columnBy Funke Aboyade
Like countless many others no doubt, I have been thoroughly shocked, saddened and scandalised by the graphic images and sorry facts revealed by the Police College Ikeja documentary run over a period of several days last week by Channels Television for its 2013 CSR. Night after night, just when I'd think surely it couldn't get worse and I couldn't possibly be more shocked than I'd been the previous night the images confronting me in bold relief would assure me that actually it could, and I could.
I was particularly stunned the night they featured the meal times of the trainees. Their meals were served from buckets, that's right buckets! The soup looked more like swill. Worse, I learnt that once again we have the ability to best and break all records in the negative sense; I learnt it was physically possible for 50 cadets to share one fish head! My jaws hung open and all I could do was shout for my daughter to come quick, seeing after all was believing. To my shock, she was neither shocked nor moved. Her NYSC camp, she calmly informed me, had been just as bad!
It gave me a better picture of why our police (and many of us let's be honest) behave like animals at times. The reason, clearly, is because they live like, and are treated no better than, animals whilst in training for the job. Completely dehumanised. Totally de-sensitised. Actually, truth be told some animals get a better deal - my daughter's spoilt samoyed, Bella, for instance.
Police barracks are no better, in some cases worse than what we were confronted with in the Channels documentary. For instance, right in the heart of Ikoyi, home to some of the most expensive real estate on the continent and within walking distance of the former residence of our Heads of State, lies a slum otherwise known as Falomo Police Barracks. It's the same story all over the country. Policemen and women, their spouses and children who are all slumming it watch the most exotic and expensive cars zoom past their squalor to palatial homes often guarded by...the same police. We then place guns in their hands and ask them to go and protect the citizenry. And we expect magic. We expect things to somehow - 'somehow somehow' - pan out, Nigerian style, no matter how illogical and unrealistic it is.
This, along with rife and persistent allegations that they are usually required to make 'returns' to the higher-ups, can only be an open invitation to extortion, brigandage and worse.
However, I was mightily impressed that this government is not so deaf and dumb after all and that the President made an unscheduled visit last Friday to the college to see things for himself. By that singular act he certainly went up a notch or two in my esteem - though I was, I confess, rather puzzled by reports of his purported statement that the shocking revelations had been a calculated attempt to disparage his government. Hopefully, that must have been an aside or perhaps he was misquoted or quoted out of context or...
The real test will be what if any measures will now be taken, and how promptly, to stem the tide. It's a real mess there.
Questions will have to be asked - and answered. As to why for instance, with consecutive Ministers of Police Affairs and Inspectors-General of Police this state of affairs came to be and was allowed to fester until our collective rude awakening courtesy Channels TV last week.
Whilst the President's surprise visit is commendable, he must go one further. Beyond the drama of swooping unexpectedly on the cadets' living quarters, he must cast his presidential eye on other aspects of the welfare of our policemen around the country. Presently the Nigeria Police is low down on the species rung, distrusted and held in contempt for the most part by the Nigerian public - though I must say the feelings are mutual, the police at least those of the order of the rank and file equally hold the citizenry in disdain, distrust and absolute disrespect, contempt and scorn.
The President must take concrete steps to make sure it results in lasting reforms that will give us a proper police force.
Not just that, all law and order issues must be comprehensively addressed now. Many were shocked last week by the revelation in THISDAY LAWYER by retired Supreme Court Justice Olufunlola Adekeye that some retired Justices of that revered court live in near penury post retirement. The heavy and unjustifiable price of serving their country well and keeping their integrity.
We cannot allow this state of affairs to continue under the guise that government has no money. If it doesn't then it should find it no matter what the cost. Government after all, can willy nilly afford a N16bn Vice-Presidential residence and a N2.2bn 'more befitting' presidential Banquet Hall.
Can government afford to leave its law and order flanks open particularly in these dangerous and unpredictable times where kidnappings, assassinations, corruption, mass killings, terrorist acts et al are now the order of the day? Of what use is the talk about GDP and all those other nice economic indices if the citizenry is not alive, or too consumed by living in fear, to enjoy them?
It's in the enlightened self interest of government, any government, to ensure the best welfare packages for our police and judges. That shouldn't be such a difficult task, the Executive and Legislature are after all already taking very good care of themselves.
I'd stick my neck out and make some boast of the Lagos State example concerning both judges and the police under the Fashola administration. For those who think I'm Fashola fixated or that I refer to the Lagos State example too annoyingly often in my column and believe I must therefore be a Lagos 'indigene', I'm not. I'm from Oyo and Ogun states, but have lived and worked in Lagos since I qualified as a lawyer 30 years ago. I am therefore a witness to and beneficiary of the tremendous changes the state has undergone, particularly in the last 6 or 7 years; I may not always agree with those changes but at least the man shows a much needed sense of urgency, plainly he's in a hurry to get things done. I'd rather he does those things quickly and sometimes gets it wrong or steps on toes or loses the popularity contest than be slow, almost immobile, paralysed by fear, afraid of making mistakes under the guise that it may be harder long term to correct those mistakes - as President Jonathan recently told us. But. I digress.
The pathetic tales of retired Lagos State judges living in penurious circumstances post retirement (some in rented boys quarters!) ended under Governor Babatunde Fashola, SAN, a process commendably begun by his predecessor Governor Tinubu.
They are now well taken care of whilst serving judges and magistrates are put on track to own their homes. Under him also, the police in Lagos are much more effective and better equipped to handle crime courtesy of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund chaired by a man of stellar integrity, Mr. Remi Makanjuola (contrast the infamous Kenny Martins Police Equipment Fund). Is this because the governor is a lawyer and therefore better placed to understand that law and order issues simply have to be a priority for any government? Possibly. But it goes further than that I'd say, after all we have many lawyers at the highest levels in government in Nigeria. He also has a heart. He has compassion.
That's what we need from government at all levels, particularly federal. Appreciation of the issues, a heart, compassion and action.
The power of the media is very much evident here too. For good or ill the media does influence society, little wonder then that they are mandated by the Constitution to uphold the fundamental objectives of state policy and the responsibility and accountability of government.
Channels Television Chairman, John Momoh, deserves high commendation for the courage to out this disastrous situation in the nation's premier Police training college a fortiori all over the country.
The cat has been belled. What President Jonathan does next may well determine his legacy.