Buhari, Baba, stop the abuse of police


THE assault on a female officer, Teju Moses, by a civilian to whom she had been improperly attached exemplifies how the authorities have reduced police officers to domestic servants and denied them of their dignity as law officers. Under the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, the deployment of police officers to a growing army of public officials, individuals and corporate bodies has increased despite the glaring inadequacy of the police to cope with rising insecurity across the country. This travesty should stop.

Moses, an Inspector, was reportedly assigned to a female lawyer, one Zainab Duke-Abiola, as her “orderly.” But as in a Nollywood scene, Moses was admitted to a hospital after she was allegedly assaulted and tortured on the orders of her civilian “madam.” A viral video clip showed the officer in uniform bleeding profusely, seated on the floor, and pleading to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

However, Baba’s statement condemning the assault was self-indicting; it clearly exposed top-level complicity in the massive abuse of the police. Hypocrisy was in full evidence. He admitted to deploying an officer as an orderly to a private citizen who should not be entitled to such a privilege. His swift order to arrest the perpetrators is the right step, but the entire saga would not have arisen if he and his senior officers had not institutionalised converting police officers to private guards and domestic aides of VIPs. He should admit his culpability and terminate the practice today.

To the layman, by law, only some elected officials — president, vice-president, governors, and their deputies, presiding officers of parliaments, senior judges, and ministers — are entitled to police orderlies. But the police leadership appears to be profiting from the dehumanisation of its own personnel, who are often used as gatemen, drivers and messengers of the political and business elite. Baba should explain under what law a police officer is deployed as an orderly to a civilian, even one claiming to be a consultant to the Force. Or to private individuals.

In February, Adeleke Ogunsola, a police sergeant attached to a former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, died in controversial circumstances after an iron rod hit him on the chest. He had reportedly been hit while undertaking the demeaning duty of gateman. In May, another officer was captured on camera abjectly carrying a tray of food for a female politician at an event in Ilorin, Kwara State.

Despite the country’s enormous security challenges, one estimate says 80 per cent of police officers are attached to various individuals on guard duties. Of the Force’s 370,000 officers, about 200,000 are said to be so deployed.

Sadly, lacking self-esteem, or revulsion at the contemptible role their unconscionable superiors had assigned to them, many of the policemen turned to servants are overzealous and unruly. They abuse civilians in the service of the VIPs, including terrorising and harassing other motorists in traffic. Frequently, they brutalise other Nigerians on the orders of their self-important “ogas,” apparently carried away by the stipends they receive from the VIPs.

Recently, Ifeanyi Ubah, a senator and businessman, was attacked in Anambra state by gunmen who killed 10 persons, including four police officers and other security personnel in his convoy. The criteria qualifying one for such personal protection services by police and other public security agencies should be spelt out.

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Similarly, a few months ago, police officers attached to a singer, Damini Ogulu, aka ‘Burna Boy,’ assaulted a patron at a night club in Lagos. In saner climes, entertainers, celebrities, corporations, and businessmen hire private guards. Police operatives are recruited, trained, and maintained at public expense to protect all citizens; they should not be converted to private guards, or engaged in chores fit only for domestic servants.

The Police Service Commission deplores the practice but has not acted decisively. Recently, it condemned the use of police orderlies “by Nigerians who now use them as status symbols, or convert them to house helps who clean, cook, or do menial jobs. With the security problems ravaging the nation, there is an urgent need to free many police officers loitering in private houses and following big men around.” Beyond issuing statements, it should discipline officers perpetrating the practice.

Under-staffed and with state and local policing constitutionally outlawed, many communities have no police presence; therefore, crime thrives. Across the North, terrorists still control pockets of territory in several states. Some are collecting taxes from residents of an LGA in Kaduna State. In Niger, officials admitted that bandits control two LGAs. Criminality holds sway in the North-Central, with frequent massacres in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba states.

In the South, criminals are entrenched in the forests. The South-East is a war zone where armed men hold the region hostage and choke its economy with stay-at-home restriction orders every Monday.

Elsewhere, accountability reigns; the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service’s Protection Command provides close protection for the royal family, the cabinet members, diplomatic delegations, and buildings, visiting foreign dignitaries and when necessary, witness protection services, and for persons facing specific (terrorism, assassination) threats. The VIP Protection Unit of the South African Police Service protects the incumbent and former presidents, deputy presidents, cabinet ministers, regional premiers and cabinet members, and foreign dignitaries; no more. Individuals hire private guards.

Beyond recruiting more men into the police, Buhari should ensure the entrenchment of discipline in the force. The police should be effectively deployed nationwide.

Only a decentralised policing system can work in a federation like Nigeria. The National Assembly should without delay, commence the process of amending the 1999 Constitution to empower the states to set up police agencies. The 36 state governors should collaborate to press strongly for this reform.

The IG should make an example of Moses’ assailants by swiftly prosecuting them. He should withdraw all officers attached to individuals, save only for the qualified topmost public office holders, and deploy them in protecting all Nigerians. ,

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