Advocates of reforming the Nigeria Police Force may have found a new voice added to their ranks as President Muhammadu Buhari himself tacitly wades into the matter of welfare of policemen across the country. According to media reports, while commissioning some roads in Katsina State last week under the rain, the President noted that while the soldiers on duty were kitted in rain coats the policemen who were similarly on duty at the event, were bereft of such protective gear. The report went further to state that when he turned to an Assistant Inspector General of Police for an answer and failed to get one, he offered to take the matter up with the Inspector General of Police himself.
For this gesture, the President deserves acclaim from both his critics and supporters alike. Clearly, against his background of a military top brass who had participated actively in and reviewed numerous parades, and is still doing so today as Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the sorry sight of Nigeria ‘s police officers standing bare under rain across the country as they man the numerous check points is not lost on him. Just as it is not strange to the ordinary citizen, Buhari himself must have also been confronted with the sight several times over. Yet the sense of purpose and courage to speak up on it and the offer to raise the matter with the IGP, offer the hope that the last may not have been heard of the matter.
Mundane as Presidential attention of Police officers not wearing raincoats while on protection duty may seem to some observers, the matter goes beyond that context. Its significance manifests in at least two dimensions. Firstly, it latches on to the quality of service in terms of protection that can be provided by the policeman guarding the streets we all take the safety of for granted. How comfortable is such a cop who may be marking his beat along the street and suddenly encounters a torrential down pour and there is nowhere nearby to take shelter from the element. In the second vein it is about the policemen that escort the high and mighty in society, with their valuables across rough and ordinarily impassable terrain. It is easy to see such officers appear haggard, roughened and betraying insensitivity of their bosses, even as they provide same with the airs of invincibility with their escort services. There are even instances where these officers escort some big time show-offs to their homesteads and fire tattoos to mark the arrival of their sponsors as self-styled tin gods. Yet hardly do the beneficiaries of such services bother to ask about the provision of raincoats for police officers.
In a similar context it could be asked how Nigerians react when policemen who are supposed to be on duty vanish when the rains come or other contingencies occur? Needless to note that in most instances the citizens retire in a sense of helplessness over control of the officers. How many of such citizens will accept that the disappearing police officers may actually be taking shelter albeit briefly from the rain elsewhere, due to lack of simple raincoats. Besides while the issue may be just raincoats today, it could still be lack of some other basic equipment that would make the job easier for them, thereby raising questions the deeper question over the welfare conditions under which our police officers operate across the country.
With respect to the disposition of the authorities to police reforms in this country, a wide cross section of the citizenry has actually given up hope that much can be effected. What with the welter of initiatives that have yielded poor results, and the fact that Presidency has in its custody shelf loads of sundry recommendations from different panels and study groups which are gathering dust awaiting implementation? Interestingly, it can be recalled that it was in respect of some of the recommendations on Police welfare that the President in November last year approved an upward adjustment of rank salaries for the Police. In approving the salary increase the President had noted that the gesture was “part of the commitment of the administration to give attention to the welfare and operational needs of the Nigeria Police Force with a view to restoring its lost primacy in the internal security framework of the country”. Seen in context therefore, Buhari’s query over poor kitting of policemen fall in place.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing lies the challenge of actually improving the welfare of the cops starting with the issue of basic gear. Although the trending aspects of the police reform conversation may feature the grander issues of control of state commissioners by governors, state police and other exotic stuff, the simpler matters like kitting of the men and women on call also matter and do not need fresh laws to effect. Just as the President has expressed concern over policemen working in the rain in Katsina, so is the situation across the country with some even featuring worse conditions. In the Niger Delta region with its inclement weather some police officers not only work the rainy terrain without raincoats, but even live with their entire families in inhospitable shacks that rise and fall with every rainfall.
Yet this is Nigeria of which Muhammadu Buhari is President of all.