Sunday, January 22, 2017 4:10 pm
By Andrew Aroloye
“For decades, one thing has continued to amaze me whenever I travel from Lagos to the South-East: Why do all the paramilitary agencies line up on the way to the South-East/ South-South? From Lagos to Onitsha, I see different teams of security (sic) officers, mobile police officers, customs officers, road safety officersetc, at different intervals, stopping vehicles and looking for one thing or the other, but on the way from Onitsha to Lagos, I do not see even one team of these paramilitary bodies.”(Azuka Onwuka: Punch, 27/12/16
Azuka Onwuka, Niyi Akinnaso and Abimbola Adelakun are my favourite columnists in the Punch. The above quotation taken from a recent piece of Azuka Onwuka led me into digging for one of my writings lately. My view is like Azuka’s, hence, I am recasting the article for a wider coverage on the issue. Here in Lagos and despite the Inspector General of the Police’s ‘order’, directives are flouted with indignant abuse. Azuka’s article also confirms what travellers went through on that road two days before Christmas. I assume I am probably older than Azuka, hence I went back memory lane in the piece below.
Lately, at a wedding held in a church at Ikeja, it was unusual seeing a Civil Defence lady as an Orderly to a male officer in the organization. She followed the man up and down everywhere he went within the church including the Altar area. This sounded odd to everyone. We searched further to know how things were before the military came to be visible in the Nigeria system. Before 1966, the Nigerian soldier, was not visible as they are today. What we knew clearly was the policeman not even a policewoman.
The uniform of the policeman was always a well ironed Khaki Shirt and Knicker. He had gold plated buttons on his shirt. He also wore a black bandage strap around his waist over which also was his brown leather belt with a golden logo hook fixed in front. We never heard of a DPO (Divisional Police Officer) DIG and others. But we do remember police commissioners like late Theo Fagbola and others who were dutiful. We remember too, one Louis Edet and probably later Kam Salem (or the other way round)who served as Inspectors General of Police. Those were times we had local police and federal police that were all well trained and disciplined. We did not remember seeing policemen then maltreat citizens, taking bribe or forcing an accused person to pay for his bail form if he had to do so. Yes, we remember too, that Papa Adebayo as an army officer served as ADC to Governor J.K Ranking (O.B.E) in the then Western Region (can’t remember if he ever carried a pistol on his side. They were well disciplined officers.
The entry of the Army into governance in the country in January 1966, brought with it several oddities hither-to strange to the Nigeria system. From then, we have started to see a soldier openly carry a gun on his shoulders and later the policeman doing the same. Our Civil Defence men and women do the same today. It shows the rottenness into which the military has taken us which is a pity indeed.
Army check-points surfaced during the civil war yearsand one would have thought it, would have ended with it too. Today, we don’t even just have an army check –point; close by will be, a police check point too. As soon as one gets relaxed to continue the journey, he is stopped again by the customs-men checking if the custom papers of the vehicle are genuine.Should one be lucky, he might be asked to continue without dropping “something” with the ‘oga’ who usually sits in a jeep nearby.
As soon as one gets off a release, a few kilometers away, the FRSC men comes into view. They, unlike the first three groups of security operatives do not carry guns but one may not always be lucky to go free with them. It is never possible to pass 100% their questions: Your fire extinguisher sir?, Your plate number receipt sir?, Your driving license sir? Your jack sir?, Your caution ‘v’-sign sir?,Or no, sorry sir, the tyres of your car are expired etc. Instead of being confronted with a gun, you may be issued a small sheet of paper asking you to pay at the Bank. The fine may be aslittle as N5000! (five thousand naira) or higher depending on the degree of ones failure in their over 1001 questions, since it is never possible to correctly satisfy them.
In Nigeria the Civilian Governor has a pistol carrying policeman as his Orderly. The Orderly oftencarriesa folder containing his speech. He will then place it on the podium for ‘oga’ to present. Don’t forget, there are designated officials to follow the ‘oga’ about with a customized podium bearing his insignia as “Governor of Boko Haram State Nigeria”. As he stands to deliver his speech with the pistol caring policeman at attention behind him, two or more black-gurgle-eyed men are close-by too. What we observe however is that, when this ‘oga’ travels outside Nigeria for a conference, he stands alone to make his speech and goes back to take his seat afterwards without any‘attachment’ followerstrotting behind.
We have a former military officer as Head of State.His ADC, carrys his folder and assists him too in getting his chair into position at all occasions. From what we have seen in developed countries, the security officials are usually there but are scarcely seen openly as we do have here. Yet they are more dedicated to their duties than our”let-oga- see me-well-well-on-duty”,ones here. “Eye service”! The security details of the German Chancellor Angela Markel or American President Barak Obama and others do not openly run over each other like ours do here. Yet, their security agents are always there. Recently, during the American election, some-one shouted “gun”, and within seconds, Mr. Trump was whisked off the stage. Had this happened in Nigeria, our men without having identified the gun-man, would have released several shots into the roof of the hall before thinking of the safety of their principal.
Those who live in cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Enugu etc need to learn how to cope with the activities of the Army, the Police, the Neighborhood Watch, the Trace, the Lastma, the Kia, the Vigilantes and a host of others, all militarized. Some of these carry guns too! Nigerians do know that most of these do illegal toll collecting for their pockets. Pray not to get on the route of RRS – officials. Ones car may be knocked off the road for an offence not committed. When a ‘big man’ passes too, all one needed do is to just move to the side of the road left or right to allow ‘oga’ to drive past fast! What a shame. The American President travels with his two identical cars with him. When he alights from Air force ONE and moves to town, it is impossible to identify in which of the two cars he rides in. His security details know how to protect him for his safety: wonderful job. Our men need to learn how to do this. Also when in the United States, the President travels in limited convoy and most times without out riders. Here, a ‘Personal Assistant to a Senior Personal Assistant’travels in a convoy of cars, with the blaring of the siren.
Oursecurity details who are always in black gurgles often run along on foot with their ‘oga’ inside the air-conditioned car.These men are always fully dressed in three piece suit in tropical Africa! What we have been trying to say is that, security and the handlers ‘As-A-Value System’, has never been this bad. Even with all these on ground, people are kidnapped in their homes and farms. During our time, we mean when we were young, children as young as eight and even six walked through bush paths which may be few kilometers away to school, most time, alone. No parent will today allow his child to walk to school alone not even in cities unaccompanied. The child has to be held “firmly” by the hand by the protective elder and brought back home later in the afternoon, by the same elder that took him there earlier in the day.
The most annoying aspect about the militarization of the system is the convoy of “our men of God” especially in Lagos. The siren blaring convoys of black Jeeps could crash into ones car should one fail to move fast to the side of the road especially on Sunday mornings. A Saturday Punch columnist reminded us of a Pastor who guides himself with six stern looking men in his church during his weekly sermon in the church. Quite honestly, this tells us how the military incursion into our system has affected the psyche of the populace. It is really getting too far. Let “Oga at the Top” do something about this.
(Andy Aroloye is a media commentator and can be reached on email@example.com)