Understanding policemen at checkpoints in Nigeria
Why post police officers to locations they are not familiar with? Why post a police officer who has lived all his/her life in the North, to the South? Why post police officers to other states and they aren’t given allowances for such relocation?
Lagos, Nigeria. On a recent road trip in August; if my memory serves me right; en-route Kwara State, I noticed that there were several police checkpoints or road blocks at almost every major road in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. At some roadblocks, police officers flagged down some cars and asked for car documents better known and referred to as “car particulars” in Nigeria. At other checkpoints, police officers allowed certain private cars to continue their journey. But one encounter with some police officers at a police checkpoint/roadblock in a village (name withheld) still in Ogbomosho but on the outskirts/fringes of Kwara State; was like no other.
At 7.03pm and with sunset approaching, the vehicle I was travelling in, encountered a police roadblock in this village. A police officer with a raised hand waved the vehicle to veer off the federal road and park for “inspection”. The police officer asked the driver for the car documents. The documents were handed over to him. After “over-scrutinising” the documents; the officer asked for the driver’s licence. At this point, the owner of the car (tucked in the “owner’s corner”) in a baritone voice spoke, yes officer, what is it? Any problem? The officer handed the documents to his subordinate and walked to “the owner’s corner” to see who was behind the window blind.
Car owner: Yes, I am barrister Kollington. Any problem?
Police Officer (adjusting his pose): No Sir. We’ve been seeing this vehicle everyday. I recognised the car because of the numbers on the car plate.
At this point, he did not bother with the papers or driver’s licence and he went “straight to the point”. In local parlance; he asked the car owner “to use his church mind” to find him “something”. The benevolent barrister handed some bills to him and as he left the car to meet up with his other colleagues; with deft hand movements (reminiscent of the blockbuster The Matrix), he divided the bills. But the unbelievable was about to happen.
The junior police officer; who we shall call Officer Karimu walked swiftly as the car was about to move; hung on the car owner’s door and stretched out his free hand. This “dexterous” officer added a “third activity to his impromptu unofficial work”; by speaking in Yoruba, giving the occupants in the car an explanation we did not ask for. Paraphrasing him, he said “I have just been posted to this area and things are a bit tough. Barrister, kindly give me something.”
Barrister Kollington was once again generous. As he collected the bills; he raised his hands with frenzied joy and began shouting The barrister! The barrister! The vehicle zoomed off and the occupants who saw this as a comic relief; analysed what transpired.
As earlier stated; the benevolent barrister handed some bills to the superior police officer and as he left the car to meet up with his other colleagues; with deft hand movements (reminiscent of the blockbuster The Matrix), he divided the bills.
You see, the senior officer divided the bills and his hand “visited” his pocket. Obviously, the bills in the other free hand would be shown to the other colleagues as “fruits of his labour”. The junior officer wanted his; probably, aware that nothing from the first largesse would get to him. Also, it was noticed that some of the police officers at these checkpoints looked out for and flagged-down cars with Lagos State plate numbers.
I had to ruminate on this encounter when I returned to Lagos vis-à-vis the numerous directives from the Inspector General of Police on the ban on roadblocks and police checkpoints which are ubiquitous and have dotted landscapes in the South West. The officers of the Nigeria Police Force are first and foremost human beings before anything else. So, one has to ask some pertinent questions.
Why post police officers to locations they are not familiar with? Why post a police officer who has lived all his/her life in the North, to the South? Why post police officers to other states and they aren’t given allowances for such relocation? And with the new directive of President Buhari to the Inspector General of Police on recalling the police officers attached to VIPs; one is left to ponder if it is not plausible that a lot of police officers find the attachments to VIPs more rewarding than their official responsibility (protecting lives and property)?
Lest I forget, the car I was travelling in; had never been on that stretch of the Ogbomosho-Ilorin road. So, one wonders why the senior police officer informed the car owner (who by the way; is not a barrister) that he sees the car on that route everyday?