Nigerian police and 53 marabouts

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Dec. 20, 2009

Lawrence Anini presumably had extraordinary powers. During his reign as a robbery kingpin in Benin City, the citizens of Edo State trembled at the mention of his name. While Ibrahim Babangida ruled Nigeria from Lagos then, Anini controlled events from Benin.

But one fateful day, the police in Benin arrested him and some other members of his gang. Leading the team that put a stop to Anini’s reign of terror was Parry Osayande. The police boss became the toast of Nigerians for his gallantry. I suspect that a good number of women might have dreamt of having one form of relationship or the other with him – the type that has currently put Golf star, Tiger Woods, in the spotlight.

 What Osayande, who retired as a deputy inspector-general of police, has not told us is the number of marabouts, native doctors or evangelists he used to neutralise the powers of Anini and his men. Nigerians also need to know whether his spiritual experience then informed his current strategies as the Chairman of the Police Service Commission.

 Last Thursday, Osayande reportedly spoke about his innovative solution to the problems of the police. According to him, “We have also approved the recruitment of 53 imams and chaplains for the Nigeria Police Force. You know the problems facing the police also require spiritual cleansing and remedy. That is what we have done. These people will help in preaching to their colleagues and help in moulding their character.”

 On the surface, this theory looks good. Being a religious people, many Nigerians will likely hail the PSC boss as the messiah we have been waiting for. But looking critically at the problems of the Nigerian police, can we truly say that hiring imams and chaplains will effectively do the cleansing job?

 Osayande himself is not sure. Worried by the resurgence of extra-judicial killings by the police, the same man, who has hired spiritualists, attributed the problem to lack of training of policemen. Does this now mean that the prayers of these imams/chaplains will engender the required training?

 Will these prayers restore the lives of Chukwuemeka Onovo, Chidi Odinauwa, Tony Oruma and many other people allegedly murdered by the police? Will they heal the emotional wounds suffered by the parents and other relatives of these victims? Will the prayers make the police more civil?

 As these clergymen get set to consult the gods on behalf of the police, the black uniformed men are not relenting in their violation of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry. Media reports last Friday indicated that a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olu Akinola, sued the police for allegedly molesting him because he was a lawyer to somebody who jumped bail. The man claimed the police threw him inside cell at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos. There, he was allegedly stripped to his underpants and forced to wash toilets and carry faeces.

 Will the police prayer warriors put a stop to this kind of incidents? Will their intervention usher in people-friendly police that respect the rule of law?

 I hope they can do that. I also hope that the men of God will help heal what Osayande called “officers with bloated stomachs”. The man boasted that he retired as a DIG and still did not have that kind of bloated stomach. “I think the problem is that many of them don’t do enough recreational activities,” he explained.

 I’m surprised that rather than push this problem to the imams and pastors, Osayande decided to alert the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, who he is sure is doing something about it.

 Part of the reason why we have remained backward is that we apply wrong medication to our ailments. Some of us take malaria drugs when what is actually worrying us may be ulcer. When any of our relatives runs into a big pothole on an expressway and dies, we say it’s the will of God. Whereas what we need is an action against the authorities that have failed to repair the road. When we come back to our houses after a hard day’s job and there is no electricity, we grumble and say it’s only prayers that can save this country. And when the police mount roadblocks to extort money from motorists, we recruit prayer warriors to deliver them from their bondage.

 I don’t envy Osayande’s evangelists who may have just secured another extra income without much effort. But as the Police Service Commission is paying them, it should also ensure that it provides the necessary tools and equipment for the police to function effectively.

 Our police also need constant training and retraining. They need good welfare packages. They need to evolve a sound recruitment process such that criminals will not infiltrate their rank and file. They need to have human face and learn how to handle civil cases with civility.

 The passing out of the seventh batch of Police Human Rights desk officers penultimate week is a step in the right direction. So far, a total of 1462 desk officers are said to have been trained. And the idea is to effect a change in the negative attitude of the police while handling cases. In Lagos, for instance, each police division is expected to have a human right desk that will handle issues relating to human rights violations.

 This is a practical example of efforts to stop the maltreatment of people by the police. An aggrieved citizen can go to these human rights desk or visit the police headquarters to seek redress against the violation of their rights by the police. Hundred marabouts cannot get that justice for them.

 Or is Osayande telling us that imams and chaplains helped him to arrest Anini and co?

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