The Nigerian police force is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Not only do they protect and serve, but they also obtain, harass and embarass, which is a short list of their often diverse responsibilities.
It is a rare thing to experience a society where you are much more likely to get stopped and questioned for looking rich rather than looking like a criminal. I am of the view that every police force is corrupt to some degree, but when it comes to Nigerians the word “subtle” never comes to mind.
A typical confrontation with a Nigerian police officer is likely to begin with a broad smile accompanied with the words “anything for us?”, said in such a casual nature that you would be convinced he is an old family friend you forgot to keep in touch with.
The sight of a man in uniform rather than provide a sense of security brings a feeling of immediate contempt and frustration, as you search your pockets for loose change you had intended for a different purpose.
Law and order is an unknown concept in Nigeria; and everyone secretely knows that when a new law is passed it serves simply as a new business venture, rather than a righteous attempt to serve the people.
When an opportunity to protect actually presents itself Nigerians are forced to accept that the police are ill equipped to deal with well armed robbers. It may be comical, but it is not at all a strange occurence to call up the police only to be candidly informed: “we have run out of petrol ma, please call again later”.
Interestingly they are very enthusiastic about public events and traffic situations. It is truly a dramatic experience to watch the Nigerian police clear a path for someone important.
“Oya move aside”; “come this way”; “commot for there!”
Several officers shout different instructions to different people, often increasing the level of confusion in the process. Let’s just say American reality TV aint got nothin on this.
For a minute let us try and overlook the fact that the police in England wear absolutely ridiculous hats. If it was a fashion contest the jury would have been out a long time ago.
Underneath these ‘hat like’ contraptions you are likely to find a police force that actually has some sort of idea of what it means to police.
You will never find a much more polite set of people when engaging in the arrest of a suspected offender. You almost know that whether or not a conviction takes place they will most certainly be inviting you over for tea and buscuits, just to make sure you know there’s no hard feelings, and they’re just going about their business.
I remember a recent altercation I had with the English police. I had accidentally kicked a ball into the next door compound which was a vacant property at the time. I was looking through the fence to see where it was and at that moment a police car pulled up. From the way it seemed I could have been trying to break into the house.
“Hello there sir” the officer said politely. “Do you live at this address?”.
I explained that I lived next door and my ball had accidentally been kicked to the other side.
“Oh I see, is there anyone inside that I can verify with? You see there have been a few break- ins recently so we can’t be too careful”.
We walked inside chatting about the weather (as you do) and once he was satisfied I was telling the truth he proceeded to leave.
“Thank you very much sir, ill leave you to it then”, he said as he walked off.
I can’t help but compare this encounter where I could very easily have been a theif, with some of the scenes i’ve witnessed in Nigeria that were of a more innocent nature.
A Nigerian police confrontation is likely to begin in a slightly more interesting manner.
A police man walks into the scence. “Yes can I know you?”, he asks pointing at the man in front of him. “You get national ID card?” ‘You no get? Wetin carry you come here?””Oya follow me!”.
At this point he proceeds to lead the man out of the vicinity, while the victim pleads his innocence. Upon getting outside the police man will say the usual statements that end all conversations.
“Oya just drop somethin for me” “Anythin that is in your mind, just drop am”. “Use your church mind o! Just do christmas for me make I jus use am take chop”
Loosely translated – ‘give me some money and I will let you go’
At this point the man would produce a few notes and he would be set free.
“Make sure you go collect your ID card o!”, would be his departing words as he walks on to approach his next target.
A fundamental difference between the Nigerian and English police really has to do with their “approach” to the job. This may be linked to the level of accountability they have for their actions, and the expectations that both societies have grown to accept.
Nigerians have become accustomed to harrassment by the police. It is a rare occurence to meet an officer of the law without money exchanging hands. Even a polite “Good afternoon sir!” carries a meaning that is more than just daily pleasantries. Noone seems to know their rights, and they are content with the police doing anything but their job.
On the surface the English police respond to the call of duty. The society is so rigidly structured that the officers really cannot afford to display the level of blatant corruption that Nigerians present. The level of surveillance on their actions seems to be a high enough motivation to keep most on their best behaviour.
It really isn’t that much of a struggle to decide which society has a better idea of policing. The Nigerian police need to learn from the English creed; they need to serve the people, and protect them from themselves.
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