Kakistocracy – 4

This is the concluding part of the write-up.

In a previous life, I was an auditor. During one of the many nocturnal trips I had to embark on whilst on an audit engagement, I was stopped by a policeman at Costain, in Lagos (if you get there tonight, I am sure the checkpoint would still be there). At 11 pm, common sense on my part dictated that I should “cooperate”. So, he barked the usual commands; “Inner lights”!, “Come down”!, “Wetin you carry”!

Unfortunately for me, I “carry plenty”. I had with me the confirmation letters that my audit client’s bankers had written to me, attesting to the bank balances my client had with them. A typical letter would be something like “we confirm that Company X (my client) has a balance of $350,000 in account mxcvii and a balance of £474,300 in account yyxxcvm…” So, I had with me, a sheaf of these letters – HSBC, Citibank, ING – all were there.

Trust the policeman, once he sighted different letterheads from different banks with amounts he never imagined existed, his mien changed from “Fierce-Regular” to “Fierce-Extraordinary”. His next remark was “old boy, wetin you dey do?, we go reach station o”. I tried to explain that the letters were not mine and that got me into further trouble. “If no be you get am, wetin you dey take dem do?”. How do you explain to a barely literate armed man in a uniform that this is merely a confirmation letter (which if he took time to read, he could have seen for himself)? Further explanation only got his colleagues interested in what was going on, and at 11pm, you sure do not want a conclave of armed Nigerian policemen on your case. It took a bit of divine intervention before I was allowed to leave in one piece. I have avoided Costain Bridge at night since then. Lest one is inclined to think this is an isolated case, I know two other colleagues who had experienced similar things in the past. I could regale you with other distressing tales of my encounters with the Police Force, and I am sure my stories and experiences would not be unique to me.

I would be quick here to make a distinction between police staff and policemen. This distinction is consistent with what obtains in other parts of the world; police staff would include medical personnel, accountants, counsellors, cooks and other service staff employed by the force in other duties other than active law enforcement. I do not wish to cast aspersions on the quality of these individuals who may find themselves working for the Nigerian Police.

I also do not believe there is a police force anywhere in the world that is free of undesirable traits and elements. For instance, every month between 2004 and 2007, an officer of the Metropolitan Police was arrested for drunk driving (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6757337.stm). From time to time, there is the questionable use of excessive force when carrying out police duties all over the world; from Rodney King to Jean Charles de Menezes, pages can be written about this.

What is not as prevalent however, is the institutional repugnance that the police force generates like it does in Nigeria. If anyone disagrees, think about the oddity embedded in this remark: “O’boy, no pass there o, police dey there”. This is a remark that is passed virtually every day in Nigeria by law-abiding citizens, for whom the fear of the Nigerian Police has become one of the guiding principles that govern driving or movement around major cities. In most parts of the world, the presence of a policeman would inspire confidence or some degree of security; in Nigeria, a black shirt with a flashlight is evocative of anything but safety.

I have spent a great deal of time reading citations for policemen around the world, in addition to reviewing the recruitment requirements for policemen and none of the countries worth emulating have a recruitment standard as lax and perhaps as counter-productive as the Nigerian police. Here is an extract from the CV of a policeman in the US: “He holds a B.B.A. from Manhattan College, a JD from St. John’s University School of Law, an LL.M. from New York University School of Law and an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.” Here is another, this time from England: “She completed the Strategic Command Course and was awarded a Master of Philosophy degree in Criminology from the University of Cambridge, in 2001, coming first in her class.”. How many policemen in Nigeria have similar profiles? Can the NPF boast that majority of the law enforcement officers have similar attributes?

In many parts of the world, the police force (and indeed the civil service) attracts the best, the bravest and the most dedicated. Whilst the police in other parts of the world is increasingly attracting the best and the brightest, the Nigeria Police force is being populated by men and women who are barely literate, and by many whose only intelligence is applied to extort money from the innocent and guilty alike. The Metropolitan Police force for instance places a premium on the fact that a policeman must not evoke antagonism from the public, so public conduct, appearance and dressing are an important part of the police image. The Nigerian Police also emphasises public conduct – with menacing displays of guns and daggers (next time you see a MOPOL, watch out for the dagger attached to his belt). Proper dressing is very important to the NPF, we see shabbily dressed policemen whilst they are on their private practice, I mean, police patrol.

I see an armed Met officer cradle his gun, and I am not anxious about being accidentally shot at; I see a Nigerian policeman brandishing his gun “with relaxed confidence” and I am full of prayers against accidental discharge. I drive by Brixton, hoping to see a policeman and be assured of some safety; I drive through Babs Animashaun, hoping not to see a policeman that I might arrive home safely. I go from Aflao to Accra (a 2 hour drive) and I do not get stopped by a policeman; yet a drive from Seme to Badagry (20 minutes) is littered with 41 check points. I get lost in Minneapolis and I ask a policeman for the way; I pray I don’t get lost in Lagos, so I won’t be arrested for wandering. I am unsure of the authenticity of my vehicle documents, so I confirm from the police station at Kingsbury, London. I won’t dream of doing the same in Lagos, because my car could be impounded and I may be the next “armed robber” paraded on Crimewatch.

A great part of development of advanced countries is fostered by an enabling environment. Economic activities should not be compelled to stop when the sun goes down. I drive often from London to Birmingham, and most of my trips have been at night – from 10pm onward. I would not dare drive from Lagos to Ibadan after 7pm. Principally because of the failure of the police force to provide a secure environment, the naira goes to sleep at dusk (except at oil installations!). Other economies work for 24 hours, the Nigerian economy works an epileptic 8-hour shift. If you doubt if, open a cash-based business by 1 am at Oshodi!

The policeman’s job is made infinitely easier if he can inspire the confidence of those he is meant to protect. If on the other hand, all he attracts is opprobrium, it is going to be extremely difficult to discharge his duties. The force would continue to attract scorn as long as the face of the force – the policeman you and I encounter daily – are of the sort who are not literate, who would gladly constitute a hindrance to the movement of citizens going about their legitimate duties, who do not turn up whilst crime is being committed or who would use threats of the arms paid for by tax payers to extort the next N50.

Maybe someday, the force would attract the best the country has to offer. Maybe someday, the force would forge the best out of what it has. Maybe, maybe not. It is just a reflection of the bigger society – a system of governance where the worst the country has to offer is in power – A Kakistocracy


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