Editorial

Police protest in Borno, way forward

 

The protest by police officers in Maiduguri, Borno state capital recently, must have been a function of dysfunction. Nothing else can explain that demonstration better. Here is a state that is battling insurgency where more than 15, 000 citizens have been killed, yet, such a sordid event took place and till date no consequence has been felt. The protesting officers had told the world that about 10,000 of them were deployed in Borno State from different commands, but have not received their allowances in the past six months.
The protest, which took the city by surprise, saw the Police Headquarters on the Maiduguri-Kano Expressway barricaded by the angry men. A noisy and angry procession of protesting men with arms is not the most reassuring sight in a city like Maiduguri or any other place for that matter. In the process, some weapons were discharged and the atmosphere became charged, making many residents fear for their lives.
As expected, Police authorities stated different version of the event. While one told this fantastic tale that the men had gone to enquire about their allowances and had been told that they would soon be paid, now that the Federal Budget had finally been approved and signed by the President. Another simply told us that there was no protest. After all, the officers had returned to their duty and loyalty.
The differences between the Policemen and the authorities’ tales, though significant, need not becloud the issue. Police allowances are recurrent expenditure that would not and should not be subject to the vagaries of Federal Government’s budget difficulties. It cannot be true, therefore, that the Policemen were not paid their allowances because of Federal Budget delay, as regrettable as that was. We think there has been a dereliction of duty somewhere in the Police hierarchy where the police men’s anger emanates. To withhold the allowances of policemen for six months is a very serious breach of the conditions of their employment. A disaffected policeman can be the devil’s workshop and in effect, a dangerous policeman. If it were one or two months’ allowance, it will be understandable.
The Police are the principal organisation saddled with internal security of life and property in the land. The Police Act is unequivocal and saddles the police with the duties of preventing, detecting and prosecuting crimes in the country. When they are not paid as at when due, the nation forfeits its moral authority to demand service from them. It is even worrisome that we are talking about police men sent to fight terrorists.  If they have to find other means to fend for themselves, what moral authority empowers us to ask them to make sacrifices and to sometimes lay down their lives for our protection?
In the last few weeks, it has been an open season on the police –seven officers killed in Abuja, two in Edo State, two in Kaduna State. Police officers and men sent to the North East – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States – are like soldiers sent to a war zone. The least any organisation can do is to pay them regularly. The insurance cover for the policemen is considered grossly inadequate. It needs to be remembered that in 2002, a similar incident occurred and policemen were forced to go on strike. It is a sad commentary on our institutional memory that the Police, as an organisation, appears to have forgotten that unhappy episode.
We are not happy about this protest. To this end, we call on the Federal Government to dig deep into this issue. It is not enough for the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, to invite the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, for a meeting, perhaps to explain this incident. For policemen to go on a public display of discontent is the most grievous evidence of maladministration in the police. The men were not asking for a pay raise, just their regular allowances. We also wonder the place of the Police Service Commission in all these. The National Assembly should use its oversight powers to get to the root of this and ensure it does not occur again. Nigerian policemen are not the best paid citizens in the country. In the end, someone must be held accountable for that protest and any other matter of that nature within the police.

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