Heart of Arts

Oga Police: Are you an Agbero with Guns?

Toyin Falola

From time immemorial, the security of persons and properties has been a primary concern to ensure peaceful and easy co-existence in every society. Desperations, needs, events, interests, and other concerns have proliferated the trajectories of security concerns and have paved the way for the fundamentals of its sophistication in temporal progressions. The contemporary world, with population explosion, increments in poverty rate, dejection, deploration, temperaments, and extremism, has amplified these security concerns. In Nigeria, security is a non-negotiable phenomenon, judging by the raves of security breaches, unfortunate killings, and unending agonies occasioned by these constant attacks.

In recent times, the nation has been suffering from what is now known as the “Kidnapping Pandemic” because of the increasing and unchecked rate of kidnapping activities in the country. The issue is not particular to a region; it has spread like cankerworms across all corners of the country. So, when you step out, you would not just pray against accidents; you must pray not to be kidnapped. Terrorism still tops the chart of the Nigerian security problems, while other challenges will not let the citizens have time to take a breath. So, they kick the citizens around like a football, and a lot of lives are lost in agony.

Well, the aim of this piece is not to reiterate the security problems that haunt Nigerians but to address the status of those who are charged with the primary duty of keeping the people safe. Someone said, lightly, some time ago that the Police were “afraid” of raiding a particular area, although the residents complained about their ordeals in the hands of marauders. We acknowledge the fact that the Nigerian Police might not have been equipped and armed enough to face some of the hardened Nigerian enemies, but what begs the question is the utilization of the little they have in both resources and materials. You ask, what use are the men in black that patrol the road and walk the street with their guns and pistols?

A man was plying a road someday with goods filled in his bus. The policeman asked him to stop and stretched his hands towards him in anticipation of getting some money. The driver refused to give anything but asked why he was stopped. The police officer was disappointed and asked him to bring all his documents and permits. Seeing that all his documents were complete to no fault, he asked him to take down all the luggage in his bus and empty all the sacks. This exercise would have taken hours to empty and hours to repack the luggage. It was at this point the driver lost patience and conceded to give him N200. The police officer refused, I guess, because he had frustrated him on the day. He did not let him leave until he paid N5000.

When you are on a Nigerian road, the “Agbero” collects rates from drivers and road users, and the Police are the ones that run after commercial buses and cars for money. The commercial drivers already know the norms, so once a police officer is sighted from afar, they get their N100 note ready; it does not matter how many checkpoints they meet; they must “drop something.” Well, at least, agberos only go after the commercial drivers and are not with guns, while the police officers have jurisdiction to collect riba from private road users even at gunpoint.

The function of checkpoints is forgotten. They are no more to see whether anyone could cause security threats or not. They do not want to know what goes on in the car: Whether there is a kidnapped victim, a dead body, contraband goods, or whatnot is not their concern. Once you understand their language, you are free to go.

The excesses of some of these policemen on any road have been tolerated for too long, and the practice has become the norm. In the past, N20 was a meaningful register when the word “Police” came after. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime posits that Nigerian Police have the highest statistics when compared to other public officials who collect bribes, as they make about 35.7% of them. Ladipo, in 2013, tagged the corrupt practice of the Nigerian Police officers as the biggest manifestation of corruption in the entire system. They do not care who is looking, asking, or who is being asked; if you do not pay your “dues,” you could buy yourself problems.

Records have shown that these excesses and corrupt practices have been backed by force and audacity. On December 3rd, 2019, it was reported that Police officers along Akure-Owo road killed a truck driver because he had refused to pay a N50 bribe. On April 5th, 2023, another man was killed in Delta because he had refused to pay N100 bribe. The cases of murdering those who resist payment of bribes have become usual news and a phenomenon that people are starting not to see its negative significance. You will then be forced to ask if there is any difference at all between these police and armed robbers: they both carry guns, they both threaten you directly or indirectly, and they both want your money.

We have heard of cases where kidnapped people from one region of the country are transported to other parts. One would ask if none of the police officers at the many checkpoints checked the kidnappers’ vehicles. Before carrying out an armed robbery, one would ask if the police officers had not suspected any of their vehicles while they were in transit. The problem is that once they slide a note of N200 into the policeman’s hands, the job is done, and all sins are washed for the driver. Little does the police officer know that he is trading the lives of someone for just N200.

I understand and acknowledge that it would be a hasty generalization to classify all police officers as corrupt; of course, that is not the intention. However, it is impossible to say that other police officers back at the stations do not know about the illegal practices. It is hard to say that their respective DPOs do not know about these excesses, and it brings me to wonder whether some top-ranking officers are at the top waiting for their commission. My conclusion is that it is not that it is difficult to stop; it is that the practices are either ignored or supported by the very core of the Nigerian Police system. Where the superior officers claim ignorance of things that happen on the roads, how about the egunjes at the “counter” at the stations? When it is close to the festive period, everyone, including the persons with the best behaviours, is encouraged not to fall victim to police officers. This is because the N200 you pay on the road is better than the thousands of naira they would charge you at their stations. They collect money from those in the holding cell and those that visit them. We must then ask if the DPOs and Police heads do not know about the incident at the Police Stations, too.

This situation is painful when you consider the number of people that have been killed every day because of the oblivion the police on the road have embraced. The number of kidnapped persons, mutilated bodies, stolen properties, stolen cars, dumped bodies, escaped assaulters and others that have passed under the nose of the police because of the excessive desire for N200 over the lives of people.

This set of police officers has become one of the primary enablers of internet fraud and other social vices. They already have a profiling orientation that would make them identify who a Yahoo boy is. And where you are suspected to be, but you are not, and you fight them, you probably would enter more problems. Many have also reported that when you are stopped, it is important to be careful in giving your phones to police officers. While you are not watching, some of them may send incriminating materials to your phone to frame you for fraud. Many of them have collaborated with fraudsters, armed robbers, and others, and they have established themselves as the plug for their “clients.”

What are the causes of this disheartening incident? It has passed mere low income or materials. There is no more non-payment of salaries, no. It has aggravated greed. Nothing more, nothing less. The country is hard for everyone, and most of those who fall victim to the gun-carrying beggars in black uniforms must borrow to pay their way out.

We all cannot be quiet and embrace this barbaric culture. There is a need for the government to declare a state of emergency for the police and increase the punishments for those caught in such corrupt practices. There is also a need to create task forces, independent of the police, to monitor their antecedents for a while. The government must take a stiffer posture on police corruption as it is the biggest risk and breach of our security system. Nigerians and the government must take action as the security system is breached, not just by criminals but the security itself.

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