Police and N20bn checkpoint largesse

Casmir Igbokwe

RICHARD Branson in his column today (see page 22 of SUNDAY PUNCH) gave an insight into how he sourced the initial capital for his business in 1967. He said his mum, Eve, had found a necklace on the roadside and taken it to the police. ”When nobody had claimed it after three months, the police told her she could have it. She knew we were out of funds, so she sold the necklace and gave us the money,” he added.

This is not about Branson or how to source money to finance your business. But I find the honesty and integrity displayed by both Branson‘s mother and the police worthy of note.

This type of virtue is hard to find in Nigeria. Not that we don‘t have good people. Not that our nation is not great. Our problem is that the people who are bad appear to be more visible than those who are good.

Let‘s examine the police, for instance. Last Sunday, there was a multiple accident on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. From different eyewitness accounts, the police allegedly mounted a roadblock on the sloppy portion of the road close to Berger bus stop. This caused a traffic snarl. Suddenly, an articulated truck on top speed appeared on the scene. The driver could not control what happened later as he hit some cars. About 25 vehicles caught fire. At least 40 people lost their lives.

The police have tried to extricate themselves from blame. Investigations are still ongoing. But before the result is made public, it is pertinent to note that people‘s anger is that the police mounted the roadblock not to fish out criminals but to extort N20, or is it N50, from motorists.

This allegation is not new. In a recent report, the Human Rights Watch accused the black uniformed men of being the most corrupt institution in Nigeria. The report published in major newspapers last week indicated that the police made over N20bn from checkpoints across the country between January 2009 and June 2010. The South-East region is the main cash cow as the security agents reportedly netted in N9.35bn. From the South-South, they got N4bn; South-West N4bn; North-Central, N2bn; North-East and North-West, N500m each. Of course, the police dismissed the report as ”embellished innuendoes and suggestive graphics aimed at reaching a preconceived conclusion.”

To be fair to the police, they have achieved some feats that are worth celebrating. For instance, it is well known that the Nigerian police give good account of themselves in international peace-keeping operations.

Last week, they uncovered a hideout in Ibadan where armed robbers work on stolen cars before selling them off as Tokunbo. They recovered many cars in the process. I suspect that my stolen Honda might have been taken to that workshop!

In any case, the police are not the only institution that is corrupt in Nigeria. Many other organisations or agencies such as the Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service, etc. are similarly corrupt. There are also corrupt local government chairmen, councillors, state governors, civil servants, bankers, doctors, journalists and so on. That is why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission and similar agencies are always busy.

My worry is that the more these agencies appear to be working, the more we witness cases of graft. Something is fundamentally wrong somewhere. I believe that one major cause of this problem is the inequality in our socio-political system. A few Nigerians are super rich while the majority die in penury.

A recent report by the Millennium Development Goals scored Nigeria low in poverty alleviation. The report noted, ”Although poverty has reduced since 2000, the reality is that among every 10 Nigerians, five still live in poverty. Growth has not been sufficiently equitable or generated employment.”

The government that should provide social amenities does not bother much. You struggle to provide your own water, electricity and other good things of life. A report in THE PUNCH of last Friday quoted the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, as saying that about 60 million Nigerians now own power generators. To fuel these generators annually, according to Sanusi, they spend N1.56tn.

In the area of health, we are not faring better. As you read this, over 4000 people are infected by cholera in the North. As at Friday, about 231 of this number had already died. An official of the Federal Ministry of Health was quoted to have said that the epidemic was largely caused by drinking of contaminated water. And you ask, why can‘t the government provide potable water to prevent its citizens dying like fowls from avoidable diseases?

Although corruption cannot be justified in anyway, it will be minimised if people know that there is a system in place that takes care of their basic needs if they are incapacitated. The tendency for one to grab for one‘s children or children‘s children is partly due to the fear that should anything happen, those children will suffer. Nobody will care about their school fees or medical care or housing needs or even food.

We could start by cutting the jumbo salaries and allowances of political office-holders. The proceeds from that exercise will go a long way in providing decent accommodation and living wage for the police. It will also provide potable water for the cholera infested citizens of Bauchi and Borno States.

Addendum

Last Friday, I got a text message from someone who urged me to protect the numbers of my readers whose reactions are published on the Readers’ Court page. According to her, her husband received death threats because of his reaction to my column. Some other people had complained in the past of how fraudsters saw their numbers in the paper and started disturbing them with 419 messages. There are yet some others who would want their numbers to be published because they get reactions to their own reaction. Please note that we will protect your name or number if you so indicate in your reaction. Otherwise, we will assume that you do not mind. 

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