Monday, 11 August 2014
General Question-- Are They Policemen Or Armed Robbers?
The time was 7am and traffic was absolutely crazy on a fateful Monday morning at the popular Gate Bus stop, Iyana-Ipaja – Ipaja Road, Lagos. Mr. Olu Akinyemi was one of the Lagos residents trying to meander his way and see if he could get out of the terrible gridlock to get to his Ikeja office before the 8am resumption time.
Just as Akinyemi was applauding himself that he outsmarted other motorists in beating traffic, 3 men suddenly appeared from nowhere in front of his car and ordered him to pull over towards Federal Junction Bus stop.
Confused and angry at the same time, Akinyemi, who said he was already looking at his time piece, said he wasn’t going to pull over since he didn’t know who the people were or what their mission was.
But at the sight of the guns they pointed towards him, Akinyemi quickly pulled over, wondering how robbers could have the guts to operate that early morning in such a busy area.
But stunned Akinyemi said he was surprised when the men started asking him for his vehicle particulars.
In his words: “They were in mufti; black T-shirt and jeans, two wore shoes, and one wore slippers. They came to me and asked for my driving licence, vehicle documents and that I should open my boot all at once. I only saw the logo of the Nigeria Police Force faintly on the black shirts they wore, which was not conspicuous enough for identification from distance, and I didn’t want to assume who they were, so, I asked them to identify themselves.”
According to Punch, Akinyemi never knew he made a costly mistake, as that question was the beginning of his trouble on that day.
“I didn’t know that could spring trouble. They told me to come down; they searched me and my two colleagues in the car, checked my papers, and more importantly, wasted my time, in the morning when I was going to my place of work. Later, they allowed me to go, even though they didn’t identify themselves still. I only assumed they were policemen, coupled with the way they spoke in rough pidgin,” he added.
Such has been the testimony of many residents who have been accosted since some men of the Nigeria Police Force, especially those in the mobile unit, took to wearing mufti abandoning their official dress. It was also observed that the appearance of some of the policemen could make anyone doubt if they were indeed officers of the Force, as they sometimes wear bathroom slippers and dress in an unwholesome manner.
Even though it is common practice and acceptable for policemen and other men in uniform to wear mufti as undercover agents, and in such situations, they are not seen with arms, unlike the way the way Nigerian policemen parade their guns in spite of being in mufti, oft making it difficult to differentiate them from impersonators or armed robbers.
A management and security consultant and President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, said the act of Nigerian police officers wearing mufti while carrying guns was very unfortunate and should not be tolerated. He said it was wrong for a policeman not in uniform to carry weapons.
“There is no condition under which a policeman on duty should be dressed in mufti and be carrying weapons. If you are under cover, then you should have concealed weapon under your garment because you cannot be under cover and carry a rifle. It should not be visible to people,” he said.
He added that the situation was another indication of the indiscipline that has permeated almost every aspect of Nigerian system and that such things facilitate a lot of crime.
Ekhomu said, “I have been a victim of it. I was attacked in October last year on my way to Edo State. The people who attacked me had police weapons and vests on but they turned out to be kidnappers with some police elements among them. I had to fight my way out of that crisis.
“It is also an act of cowardice on the part of the policemen. Because they say the reason why they are dressed like that is to prevent attack on them, but they carry weapons. That singular act provides a leeway and cover for criminal elements to operate and prey on innocent citizens. It is the highest form of indiscipline. It is subversive to the police agency itself. It shows that these police personnel do not regard their employer and the organisation they work for.”
When the students of the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State were abducted on April 14, it was reported that the abductors came in military uniform, thus suggesting to the abducted girls that they were in care of men of the Nigerian Army.
Report also indicated that many other attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents in the troubled North East region were carried out by the militants in the official uniform of Nigerian Army, giving the villagers a false sense of safety, thereby unleashing terror on them.
Investigations and close observations by Saturday PUNCH revealed that some police officers, especially in Lagos, preferred to wear mufti even on duty; carrying guns and intimidating both pedestrians and motorists in the metropolis.
Respondents who spoke to our correspondent said the presence of the policemen was more prevalent around the Pen Cinema divisional police station, Agege, Lagos Island, Iyana Ipaja, Ogba, Oshodi, Obalende and other parts of Lagos.
It was further observed that apart from moving about with guns, some of them use commercial buses, popularly called danfo to patrol, harass the citizens and extort money from them. Saturday PUNCH observed that, sometimes, the policemen hide in the buses, waiting for offenders or gullible passers-by to interrogate.
“They move around a lot, but they are usually not far from this Pen Cinema area, and sometimes, they harass and intimidate people with their use, extort motorists and do all sorts of things one would not have expected from those who are paid to protect lives and properties”, a trader around Pen Cinema confided in our correspondent.
It was alleged that they preferred to operate under the guise of being mobile police officers or men attached to the Rapid Response Squad. It has also been alleged that since the mufti dresses do not have name-tags on them, people might not be able to identify them, if there was need to, unlike the normal police uniform with name and number.
A cross section of residents who spoke to our correspondent said that the only form of identifying such police officers was through their guns as, usually hanged on their shoulders.
Some respondents told Saturday PUNCH that when people ask the police officers to identify themselves, oftentimes, they refuse and even get angry sometimes.
Mr. Elijah Ileojoka told Saturday PUNCH that it was condemnable to have police officers wearing mufti and carrying arms in the face of the insecurity in the country.
“It is easy to take an armed robber for a policeman and a policeman for an armed robber. How do you identify them. Moreover, when you realise that they are officers, there is no difference between the way they approach you and when you are being accosted by armed robbers. Because they point their guns at you, subject people to psychological torture, and when you remember the past incidents of extra-judicial killings which they have termed accidental discharge, you tend to shiver and obey them.
“I once asked one of them to identify himself when he stopped me, instead of showing me his Identity Card or telling me who he was, he got angry and asked why I should question him. I even looked around if I could see the vehicle they came in so I could identify where they came from, but there was none.
“So I did all that he wanted me to do and showed him everything he asked for because the way he held his gun was scary, and I didn’t want to be a victim of accidental discharge. Some of us have been to other countries and we know how things work there. But when you compare their uniformed men there with what we have here, you would marvel.”
To Mr. Ihemovie, an Edo State-born driver with one of the inter-state commercial bus operators, it is very easy to mistake a police officer in mufti with an armed robber.
Ihemovie said, “These days when robbers strike in daytime, regardless of location, how best do you distinguish them from police officers who are in mufti?
“The other day, I was coming from Benin, and close to Lagos and the traffic on Lagos-Ibadan expressway was heavy. The sun was scorching enough to make one lose patience. When I was able to manoeuvre my way out of the traffic, I was thankful and hoped for a smooth ride through Berger and Ogba to Iyana Ipaja park.
“When I passed Pen Cinema and I got to Oke Koto Bus Stop in Agege, around 5pm, I was stopped by some men with guns. They wore black T-Shirt and jeans and pointed their guns at the car even before I got to them. One of them came to me while the other two retreated to attend to other cars behind me.
“He demanded for my licence and I asked him to identify himself because there was nothing to identify him as an officer in the army, navy, police or any other paramilitary agency. He showed me something that looked like a photocopy, but I could see the faint police logo on it. It was rough and dirty and I could barely see his name or number.
“I was shocked when I saw what he called ID card. I knew that, ideally, a police officer operating under such guise was supposed to show his ID to anybody he wanted to interrogate even without being asked, for psychological stability. He said they were out to investigate. He checked my papers and allowed me to go.
“Sometimes, some of us know they are police personnel, but nothing about would confirm that.”
Such was the testimony of many other motorists who spoke to our correspondent. Findings showed that instead of the police officers to identify themselves when motorists request for it, they get angry and find ways to embarrass, delay and crucify such persons.
Mr. Isakwe is also a driver with another public transport operator. He said, “I used to see them from time to time at various locations. I once saw them around Ikotun Egbe, though they didn’t stop me, I saw them talking to other motorists.
“What amazes me about their conduct, apart from wearing mufti without proper identification, is the way they raise their guns. And you wouldn’t know if people were under armed robbery attack or they were being checked by men of the Nigeria Police Force.”
Another respondent, Mr. Olaitan, a civil servant in the Lagos State civil service, said that when he sees police officers in mufti, he is usually scared because of the way they carry their arms, and for the fear of accidental discharge.
“Ideally, you’re supposed to have comfort and peace of mind when you see a police officer approaching, but not with the Nigeria Police. The moment you see them, you start thinking of how safe you are or what you have done wrong.”
According to reports, the sect members usually dress in military uniform to carry out their attacks so as to deceive the residents.
Meanwhile, a military officer, Sergeant Ibrahim, told our correspondent that such practice was not allowed in the military, as officers had been warned never to wear mufti or half uniform while on duty except on special assignment.
“The rule in the military is that if you use any of the dressing kits, you must dress in full. You cannot wear only cap or vest as uniform.”
The Managing Director, Symbiotic Business Solution Ltd, Chigozie Ubani, said the activities of the special squads in the police should be under serious scrutiny both by the police authorities and the public due to possible abuse.
“Citizens must know their rights which include a bold but polite demand for the identity of police officers, and travellers should equip themselves with high-tech surveillance devices that they can use to capture voice and motion picture evidence to expose the excesses of overzealous officers,” he said.
Ekhomu hinted that police work was not for those who wanted to be rick quickly, but that most officers in the police force want to get rich quick.
“If you want to be rich, get out of the police and become a businessman and be rich. How can you be a servant and guardian of the people and yet you want to be rich? If you desire to be a rich man, go and be like them. You can’t be in and out of uniform, doing anti-social conducts, all in the name of your salary is not enough. If your salary is not enough, quit the job, many others are waiting to get the job,” he said.
When asked why the police hierarchy could not check the indiscriminate use of mufti and weapons, Ekhomu said, “In some cases, the senior men are also engaged in unbecoming conducts, so they cannot correct their underlings. When you are a boss and you are misbehaving, how do you correct your juniors? In that case, indiscipline is further enshrined in the DNA of the organisation. Wearing of bastardised uniform is wrong and nobody is complaining. Unfortunately, some of these people are carrying weapons, if you move near them, they could shoot you.
“When Sir Robert Tule set up this current model of policing that we are working on, he said that policemen will inspire confidence with the way they dress and that is why you see the British police and others in the world are always very proud of their uniform and service to the community.?
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Ngozi Braide, said said mufti was allowed in the police.
She said, “Most of the policemen seen in mufti are actually operating undercover. Without their uniforms, it is not easy for criminals to sight them especially when the criminals are moving in a vehicle.
“But the Lagos State Police Command monitors the conduct of its men especially as it pertains to dressing. My office; the police public relations office and the public complaint bureau acts on complaints about the conduct of policemen. We check these things. The X-Squad also checks. The office of Provost is in charge of discipline and it is always working to ensure compliance of codes of ethics on the job.