OUR POLICE IMAGE AS A FACTOR OF OUR NATIONAL IMAGE

Being the image maker of the Nigeria Police Force must be a very demanding job. It is only better imagined what weight would lie on the conscience of a person whose duty it is to confront the public with explanations that are already dismissed before they are tendered. When you are to defend an institution that has been stereotyped for all the wrong reasons, you must have a thick skin. Watching these Police Public Relations Officers meeting the press and artfully dodging the issues can be very frustrating to the viewers. The Nigerian Police is an institution in dire need for an urgent image and reputation make over.

People who are hearing the Nigerian story from outside Nigeria are mostly likely going to be turned off or endeared to us when they hear our police story. A police institution with good stories can attract visitors to their locality because of the assurances of safety and friendliness. Policing a country with this kind of diversity will surely present peculiar sets of challenges. These 370,000 police officers who are doing the work of keeping the peace in a space occupied by over 170 million people should be appreciated and encouraged. It is also good news that efforts are on to raise the number to 650,000 which is a further improvement. The United Nations recommends one police officer for every 450 citizens.  This means that Nigeria has a good stand with about 400 citizens to 1 police ratio. The problem however lies in the challenges of motivation and productivity as well as the institutional issues of lack of equipment, inadequate funding and corruption. There are also concerns that policemen are moved out of their culture and language group to other places where they are strangers. It is common sight in Nigeria to have police officers who do not speak or understand local language or know the cultural values of the neighborhood they serve. It is for this reason that some people are agitating for state and local police.

Numerous as these peculiarities, issues and challenges are, they cannot in most cases explain or excuse some of the horrible news that are tarnishing the reputation of the nation’s police force. We are witnesses of a repetitive pattern of bad press for the police. Every time news that erode public trust of the police break in the media, it makes it difficult to appreciate the work that is being done by some very patriotic, selfless and kind-hearted members of the police force. Their amazing good deeds gets drowned quickly by bad press that sales fast and spreads like wild fire. Take for instance the case of a kind-hearted police woman who mobilized funds for an urgent surgery and other medical treatment expenses for a young man who was a victim of an arm robbery attack in Ojota area of Lagos State. The hero, Mrs. Celestina Kalu who has been celebrated on social and main stream media is a rare example of police kindness. She obviously went beyond her call of duty to save a life and preserve the destiny of a young man that could have been cut short at its budding stage. It was a good day for the police to see the Governor of Lagos State honor the super cop. The headline in a prominent national daily read “Lagos Gov honours DPO for saving robbery victim”. That kind of news would make people have some respect for the police. It also communicates kindness and humanity.

This is not an isolated case. Some police officers have been celebrated for honesty and diligence. There are police officers who have been known for all the effort that they have selflessly put into fighting crime. The men of the special anti-kidnapping squad and the numerous policemen who are serving in North Eastern Nigeria and other problem areas have been doing a wonderful service for the country. Some of them have paid with their lives to keep the society peaceful. Remember the case of three policemen, Chukwudi Iboko, Sunday Agbo and Otu Attang who fought off a bank robbery attack in a rare show of gallantry that was captured in video and shared on social media platforms. It was an exhibition of what good stuff that the nation’s police are made of. Chukudi paid with his life but his bravery leaves an admirable memory. May his soul rest in Peace.

These heroes’ stories that are very heart warming and should be commended and celebrated becomes pale and forgotten when news break of some notorious policemen exhibiting their shame sometime even on camera. The recent cases being that of a Nigerian police officer caught on camera demanding and collecting bribe from a motorist and then turning around to ask his victim to help him declare to his accomplice that he collected N5,000 instead of N15,000 that he got from his victim under duress. In the video which is well circulated in the social media and online platform the police man went on to lie to his colleagues about the amount he collected from the motorist. The technique he used is very familiar to the average Nigerian road user. The threat to take you to the station and cook up more trouble for you as well as the time wasting is always key for police extortion. Some of them you meet on the highway are drunk and smelling of alcohol and smoke of “God-knows-what”. Their sense of judgement may be impaired and they may use their gun to snuff life off an innocent man. Leaving them as soon as you can is what wisdom detects. People who would otherwise have held their ground opt to pay their way out of such a deadly company especially when it is on a lonely stretch of highway. It is the coward that live to tell the story of the brave, they say. Staying off the path of some gun-wielding law enforcement officers on a lonely highway may be a life preserving decision. When some men with brilliant ideas are smart and bold enough to expose these usual criminal practices by recording these kinds of implicating videos, they deserve commendation and respect.

The police public relations department had the unenviable task of addressing the public about this show of shame. The PPRO said they have arrested the errant policeman and they have identified him Onuh Makedomu, a non-commissioned officer, with Force No.431625. Makedomu, a sergeant, said to be attached to 49 PMF but was on special duty with the Safer Highways Patrol, Lagos, during the incident. This means that he works with a team of other like-minded men who are not mentioned in the PPRO statement. Makedomu is said to be on orderly room trail and nothing has been mentioned about his colleagues who shared the N5,000 that he declared for the team. Men and officers like Onuh Makedomu in the police force are the ones making the celebrated life-saving effort of the kind-hearted DPO Celetina Kalu look very pale. Bad news sales fast. Heroes of the force like Chukudi Iboko whose gallantry cost him his life have their memories dis-honored by the greedy lots who can kill and maim for N50 note.

It is also very shameful that some of these security officers without honor are in company of high-profile public figures and politicians. Recently some security operatives in Vice President Osinbajo’s company beat up a photo journalist in a state event held at Aso Rock. The journalist, Mr. Abayomi Adeshida was given the animal treatment in full public glare without any effort by their principal or any of his top aide to come to his rescue. No one has come out to explain what happened or tender an apology since then.

As if that bad press was not enough for the period, news broke that one Mr. Godwin Thomas who was shot dead during a traditional marriage ceremony that was attended by personalities escorted by policemen. The police who are supposed to fish out the murderer, whoever he is. went into a self-defense mode issuing a statement that declared their innocence without being asked. Some members of the public and even social media influencers and online newspapers where pointing accusing fingers on the police already. People had no patience to hear the whole news. We are now in a society where the police are in many cases the prime suspects in the court of public opinion. No one wants to give then any benefit of the doubt anymore. A confirmation that our police force are in dare need of proper reputation make over and perception management.

Sadly, though some of the men of the force exhibit such ignorance that further complicates issue for the public perception of police reputation.  Take for example the news from Osun State were members of the dreaded cult group, Neo Black Movement of Africa aka Black Axe, donated some iron shelters to the traffic police unit in broad daylight with pictures taken of some policemen posing with the cultists and they all looked happy. What kind of image are the police force going to make of these pictures? The cultists who are suppose to be running from the police are now in public partnership with the same institution. There are lots of moral questions to be answered by the police in Osun State as to their relationship with the Black Axe group. How are we sure that there are no insiders in the police force who are working for these cult groups? How can policemen in their right senses go out to take pictures and accept gift from the people who are notorious criminals? These police men should be identified and made to clarify their association with the group.

Every police officer in Nigeria should be made to understand that their personal conduct is capable of bringing shame and disrepute not only to the Nigeria Police force but also to the Nigerian Nation as a whole. The image of a country’s police is a huge factor in the definition and perception of the image of the whole country. It is common knowledge that police image in Nigeria has been seriously distorted due to their inefficiency, culture of corruption, lack of accountability, lack of training and inadequate motivation, but certain men and women of the force have exceled despite of these excuses. The stories of Nigerian Police, whether good or bad travel in media space all over the world. People make decisions that affect Nigerians and Nigerian economy base on these stories. It may be argued that we are not the only country with bad police stories. In as much as this is true, we cannot use other people’s failures as our benchmark. Let us improve on our best and look for good examples to follow. Those who have been bold enough to document these bad stories are doing us a wonderful service by exposing the bad eggs. Our police image is our country’s image. Let us make a collective effort to change these bad narratives.