By Joe Iniodu
The Nigeria Police Force is one of the critical institutions in our Nation. It is the symbol of power residing in central authority and enshrined with the issues of safety, security and public interest. Said to have been founded in 1930s with a chequered history and nationalized in the 1960s during the First Republic, NPF has grown steadily in many areas including equipment and manpower. But public cynicism has conjured certain perceptions of a typical Nigeria Police officer, turning issues surrounding the Police Force to a subject of intense debate.
Many believe that efforts of the leadership of the Police Force at improving public perception of the Police are either grossly ineffectual or mere rhetorics designed to hoodwink the unsuspecting public. Even the slogan, “Police is your friend” is taken with a pinch of salt by members of the public. But many thanks to the Police Public Relations Officer in the State, ASP Cordelia Nwawe who has been more conscientious and concerted in the rebranding of the Police Force in the State. Even though she is sometimes found to be combative and hysterical, these do not equivocate the fact that she does the job well and is always on top of it. One cannot miss the passion and gusto she has brought to the job. Yet the job is made difficult for her by impervious officers whose character flaws have become so fossilized that no orientation can return them to public spirited conduct.
But no matter the public perception, you cannot wish away the NPF. It is an institution you cannot treat dismissively. Every great society depends on strong institutions and not necessarily strong leaders. If all extant institutions in a society are imbued with requisite power and are consequentially as strong as they are expected to be, such society can ensure justice, equity, fair-play and a congenial atmosphere for development. If the institutions are weak and easily compromised, all levels of retrogression and regression afflict such society.
One of the common manifestations of the weakness of such institutions is the partisanship of its operators. For instance a judge, a police officer, a security operative and members of other agencies of government that are partisan cannot demonstrate neutrality or remain impersonal in the discharge of their duties. This seems to be the malaise afflicting our Nation today and turning the citizens into cynics. They are cynical because actions of members of these agencies have clearly shown that there are persons who are paying the pipers and therefore dictating the tunes. This odd conduct has been displayed by virtually every agency of government thereby suggesting that they are appendages, not independent institutions that are constitutionally empowered to protect all, not a few or a section of the people.
The recent conducts of some of the agencies which have been pointedly accused of selective arrest and detention, selective investigations and prosecutions, selective harassments and intimidations are also pointers to the fact that the once revered institutions are feeble and incapable of functioning as independent national institutions. The cataclysmic consequence of this is its infectiousness and contamination of every facet and fabric of the society. Even mere reports by the Police, a once dependable institution has been established to be jaundiced. The Force is now known to conduct hasty press conferences to give unverified accounts and statistics of disaster especially if that State is known to be in political variance with the centre. What appears to be the pattern is an egregious determination to impress the centre even perhaps without the prodding of the latter.
This scandalous disposition was on display in Akwa Ibom State recently. The State has suffered two tragic incidents in quick succession of 10th and 20th December respectively. On December 10, Reigners Bible International Church had collapsed in the middle of service where the General Overseer of the Church was to be consecrated as Bishop. In attendance were the Governor of the State, members of his cabinet and other top government functionaries. While casualties were being rushed to various hospitals within Uyo for medical attention with the number of deaths far from being known or ascertained, touted reputable media houses like Punch and even Channels Television rushed to announce spurious and bogus figures of the death. The Punch correspondent, famous for his disgust for the government of the day in his report gave a scandalous figure. There was an apparent lack of synergy between the Police and the State Government, which itself did so much to rescue lives and reduce the death toll, leading to conflicting figures between the two institutions.
Unfortunately, ten short days later a structure owned by one Ufot Sunday Akpan in Ederebo Market in Onna Local Government Area also collapsed, injuring nine persons. The Local Government Chairman of Onna was on hand immediately to evacuate victims to Immanuel Hospital, Eket with the State Commissioner for Health on the heels 45 minutes later to review the patients and take the strategic decision of relocation of patients where need arose as it did arise to Ibom Specialist Hospital. While these efforts were massed together, those who curiously enjoy bandying the cold statistics of deaths were at their trade with speculative figures. The Police Force did not help matters as it briefed the press, stating unequivocally that two persons had died. Again the Punch correspondent found another opportunity to ventilate his dislike for government. He accused government of hiding the actual figure of the death, referencing that the earlier tragedy of Reigners Church, where according to him hundreds of people died. Whereas in this collapsed building in the market, nine people were injured but nobody died unlike the case of that of the Church where 26 people have been confirmed to have died with scores of those injured either since been discharged from hospital or still recuperating in such facilities.
It is disheartening that people would foist politics on a tragedy that borders on the lives of people. Yes, it is said that bad news makes good news but must it be at the peril of people’s sensibilities? Why do we rush to announce the deaths rather than those saved? Why do we prefer news of the death than the news of the living? In rushing to produce the statistics of the deaths, we seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Church was neither PDP nor APC and that death does not know party. One would have thought that such sombre moments should enjoin us to be united in faith to pray for the mitigation of the death toll or a prevention of any such tragedy. Rather people relished the hurling of specious figures and chose to be blind to the comprehensive rescue mission that government marshaled out on that day and subsequent days.
The two buildings which have collapsed in the last 10 days and cast the State on the orbit of negative press are not owned by government neither was any government event going on in them as at the time of the collapse. What government is just doing is playing its constitutional role of saving lives and property. In its intervention and acceptance of the role, government has no reason to tell lies, hide figures or protect any defaulter. Rather it has a responsibility to save lives and enunciate policy that would forestall any recurrence. The Udom administration through the two recent disasters demonstrated sufficient capacity to confirm Governor Emmanuel’s familiar assertion that his purpose in Akwa Ibom is not an ambition but a calling. That calling was on hand to save hundreds of lives on December 10, 2016.
The Udom administration has worked to merit the trust of the people. It behooves other agencies of government to raise the bar of their services to earn the trust of the people. But this trust can never be earned in the milieu of partisanship which is likely to produce jaundiced and inaccurate reports. And when the credibility of an institution of government like the Police Force is in doubt, then the entire nation is on trial. Therefore, so much must be done to maintain the credibility of that institution for there lies the hope of a secured Nation.
Joe Iniodu is a Public Affairs Analysist.