As Sule, my Plumber got off the ‘Okada’ in front of my house, he carefully took off his plastic Safety Helmet and put it in the tool bag he carried with him. Sule was very particular about the things he allowed to touch his head and he had no intention of wearing a helmet he didn’t know whose head it had previously been on. “Ah Oga mi, may God not let us be unfortunate in life. All the ‘ori buruku’ that are being deposited in those helmets will now end up on my head?” was his response when I asked him why he went around with his own helmet instead of using the ones provided by the Okada riders. It was January 2019 and the FRSC and Police were enforcing the law banning the riding of commercial motorcycles without helmets, either as the Okada man or as a passenger. Sule had no intention of falling foul of the law so he went out and bought his own helmet. As usual, it was only a matter of time before things changed.
This morning, as I drove out of my Estate and maneuvered towards Alausa Secretariat, I was assailed by the sight of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Okada riders, with or without passengers, weaving in and out of traffic. The one thing they had in common was that not a single one of them, rider or passenger, had a helmet on. There were Federal Road Service Corps officers around. There were policemen and LASTMA officials trying there best to control traffic and maintain a semblance of an orderly society but nobody was interested in helmets. That law, like a wide gamut of other such laws in Nigeria is observed only in the breach. When it is passed, there is usually a flurry of activities. Some miserable souls are used as examples and extorted by those who should enforce the law. Soon enough, normal service is resumed and things go back to the way they were. It is nothing new.
In October 2018, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced a ban on the spraying of Naira notes at parties. We were informed that spraying the currency amounted to abusing the country’s symbol of sovereignty and that engaging in this ‘heinous’ act could fetch you a handsome fine of N50,000.00 or Six months rent-free stay at Kirikiri Guest House or both. In fact, the CBN was so serious about this matter that it threatened to deploy Mobile Courts to lay siege at parties to catch erring Sprayers. The abuse of the Naira must stop, never mind the fact that the greater abuse was the fact that more and more of the poor Naira was being needed to buy Gala and ordinary pure water in traffic. Nigerians laughed at this particular one and I don’t think it was observed for a single day. This wasn’t surprising as those that were the biggest culprits were the biggest people in society. In fact, rather than stop, we graduated to spraying bundles instead of single notes. Some started using machines to shoot streams of bank notes at celebrants. I recently saw a video where two guests at a party were engaged in a spraying competition, as they danced ankle-deep in high-denomination naira notes.
While the inability of the authorities to enforce their own laws in the two scenarios could be forgiven for various reasons, this third example typifies why Nigeria is finding it so difficult to achieve her full potential as a major force in Africa and the world. The culture of impunity that has taken root and become a way of life in Nigeria is laid bare by the fact that even the Police seems incapable of enforcing its own rules and orders. If the Police cannot monitor its own personnel of 370,000 men, how can it police over 200 million people? On October 21 2020, a Police wireless message was sent out to all State Commissioners of Police in the country as well as Zonal Assistant Inspectors General. The directive was simple: the immediate withdrawal of all Police Officers attached to ALL Very Important Persons all over the country. The list of exceptions was a very short one. The Police Officers exempted from this directive were those attached to Government Houses; the Senate President; and the Speaker, House of Representatives. The message went further to say “Any commander who violates this order will bear the consequences.” While the communication was new, the message was quite stale. It had been the mantra of every Police IG before this one. This was a few days after the country had just witnessed the greatest mass demonstrations in its history which was essentially an outcry against the antics of a maniacal section of the Police that the authorities had been unable to bring under control.
As I jogged around my Estate yesterday, I went past FOUR armed Mobile Policemen sitting outside the home of someone who I knew was not on that list released by the Office of the Inspector General of Police last year. In fact, in a country where the rule of law prevails, he would be keeping such a low profile that no one would know who lived in the house but this is Nigeria. When the directive came out, his coterie of Police guards put away their uniforms and guns but they remained in place. Shortly afterwards, they took to wearing black T-shirts and green khaki trousers. By the time I saw them yesterday, they were back in full Mobile Police uniforms. They had gotten the all clear from their bosses: normal services could resume without fear of consequences. And this is repeated in probably thousands of similar situations around the country. Everywhere you turn, there are policemen guarding fraudsters, contractors, politicians, even students. I recently saw a video of the head of the NURTW in Lagos, MC Oluomo at an event with a fully clothed Policeman standing behind him while he partied. Last week, 3 of the policemen guarding a former Governor of the Central Bank were gunned down in cold blood at a political event. This, in spite of the fact that even the serving Governor of the Central Bank is not on the list of exemptions to the ban.
Nigeria has a Police Force of a little over 370,000 men to serve a population of over 200 million people. That is approximately 1 Policeman to over 540 Nigerians. Yet, we have a situation where over half of that number are serving probably a couple of thousand people, with persons of dubious means having 4 or more policemen at their service full time. The country is presently facing unprecedented security challenges with news of kidnappings and all forms of brigandage becoming daily staple on our news broadcasts. Yesterday, a police station was sacked in Owerri while the day before, almost 2000 inmates were broken out of the prison unchallenged. Urgent action is needed to restore public confidence in the ability of government to protect them. While the capacity of the people for shunning laws and rules is itself legendary, it is no excuse for government to abdicate its own responsibility to maintain law and order. We cannot live in defiance of the rule of law and not end up a jungle.