We miss the point a lot. We expect police officers whose salaries can barely feed our own pets to be up and doing at dilapidated rat holes called police stations. When they leave their workplaces for the barracks, they stay in some of the most demeaning housing projects you’d see anywhere in the world. We want them to serve and protect with integrity but right from the point they are hired, we take their dignity away from them. We can pretend all we like, but the mess we see in our system is the mess we invested in it.Channels Television got knocks from those who ought to praise it for bringing the state of the Police College Ikeja under public scrutiny. They said it was done to discredit the President, the same way anyone who points out the way to make our country better is said to do it to discredit the President. How can a President who hardly has anything going for his government continue to assume citizens who want the best for him as President would want to take away the little credit he has going for him?
The flies which perch around the sugar offered by power often forget that this is about our country first and foremost before it is about whoever is running it. Power comes and goes, countries remain for longer. WhatChannels Television showed of the Police College, Ikeja was not an outlier, it is the normal reality of filth, lack, hunger and penury that have bedevilled the force. It is even getting worse now!
Many of us want our soldiers to help #BringBackOurGirls now and alive, in reference to the abducted #ChibokGirls. While we make that much needed call, let us also spare a thought for these men of the armed forces. Think about it; they read newspapers, they listen to the radio and at times watch the news. They know all about the trillions budgeted for security every year and they also know all about the poverty that comes with doing what they do. They know that cronies of our rulers are feeding off their allocations. They are privy to the fact that children of their bosses will feed them and their fellow soldiers for years with wealth accrued from denying their rights as the defenders of the Nigerian people. They defend our country with their lives, this while the country hardly pays attention to ensuring each soldier lives a respectable life. Politicians steal from us for decades, die and have streets named after them; our soldiers die in battlefields like the falling of the branch of a small tree in the forest, we hardly notice. No glory in life, no glory in death yet, we expect them to chase glory for our country. Or, as in the case of the Chibok schoolgirls, rescue them fast and now! Let us at least face it; this is one difficult country to do good!
It is easier to see those serving today and imagine how tough things are in a country where “corruption is not stealing and stealing is not corruption” as long as you steal enough to donate to powerful people for elections. If they were abandoned and forgotten while they are serving, imagine what happens when age calls and they must be retired? Retired officers are some of the poorest of our country’s 54 per cent extremely poor population. We sing, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain,” and some of us actually think that line of the national anthem only refers to the dead ones who fought for our Independence. We should know better. Most of our heroes and heroines are still living and the bulk of them are living in poverty and squalour. Their labour has been in vain not only for the nation they fought for and defended with their lives, that labour has been in vain even for their personal lives.
We rightly or wrongly like to compare our officers with their United Kingdom or United States counterparts. A new police constable in the UK receives about N5.8 million/year. This eventually rises to about N10 million/year. Apart from this basic, the officers receive a London weighting and allowances amounting to about N1.7m. Added to these monetary benefits are annual leave reaching 30 days and not less than 22 days depending on one’s length of service. This is apart from public holidays and the average two rest days per week. Other benefits include maternity, paternity and adoption leave, special leave with pay, special leave without pay, parental leave and career breaks of up to five years (See http://www.metpolicecareers.co.uk/newconstable/pay_and_benefits.html). When next you expect so much from our police officers, ask yourself, how much has our system given into their welfare and livelihood?
As the benefits of being a police officer in the UK are as far from that of being one in Nigeria, the same applies to other service units including the Army, Navy and Air Force.
In our country, a few men and women are feeding fat on the destinies and livelihoods of the majority yet our so-called leaders are always quick to spout tales of patriotism and dedication to service. Who wouldn’t be dedicated to service with the benefits listed above? Mind that those numbers apply to the most junior of officers.
It started from us. First, the military overthrew the irresponsible civilians, then the military took over power. Not willing to share the responsibilities of power with the police, the military crippled the police and treated them like scum. Today, the police are in a worse state than the scum left by the military. When civilians took over power in 1999, one of the first shots fired was at the military, some would argue rightly so, seeing as the military had got so used to having political power for so long. Out of fear of the military, successive civilian governments have found a way to allocate enough money to the top echelons of the military to get them fat and keep them fat while forgetting that the rank and file is the fulcrum of military might. By our own selves, we have hurt our pride and strength. A country that was once the saviour of Africa, an Army that was once the pride of West Africa, now needs the support of Ghana, to fight insurgents. We have come so far.
Ghana in 2013 allocated about N51.3bn to defence while Nigeria allocated about N348.9bn in the same year. Based on these numbers, Nigeria’s defence spending is about seven times that of Ghana. That in itself is to be expected, what is not to be expected is that we would be needing Ghana’s help to fight insurgents in our country. We have come so far.
A time comes in the history of a nation when it must look at itself and ask itself pertinent questions. At the moment, our country is like an old man with many grandchildren, many children poor and desolate yet this old man wakes every morning thinking all is well and he calls his rich and not so rich friends to come party with him. Our old man wants the world to see he is rich and great but those who live with the old man know that all his claims of transformation are lies fed to the most gullible of his offspring. You have to fear for this old man. God bless every soul serving this country, in the midst of plenty, yet, living on the crumbs from the table of Father Abraham, sorry Nigeria.