While addressing commanders of Police Mobile Force (PMF), Special Protection Unit (SPU) and Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) Tuesday in Abuja, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris, was emphatic that the on withdrawal of police personnel from VIPs as well as political and public office holders in the country is one that must be complied with.
“We want to ensure absolute withdrawal of personnel this time around, any violation will be met with a stiffer sanction,” the Police chief said of the order he issued 24 hours earlier.
Just like some of his recent predecessors, Mr. Idris had on Monday through Head of Police Complaint Rapid Response Unit, Abayomi Shogunle, ordered the immediate withdrawal of police personnel from individuals, politicians and private companies.
With the security challenges confronting the country getting worse by the day, the Police as the main law enforcement agency in the country surely now needs all extra hands it can deploy to fulfill its constitutional role of safeguarding lives and properties.
Mr. Idris himself had once revealed that with only 300,000 officers for 182 Nigerians, Nigeria Police is seriously weak in terms of the manpower needed to perform its law enforcement roles.
For the Police, the dire manpower situation has been further compounded by the fact that at least, 20 percent of its officers are deployed to cater for VIPs, politicians, businessmen and all sorts of characters not deserving of being provided of such services.
The result of such indiscriminate deployments usually come to the fore with photographs on social media showing police officers carrying bags for wives of policemen or as was widely circulated about a couple of years ago, holding an umbrella over a Chinese construction supervisor to shield him from the sun.
Indeed, some well-oiled businessmen in Nigeria regard having police escorts or orderlies as a symbol of prestige and will go to any length to ensure that they always have scores of officers of the law enforcement agency at their beck and call.
Top officers of Police up to the level of IGP have been accused of making money from the deployment of their men for such duties.
Therefore, the order for the withdrawal of police officers should ordinarily be seen as a good development by Nigerians because it will not only enhance the manpower available to secure their lives and property, it will also end the use of the officers for ‘shameful’ duties.
But this has not been the case. Indeed, the announcement was met with sneers and jeers by Nigerians, especially on the social media.
Leading the pack was former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili who noted that many Nigerian police officers have been turned into maids and gatekeepers for the VIPs.
Her pessimism, just like for the others, was that there is nothing to indicate that the police will be able to enforce the order going by past experience.
Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari had on August 19, 2015, ordered former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase to withdraw cops attached to dignitaries and redeploy them to regular police duties.
But the order was bluntly disregarded with the result that two years after, police officers were still seen guarding individuals.
Indeed, Ogbonna Onovo who was Nigeria’s police chief from 2009 to 2010 had also initially ordered that personnel attached to private individual and bodies be withdrawn. But it was gathered that state commissioners of police flouted the order, as they refused to withdraw officers attached mostly to politicians and wealthy people.
Hafiz Ringim who took over from Onovo in 2010 also tried to enforce the order but failed.
His successor, Mohammed Abubakar, in 2012 also declared that police personnel should be withdrawn from individuals while frowning at the fact police officers were carrying handbags for politicians and other individuals they are attached to. But the directive was also not complied with.
When Solomon Arase took over from Abubakar in 2015, one of his first assignment was to order for the withdrawal of police officers serving as escorts to individuals, but the order was also flouted.
Thus, many believed that the order by Mr. Idris will meet a similar fate like those of his predecessors.
Even then, the IG also opened a gap which can be exploited by saying that individuals who need police protection should apply and the police would examine if such person has serious security threat that could warrant being granted police protection.
This is certainly a gap that will be exploited by the VIPs who will certainly resist every attempt to lose the bragging right of having police orderlies or escorts.
But Idris said with the need to deploy officers to schools to schools in Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa in order to prevent a recurrence of the Chibok and Dapchi school kidnap, the order must be enforced this time around.
Nigerians will wait to see if indeed he will live up to that promise.