road when they work in unfriendly and decrepit environments, some with no chairs to sit or where to sleep except inside vehicles.

An analysis of the 2018 budget of the Nigeria Police by Civic Media Lab, a media-tech foundation in Lagos, revealed that each of the 1,579 police stations in the country will get only N1,017 daily out of the N586, 448, 863 allocated to fuel police vehicles. The total appropriation for the training of the entire police force is N687m, which, the group noted, means only N2,283 is available for the training of each police personnel in 2018! Besides, each personnel of the Force has an insurance premium of N923. Also, the appropriation for insurance premium for the year is N278m. A proper analysis of this is that a policeman insurance premium is N923!

However, if, as the DPO revealed earlier, only N5,000 out of a possible N30,510 for fuel every month gets to him, it means underfunding is not the only problem of the police. Corruption and mismanagement of funds also sit high on the scale. How well do the police authorities utilise the resources allocated to the Force? This explains why top and senior police officers live in luxury and later retire to a life of limitless affluence while the organisation they work for suffuses in decay and deprivation.

Contrary to the slogan that “police is your friend”, it needs emphasising that a grossly underfunded, underequipped, ill-resourced, demotivated and corruption-ridden police cannot be any man’s friend. Instead, it is an ever-present potent threat to citizens’ freedoms, human rights and national security. No democracy can function well under such a situation.

Back to the story of the detained youngsters. Following my intervention, the tailor-acquaintance was released free while his friends were “taken on bail”, as directed by the SO, all my entreaties that “bail is free” notwithstanding. That is part of the “ways and means” the police force makes up for the shortfall in its operational financing. That is the picture across the country.

Email: joelugon@yahoo.com   07085183894

Post a Comment