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The Cop and the Chop

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Posted to the web: 7/8/2007 5:03:30 PM

I met the former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Gabriel Ehindero, only once during his two years plus reign as the nation’s No. 1 cop. He had asked the Force’s spokesman, Haz Iwendi, a Commissioner of Police, to ask me over to his 7th floor office at the Louis Edet Force Headquarters, Abuja, for a chat. 'The IG says he wants to meet with you', Haz said, in his unmistakably cop’s voice. 'What for?' 'Well, I don’t know. He just asked me to send for you. Please, come at 2p.m,' he replied. Since I wasn’t a friend of the top cop, neither had I booked an interview appointment, I knew there must be a serious issue at hand, although I had no idea what it was. And when the nation’s most important police man summons you, I believe it is a call that must be obeyed, especially if you know your hands and heart are clean. There he was, wearing a somewhat oversized uniform of the Mobile Police Force which he liked to adorn. I suspect he believed that he looked intimidating wearing ‘the kill and go’ outfit, also a favourite of the beefy ex-cop, Tafa Balogun, who fell from grace to disgrace. A man of average height and a calm face, he looked like a man who could never harm anyone. A gentleman as a tough cop? That sounded incongruous to me. But then, that’s the way it is sometimes, I told myself: a cool guy taking tough actions, and a tough-looking cop, acting like jelly in the face of danger. However, I was right about my initial apprehensions on the motive of the summons. The IG was angry and he had a complaint to make against our crime reporter, Murphy Ganagana. 'Look, that man is always looking for negative things to report about me,' he said brusquely. 'I don’t know what I have done to him. He’s always looking for cases of fraud and embezzlement in the Force as if his money is lost. Look, you better talk to him.' I tried to calm him down, assuring him that our organization bore no malice towards him. 'The reporter is just doing his job,' I told him. 'He doesn’t hate you. His job is to go into the dark corners and bring to light hidden issues. At The Sun, we do our job without fear or favour; affection or ill-will… Anyway, I will pay closer attention to his stories to ensure biases don’t creep in,' I assured him. The angry IG was a bit mollified. 'You see, my initial plan was to order his arrest,' he said. 'But my officers prevailed on me. I hope he won’t force me to do that. You better talk to him.' And the discussion was over, because, according to him, he had other pressing matters to attend to. When the news broke last week that the ex-IG was enmeshed in the riddle of a loot allegedly uncovered in the Police, my mind immediately raced to that encounter and his protestation over The Sun’s reporter’s digging into the alleged mountain of sleaze at the Force Headquarters under Ehindero’s watch. My puzzle was: how could a man who looked so innocent while protesting his innocence to me be involved in the alleged attempt to steal over N21m from the coffers of the nation’s impoverished and much-ravaged Police? And that’s the one we know. Is it possible that while the man preached transparency and forthrightness during the day to his officers and men, he was busy at night lining his pockets with filthy lucre? How come the cop who gave the Police, the sweet-sounding pay-off line plagiarized from the Los Angeles Police: To Serve and Protect with Integrity, be involved in the ugly chop game? How come cops never leave chop business? Is it the pay or sheer greed or both? How could an IG who professed gentility and decorum preside over an era where corruption allegedly bloomed, while he turned a hypocritical and blind eye ? And the fundamental question: who owns the loot? The country or some hapless fellows fleeced by our bad cops who pointing the nozzle at their heads, ordered them to part with the money or their lives? Questions, questions… To say that one is disappointed at this crying shame and disgusting scandal is to put the issue mildly. And coming immediately after the Tafa episode shows clearly that our Police is in urgent need of a surgical operation to excise it of a disease worse than cancer and HIV/AIDS: corruption. How come we celebrated Tafa’s fall, only to land with an alleged similar scenario? How come the IGs we have now struggle to outdo one another in larceny? How come the man we trusted, and entrusted with the job of protecting us from criminals got to the level where loot is associated with his name, and let us down by the salacious stories of greed and graft? No one [ until he is investigated, tried and convicted or discharged by a competent court of law] is saying that the former police boss is guilty yet. The point, however, is that under his watch, a whopping N21m was concealed in a secret closet and was about to be spirited out of the Police headquarters, but for eagle-eyed guards at the gate. And the fact that preliminary investigations indicate that he couldn’t claim to be unaware of that shady episode tells dirty tales about the kind of Police Force he presided over. Indeed, I am writing in this angry tone because I was one of those who nursed the high hope that the ex-IG will be different from his predecessor. I didn’t know him nor his antecedents, but I just instinctively believed that here was a gentleman-cop who was bent on restoring the integrity of the battered Force. For one, he wasn’t as mountainous as Tafa. A man’s self-discipline, I always thought, starts with the size of his stomach. A man who couldn’t watch his appetite or whatever he did with his stomach, was likely to be less disciplined than a flat-tummy fellow. That’s why till today, I am forever fighting to get my tummy to acceptable decent level. Then, Ehindero has a believe-me face. When he said he would wipe out corruption from the organization by tackling corrupt officers and men, I had no reason to doubt the cop. But when he began to speak long grammar on the litany of unresolved murders in the land, I began to go down with the sad feeling that we had, again, been saddled with a talk-talk rather than an action man. However, nothing in the world would have prepared anyone with the bombshell that the man who said he would serve and protect Nigerians with integrity, indeed had in his fold men who the slogan didn’t mean much. Now, there is the strong feeling that the ex-IG has begun a steady descent into the lonely night, except he is able to convince all of us and the court beyond reasonable doubt that he neither heard, saw or partook in the ugly business of the N21m loot. My candid view is that if we are to restore the sullied image of the Force, we have to get to the root of this latest scam and mete the severest punishment to the culprits. If we are to sanitize the Force, then President Umaru Yar’Adua would have to declare an emergency in that agency. No need papering over the crack, because the cracks have become too wide and stinking. The Police need a complete overhaul, from top to bottom. As at today, there are too many crooks donning the black uniform and pretending to be involved in the fight against crime, when in truth they are the criminals. Sooner than later, the few good cops and the hardworking others, are corrupted by the bad eggs. A national conference on the Police; an emergency in the sector would hopefully refocus and re-brand it. Only an IG with radical and revolutionary bent can do it. Because, at the moment, most of the policemen you encounter on the streets are poor, underpaid, overworked, dispirited and de-motivated, while many others see their weapons as a means of revenue generation, ala toll gate collection. The challenge is how to deconstruct the mind of such cops and make them see their jobs as a patriots’ job. But if the nation fails to do the right thing by our cops, we will continue to have Police IGs who preach one thing, and do the exact opposite. Either way, we all are the collective losers. As for Brother Sunday Ehindero, it is surely not a sunny day! And that’s putting his present predicament mildly.

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