(This is a long read. I plead guilty. I humbly ask for one hour of your Sunday to come along with me.)
There are two research questions I have to start asking Nigerians who were at least 40-years-old between 1960 and 1970: what was your police experience? What was your perception of the sociology of policing in Nigeria? For Nigerians who came of age in the 1970s and after, I do not need to ask these questions. The sum total of your policing experience can, in the main, be summed up in the three scenarios discussed below.
1. You have been a chronically non-policed citizen your entire adult life in Nigeria. The UN police to citizen ratio says that every four citizens must be served by one police man. Now, this is an ideal situation that even the most advanced countries do not satisfy. However, the situation in Nigeria is worse than primitive. Depending on which data you consult, the ratio is roughly one policeman serving every 400, 000 Nigerian citizens. In essence, in every 400,000 ordinary Nigerian citizens, only 4 enjoy their constitutional right to security of life and property, the fundamental prerequisites for the pursuit of happiness.
2. You have been a chronically under-policed citizen your entire adult life in Nigeria. The police to citizen ratio I offer above is from a data which I believe does no factor in a crucial Nigerian dynamic: the diversion and personalization of police resources by Nigeria’s criminal political elite. If you factor in this singular dynamic, I believe that the ratio will be something in the range of one police officer serving every 1.5 million Nigerians. More than half of Nigeria’s police strength has been diverted for convoy and personal security duties by the criminals running the three tiers of government in Nigeria.
The reason is psychological. Nigeria’s political elite is intellectually inferior. She suffers from all sorts of disorders and complexes –especially inferiority complex – for which she must constantly overcompensate. Overcompensation comes in the form of a constant overbloating of the self and the material trappings of power and public office: titles, convoys, and above all, a constantly-expanding harem of police details.
This is what you see with your Governors, Federal Ministers, Senators, Reps, etc. Constant overcompensation for their mental inferiority. They divert police resources from you. Even their wives, girlfriends, and concubines must appear in public in overbloated police convoys. Policemen must escort madam to the market and carry her handbag and handset while she haggles over tomatoes. Your best trained police officers are gate men in their houses and official guest chalets. When they go to their official suites at the Transcorp Hilton to slaughter nubile University undergraduates, policemen are there loitering, waiting on them, wasting the billable hours you are paying for, hours that should be spent guarding and securing your life and property.
Officers who are not diverted by the criminals in government are farmed out on private security errands to oyinbo companies, oyinbo expatriates, etc by the police top brass because they make a lot of money from such criminal use of the police. Also, any psychologically-inferior Nigerian private citizen, who has just arranged and arrived into serious money, will want to show off his new social statue by renting a harem of police orderlies from the state police commissioner.
The above scenarios explain why you are chronically under-policed and by the most malnourished and the most under-resourced police officers. The best trained and the best equipped have been criminally diverted for their own personal security by the criminals who call themselves your leaders. That is why the few left to offer you police services sardine themselves into rickety and battered Toyota Hilux vans which look like they were purchased second hand from Tuareg militias who used them in raiding and fighting in the Sahara desert. That is why the few left to offer you police services wear torn and worn out uniforms with holes in their trousers. They appear wearing bathroom slippers or torn and worn out police boots. They tell you to give them money to fuel their Toyota Hilux so that they can come and help you.
3. You have been a chronically criminally policed citizen your entire adult life. Because of numbers one and two above, your only experience of policing in Nigeria is when the officers are intimidating, harassing, and extorting bribes from you on the road, in your homes, in your offices, at the police station. I am saying that when you are not non-policed or under-policed, you are criminally policed. Even at the station, under signs that read, bail is free, you still have to roger for bail.
Now, there are serious consequences to these three scenarios in our body politic and social fabric. When Nigeria’s criminal government officials divert the best of police resources and personnel for their own personal use, they are performing a social engineering which conduces to their psychological conquest of the Nigerian citizen.
The citizen will start by rationalizing and defending his own deprived situation and the right of his oppressor to deprive him. When news broke out a few months ago that Nyesom Wike alone has in excess of 200 police officers in his security detail, a police claim never denied by the Governor and his team, I wrote about it. Come and see how his chronically under-policed or non-policed citizens unleashed on me! Some even said I was jealous. Are they responsible for Yahaya Bello not having 200 police officers in his own detail?
The second consequence is that the vacuum created by under-policing or non-policing as part of the criminal social engineering of the Nigerian elite is filled by something more sinister. Government officials withdraw the police from the people and give them the Army in replacement. In decade after decade of criminal diversion of the police and an unrelenting psychological rape of the people, the political elite end up creating a situation in which it becomes normal in the eyes of the people to use the Army for every routine security situation under the sun.
Psychological rape ensures that the people cannot make connections between things and many leaders of thought in the public sphere whose responsibility it is to establish these connections for the people have demissioned, preferring instead to mount highfalutin theories in support of the Army as a substitute for regular policing. So corrosive have been the effects of this social engineering on our body politic that even the Army is confused and can no longer tell her right hand from her left. Hear the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Sani Usman, in his latest interview:
“We have armed robberies, kidnappings, and communal clashes. But the Christmas of 2016 and New Year 2017 were the most peaceful in that part of the country, and that is attributed to the field training exercise, Python Dance I.”
Now, here is a senior Nigerian Army Officer, trained with public funds, talking this sort of garbage. He is celebrating the use of the Army to curb armed robbery, kidnapping, and communal clashes. We shall soon arrive at a situation in Nigeria when the Army will issue public statements and annual reports with statistical details of how many incidents of domestic disputes they settled between husband and wife, how many cases of 419 they solved while taking over the duties of EFCC.
Now, am I happy that armed robbery, kidnapping, and communal clashes were curbed and lives were saved as claimed by this soldier? You bet I am! Of course I am! But, then, this is where it gets complicated for many of our people because they are allergic to nuance. This is the point at which their analytical and reflective capacities collapse and they hit the streets and the airwaves celebrating and dancing because the Army is in their faces and spaces curbing armed robbery.
If nuance were the forte of the Nigerian public sphere, this is the part where you stop to establish connections between things. This is the part where you pause to analyze the structural, systemic, institutional, and procedural issues at stake in terms of their implications for the society of institutions we are struggling to build. This is the part where you understand that this soldier thinks that it is normal for his men to be the ones running after armed robbers and kidnappers. This is the part where you reason that soldiers have been performing these duties because the elite have diverted the police and police resources for their own personal use.
And when they give you soldiers in substitution, the political elite is trying to do much more than provide security while violating your public spaces. Soldiers, especially in our local history and context, symbolize the use of force to coerce, intimidate, and manufacture consent with the warped values and ethics of the ruling class. Military jackboots in your spaces have a psychological and symbolic purpose: force your consent with your condition.
The police is your friend. We should struggle and fight for a society where this was true. It means we have to fight the criminal political elite to stop the diversion of policemen and resources. It means we have to fight for a complete and radical overhaul of the police and policing. It means we have to improve our police to citizen ratio and we need a roadmap and game plan with specific decade by decade benchmarks. More policemen with improved training, funding, resources and less diversion of police resources for government officials and their concubines will translate to safe streets.
We also have to fight a daunting psychological struggle. Last week, the Abia State police commissioner rationalized the military’s usurpation of the duties of his men in Umuahia. Today, a senior military officer is dancing foolishly in the marketplace over his men’s handling of armed robbery and kidnapping. And we have a citizenry that largely cannot link these developments to the criminal diversion and underfunding of the police by their leaders. And we have public voices not making the necessary connections.
What I have witnessed this past week has convinced me that I need to expand my focus and intervention in the Nigerian education sector beyond the building of capacity for doctoral and postdoctoral research and the training of early-career lecturers in our Universities.
I think I need to start volunteering to teach civics in Primary Schools in Isanlu during my summer period in Nigeria – preferably Primary One. If you read this article and it makes sense to you, you also probably should be returning to your home town whenever you get a chance to volunteer to teach civics to Primary One pupils. We are in a race against time to rescue our national psychology from rape and defilement from our government officials and the Primary School is the place to start.