By Comfort Obi
The photograph which graced the front pages of national dailies on Tuesday, July 3, was a national shame. It is our collective embarrassment.
There they were, hundreds of our Policemen, shabbily dressed, wearing different colours of berets/headgears, brandishing their guns, sticks, clubs and green leaves.
They are of the once feared Mobile Police Force, PMF. Until they were demystified by the Nigerian big man and woman, who reduced them to houseboys, luggage and handbag carriers, they were, at once, both respected and revered. Members of the public compared them to Army personnel. They were so feared they were nick-named “kill and go”. You messed up with them at your own peril. They brooked no nonsense. By their training, they are the NPF’s last line of defence.
But, no thanks to the Police leadership, the Nigerian big man and woman stripped them naked when they began to post them to every money-miss-road as orderlies. Mercifully, that has stopped now.
But, l digress. I was discussing our national shame. And how much Nigeria has failed the police.
According to media reports, the PMF personnel in Maiduguri were protesting the non-payment of their allowances since they were deployed to the state on a special mission.
To make their point, they stormed the State Command H/Qs as early as 6.30am. When they were unable to enter, they blocked the highway, firing a few gun shots, and screaming their pains.
Aside from the non-payment of their allowances, they complained of lack of accommodation which has reduced them to converting office corridors to their bedroom.
They sleep on bare floors. And there is no point in asking about their bathrooms and toilet facilities. Everything is done in the open very early in the morning.
Reactions since this shameful incident have been coming like claps of thunder.
The FHQ, represented by its spokesman, Ag DCP Jimoh Moshood, confirms the non-payment of their allowances since their deployment. But disagrees with the media over what the men trooped out to do.
Moshood says they were not on any protest; that they were at the Command H/Qs to enquire about the delay in the payment of their allowances.
So questions: Why go by 6.30am when offices were still closed? Why dress shabbily? Why the gun shots, the sticks and the green leaves? In any case, the published photographs tell the story.
But no matter. The important thing is that the men have made their sufferings public. And, suddenly, there are actions.
Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector General of Police took the first action by asking the rugged Commissioner of Police, Borno state, Damian Chukwu, to explain to the men why their allowances are delayed. He followed that up by dispatching the Commissioner of Police, PMF to go to Borno and other North-east states, and explain the delay in the payment of allowances. FHQ put the blame on the delay in approving the 2018 budget proposal.
The Presidency has also weighed in by summoning the IGP to a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osibanjo. And Borno state government has also promised to help. These are fire brigade approaches.
Didn’t the FHQ know before now the predicament of the PMF personnel deployed to Borno and other N-E. states? Did the FHQ just know about the national budget delay? Why did it not occur to anybody to send somebody to explain to the boys before this national shame? And, didn’t the FG know about this? If not, why was it not briefed?
Why do the Police suffer this fate always?
At the Police Academy, Wudil, Kano, Cadet ASPs and Inspectors have not been paid their allowances since the inception of the Academy five years ago till now. And it includes those who are graduating later this year.
The most ridiculous reaction so far, came from the PDP. Said the party’s spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, “Is it not disconcerting that Policemen who daily risk their lives at battle fronts with criminals are denied their allowances for months, left without accommodation, without basic needs and kept forlorn in the face of battle while their Commander- in-Chief enjoy huge offices in Abuja from where they grandstand about their non-existent commitment to security?”
The PDP should shut-up! The fate and welfare of the Police were not better than now during its time. In 2012, under the PDP, over 2000 policemen protested the non-payment of their salaries and allowances in eight Commands. At some point, the police embarked on a strike action.
I have also heard people blaming the Police leadership for the Maiduguri protest. Not quite true. Those who hold the opinion are economical with the truth which is: that successive Nigerian governments have criminally neglected the Police, and treated its personnel with scorn. And that members of the public hold the Police in contempt.
To the public, the Police are no good. Everything about them is bad. Yet, most people cannot do without the Police.
But successive governments have been the worst culprit. Until the Umaru Yar’Adua government, the take- home pay of a police Constable was less than nine thousand Naira. That regime increased it to about 28 thousand Naira. It is better now. Yet, officers and men of the NPF are the worst paid in the West African sub-region.
Their welfare ranks amongst the worst in the world.
Their accommodation is zero. Their barracks are like a pig’s stye. Most have no toilet facilities. Their offices are no better. Their operations are badly funded. When the Police presents its budget, it is cut by half. And even the approved one is never released in full. So, they become beggars.
The Police Commissioners in states go to grovel before state governors for funds to run their Commands including to fuel and repair operational vehicles. Which explains why, except in a couple of states, the CPs are subservient, almost, to the governors. And, we expect them to perform some kind of magic to do their duties.
In the instant case, the FG should be held responsible. It is bewildering that it took this show of shame to draw attention to the deplorable conditions of police personnel, especially those in the North East.
And we should ask: Are there no special funds for the region? Of course there is. So, why is the welfare of the security personnel serving there not a priority? They don’t need to be members of “Operation Lafiya Dole” to deserve special attention. Mere serving in some states is a huge sacrifice, and deserve special attention.
I have heard a few whispers that the “Maiduguri boys” should be punished for misconduct, indiscipline and mutiny.
Perish the thought. On no condition should anybody think of punishing any of them.
Instead, they deserve our pity and commendation for their patience and patriotism in the midst of such deprivations.
No more, no less.