APRIL 25, 2023

By Juliana Francis

Dateline: April 20, 2023. The appointment was for 10:am, but I was there by 9: am.

The Lagos State Criminal Intelligence and Investigative Department (SCIID) has not morphed into anything monumental.

The noticeable changes are just the shops.

Block shops have taken over the shanty shops, but the street was dirty. I remembered the good days of Barrister Olayinka Balogun, retired CP.

He was particular about hygiene and cleanliness. Every Police formation Balogun stepped into and headed, you would surely see his footprints.

Now just look at how dirty this street is today, simply begging for a broom and a rake!

I dragged my weary self to the reception area. A fair-complexioned, plumpy Police lady was behind the desk. A policeman sat by the right side of the door, leading into the main compound of the station.

I smiled at the lady and told her that I had an appointment with CSP Margaret Ighodalo. She told me that visitors would not be allowed into the premises until 10: am.

I told her that Margaret had earlier told me to meet her by10:am anyway.

I went to one of the new shops to buy bottled water so as to snag a seat.

The journey to the SCIID had been exhausting due to gridlock at Yaba.

Then it was 10:am, I made my way back to the reception area. The area was already becoming crowded as voices hummed in an undertone.

I made a beeline for the fair-complexioned lady; she told me Margaret was not yet in office, but that I could wait for her inside.

She was no longer alone in her seat; another lady had joined her. This lady, with untidy-looking weaved hair, would later be the reason for my penning this piece.

I looked at her name tag, it says Afolabi Adejoke.

I joined the queue where Adejoke was collecting phones. Visitors were not allowed to take their phones into the offices.

The fair-complexioned Police lady searched my handbag and then glanced at my laptop bag.

“Madam, what do you have there,” she asked.

“My laptop.”

“You can’t go in with it.”

She collected the laptop bag from me and placed it in front of Adejoke.

Adejoke immediately picked it up like it was trash and stretched it out to me peremptorily.

My heart momentarily seemed to stop beating and then picked up the pace, pounding furiously as I feared she might mistakenly drop the laptop bag in the loose way she held it.

I thought of the price, and I broke out in a sweat.

“Take it and keep it over there,” she snapped.

I couldn’t control my panic anymore. I voiced out.

“Easy! Take it easy! Please don’t allow it to fall!”

Those were the words I uttered in near distress that provoked Adejoke to start telling me the history of my life.

Missile after missile popped out of her mouth. One would be forgiven to think she and I knew ourselves before that day, but I don’t think I had met her before that Thursday.

She was young; so young, and so filled with vile and disrespect. As she ranted and raved, the source of her anger became apparent.

She said that telling her not to drop the laptop bag was me treating her like a baby. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.

I collected my laptop, I cannot shout ojare!

The laptop has over 100 ongoing reports and some uncompleted books thrown in, and I simply get headaches agonising and fearing she could drop it.

“Is that not the laptop you’re holding, is that not it? Is there another way to hold it?” she asked querulously.

She did not stop. She was not done. She could not help herself. She seemed like someone an invisible force was goading and egging on. She acted possessed; possessed by rage.

Or perhaps she has finally found a sounding board? Such a drama queen!

She was unmannered and rudeness personified. To say I was taken aback was putting it mildly. I doubt I will be her final client for the exhibition of rudeness that day.

I tried to remind her that she was the representative of the Police right then because she was attending to the public and manning the front desk, she should be courteous.

But she would not have any of such crapping talks.

She went on and on, blinded by rage and incensed. I took note that none of her colleagues in that sentry area bothered or tried to chastise or caution her.

This made me believe she was known for such surly and uncouth behaviour, and nobody wanted to be caught in the web of her peppered, sharpened mouth.

I repeatedly tried to get a word in between, but her voice drowned mine.

When I got the chance to throw in a dart, I told her that if she was feeling frustrated, she should not take it out on me, because all Nigerians are experiencing one form of frustration or another.

But because we’re feeling frustrated and sometimes despair, doesn’t mean we should throw manners to the dogs, should we?

I grew up knowing that manner was spelled with a double ‘N.’ It was an ingrained training and now a difficult cloth to pull off.

We can’t all go out, carrying our problems and dumping them on strangers. They are not the cause of our woes.

Those words were another keg of gunpowder that got Adejoke exploding again.

I left her ranting and raving and went in to wait for the arrival of Margaret. By past 12 noon, I was done with my assignment and returned to the war front to collect my phone.

The fair complexion Police lady was not in her seat. Adejoke and one Mr. Adeyemo were there.

I presented my tag to Adejoke to collect my phone, but she ignored me, displaying unfathomable disdain, proving a faulty childhood foundation, which blame should be placed at the doorstep of poor parenting.

We are now having a feud then.? Like seriously?

Tired of being ignored and treated like a naughty child, I spoke up: “Can I please have my phone?” I asked politely, repeatedly, sounding like a broken old-school turntable, but she continued to ignore me to attend to those that came to meet me there.

I knew she was trying to provoke me, deliberately so and I was so tragically saddened by her attitude and public disposition.

At one point, Adeyemo got angry and snarled at her: “What are you doing? This woman has been here before these people? She got here before all these people, why are not attending to her!”

She also treated him to a studied silence and then there was nobody left to attend to but me. But she still left me standing there and turned her gaze to the direction of two men discussing by the entrance door to the sentry, she smirked and laughed at nothing.

Adeyemo got up, took my tag, and began to shovel through tons of phones, looking for mine. It was Adejoke that had collected the phone when I came in the morning, and should readily know where to pick it up, but she refused to assist poor Adeyemo.

When Adeyemo failed to locate my phone, I had to join him at the other side of the desk and we both began to shovel through phones, while Adejoke gave us the leprous treatment.

We finally located it. It was buried under some phones. I collected my property.

I have covered the Police beat for years to know that most rude Police ladies have some sorts of godfather they are hobnobbing with, and this makes them feel they can do anything, say anything and act anyway and then get away with it.

The knowledge that a policeman or woman has, that they know one ‘Oga’ is terrifying, exhilarating, and intoxicating. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Power has always been a deadly narcotic.

For most Policewomen, godfatherism comes in different forms, including trading in sexual favours. This is also the reason I am not too comfortable seeing junior female officers being orderlies to high-ranking Policemen.

These ladies are often taken sexual advantage of, and many still do not understand what sexual harassment and rape are about.

Many believe it’s about force and penetration, but they still do not know and understand that most times it is about the boss making sexual advances and taking advantage of a junior female officer who cannot say no, because she fears victimisation in the hands of the top brass.

It is Police personnel like Adejoke that continues to make the Force spokesman, Muyiwa Adejobi’s job of trying to whitewash the Police stained image, which had accumulated over the years, look like a mission impossible.

Most Police personnel do not think before they act and are impulsive because they wear uniforms and expect members of the public to respect them without them bothering to reciprocate that gesture.

I see what officers like Adejobi, Benjamin Hundeyin, and Bright Edafe are doing in the social media space and I sincerely applaud, but I don’t envy them. Talk about being the devil’s advocates, that is what these young fellas are doing.

Imagine toiling day and night to clean an oil-stained white cloth, then someone will just come from nowhere and pour oil on it again.

This is what Adejoke and other nonchalant Police personnel are putting these Police Public Relations Officers (PPROs) through.

I intentionally follow these three policemen on Twitter, and I see the hellish treatment meted out to them on Twitter Street on daily basis.

They often leave the street with bloodied noses and bruises, but by the following day, they have picked themselves up, and dusted themselves, to continue with the image laundering job.

I have become super proud of them. It is not easy to maintain your cool when hundreds of people are dragging you and the punches are raining from all angles.

No umbrella, no hiding place. No place to wait out the heat. They are just out there in the open, with all the elements buffeting them.

These PPROs have been cursed, maligned, insulted and what have you.

Their children have been cursed and their families insulted. Their children have been threatened with death and rape. Do not tell me this was what they signed up for.

Nobody signed up to be insulted every day, with some calling them mad, insane, useless, cretin, idiots, fools, liars, etc. Many use words on these policemen that should not be found among well-brought-up Nigerians. They use words that cut like a knife, words that can make you cringe in shame, wondering the kind of homes these punchers came from.

Since the PPROs went to two conferences last year, their orientations have sharply deviated from the routine, but of course, picking phone calls at the first ring and at the right time is still a major challenge for them.

But I see changes; I see how they struggle to win Nigerians to their side, to tell Police stories. Nigeria is suffering and staggering under the weight of a trust deficit when it comes to policing and police personnel.

And while these men are out there, doing their best to launder the rotten image of the Nigeria Police Force, a rot that had festered to a nauseating stench over the years, you find policemen using cutlass to brutalise students, using a cane to flog civilians, shooting recklessly in praise of musicians for a dime, and killing over money, extorting Nigerians at gunpoint, acting recklessly in an unprofessional manner, and involving in all kinds of human rights violations.

But these PPROs refused to give up, they believe in the Police, and they believe change is a constant and possible phenomenon. Some changes are not sprint races, but marathons; slow and steady will they win the race.

Following these anomalies and misconducts from their colleagues, these PPROs will simply exhale in pent-up frustration, and then return to the trenches, to continue from where they stopped before the infamy that brought down the house on them.

People like Adejoke sit in their little corners, acting unprofessional, insulting, threatening, and intimidating people, but it is Adejobi and other PPROs on social media that bear the brunt of those atrocious actions.

They are the ones that must explain until they are blue on their faces. Even when the explanation is the truth, nobody believes them, nobody wants to believe them.

Nigerians expect the worst from the Police and would rather believe the worst than listen to the truth from Adejobi and others. But again, truth in this context has become nebulous and comes in versions.

Truth is whatever these PPROs are fed by their colleagues, who had committed or done something unbecoming in their small corners.

This version is what the PPROs try to sell to members of the public as explanations and reasons for action that triggered a violation. These PPROs should not be guillotined for it. They did not commit these crimes or offences. Do not kill the messenger.

It is Police folks like Adejoke that make the Police image laundering job of these men tougher. The situation of the PPROs and Nigerians is akin to trying to sell ice to Eskimos.

I am sure many police personnel working with Adejoke knows her temperament and her disposition to be cantankerous and insolent to people.

She has no business being assigned to man a front desk, where many Nigerians will have to pass through her before accessing the compound of the SCIID.

Someone manning a front desk should be mannered and not easily angered. The person should be welcoming, beaming with smiles, and helpful. The person should be able to leave his or her baggage at home when heading to the office.

It certainly should not be someone who studied rudeness as a course and has a degree in insolence!

Lord knows that this current Inspector General of Police, Alkali Usman Baba, has done his best and is still trying his best. When he came on board, I did not think he would amount to much, but he has pleasantly surprised me.

He has done well. He earned my respect, and my respect does not come easily. I have seen and covered the beat under different IGPs, and I can state categorically that Baba did well and is doing well.

He has sanctioned, demoted, sacked, and queried many Police personnel under his watch.

Yet each day we keep seeing another set and crop of Police personnel committing human rights violations, atrocities and what have you.

Short of boxing the ears of these Police personnel, I don’t know what else poor Baba is supposed to do. Rebranding the Police should not be the job of the IGP alone. It should be a collective effort, with Nigerians inclusive as watchdogs.

Superior officers should continue to lecture personnel under their watches, inculcating into them good virtues like the Commissioner of Police, Olatunji Disu did with his men when he was RRS’s Commander in Lagos State. Disu’s efforts were visible in the attitudinal changes seen in the men under his watch back then.

There should be a check to comprehend and understand the characters of personnel that are pushed out into the streets to interact with Nigerians.

If these personnel are unstable and cantankerous, they are likely going to further smear the already battered image of the Force.

Police personnel should not be posted to certain beats because of their versatility and ability in bringing back returns to Oga. But because they can manage and handle such beats without mishaps.

If the Nigeria Police Force wants this image laundering project to begin to bear fruits, they must ensure that all their personnel become image makers, knowing eyes and cameras are in hidden places watching. People standing before a Police front desk personnel deserved to be given a modicum of respect.

The punishment given to personnel who are involved in unprofessional conduct should be real, not cosmetics, so as to serve as a deterrent to others.

Perhaps it will not be a bad idea if Police personnel is given mental evaluation every six months. I also advocated the same for journalists.

There is no doubt in my mind that Adejoke needs mental evaluation, and so do many Police officers.

If some of these suggestions are embraced, perhaps only then will Adejobi, Hundeyin, Edafe, and other PPROs’ jobs get easier, and their hard work begins to show dividends.

To be the devil’s advocate is not a walk in the park, so their colleagues should not make their job tougher for them.

Juliana Francis

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