by Akpan Edet
Policemen and women live under the most inhumane conditions, despite the appropriation of billions of naira over the years, for their welfare. In addition, the federal government wants to employ a further 10,000 into the police force, claiming that Nigeria is “under-policed”.
A visit to any of the police barracks across the country reveals the heart wrenching living conditions of the lower ranks, while officers revel in opulence in Government Reserved Areas.
You find families living in single rooms or at best in cramped “room and parlour” apartments. They share toilets and bathrooms, with long queues of police, their spouses and children waiting their turns in the morning.
The buildings where they live in such cramped spaces are themselves derelict. Many have partially collapsed, leaving families affected no option but to live in kitchens and dilapidated stores. Indeed as a junior officer who chose to be anonymous told The Punch, “we live like rats, yet Nigerians want us to be their friends”.
But the enemies of poor rank and file police men and women who are made to live such dreadful lives are not the poor working people. Their common enemies are the rich bosses, within and outside the police force. But through ideological indoctrination, police rank and file are used against the poor to protect the interests of the rich – so the police never protect strikers, but only the bosses.
In 2012, N195bn of police pension funds disappeared without a trace, But Abdurasheed Maina, under whose watch this happened, still walks a free man and is even being nominated to become the next deputy governor of Borno state! Earlier in 2005, Tafa Balogun, as Inspector General of Police, was found to have looted over N17bn!
There is actually no senior officer, from the rank of Commissioner of Police upwards, that is not silently or otherwise a millionaire. In contrast, the poor rank and file police are the ones that face the cold at night and are expected to confront armed robbers. The junior officers also continue to suffer poverty and loss of dignity.
The ruling class maintains the police as a coercive arm for instilling its rule on the poor working masses. They can do this only because the rank and file junior police officers are made to consider themselves and their superior officers as part of the same ‘great institution’ through the false consciousness of espirit d’ corps.
They are particularly successful in doing this when the rank and file are denied the right to organise in unions. But rank and file police officers have seen through this deceit from time to time and risen up to fight for their rights. A classic example of this was the 2002 police strike across Nigeria. Rank and file police men and women formed a clandestine National Union of Police and demanded improved welfare and better wages.
The bosses and their governments were terrified! They hastened to address the striking police demands. But this was not before they smashed the strike. Dozens of rank and file within the force appear to have been silently killed. Many of these defended a young journalist and International Socialist, Teslim “Sankore” Oyekanmi, who as “Monday Sule” had helped galvanise them into action.
The welfare and well-being of poor police men and women must be a cause for concern of the trade union movement as a whole. The trade unions must speak out against their deplorable living conditions. There is also absolutely no sane reason why junior policemen and women as well as rank and file of other para-military establishments should not be unionised.
In several countries including South Africa which is also on our continent, the police are union members. In Nigeria as well, Immigration and Excise rank and file were organised into a union in the late 1970s. The proscription of their union and consequent ban against para-military rank and file being unionised was because of the militancy of their union leadership with the indefatigable Comrade Bernard Odulana as General Secretary.
The time is ripe for NLC and TUC to say: NO to deplorable living conditions for junior police officers and YES to their being organised as a union!