On Tuesday, June 27, Olukayode Egbetokun, the acting inspector general of police (IGP), announced that the Police Mobile Force (PMF) will no longer be used for VIP escort and guard tasks. The always-ready police chief further stated that the force would review the PMF’s duties to ensure their proper use. The police chief stated that the department’s main goals would be to uphold the law, work with the community to build safe neighborhoods, and foster an atmosphere where everyone felt respected and safe.
There were many responses when the IGP announced this at the Police Tactical Commanders Forum. Others view the statement as a reminder of the suffering our uniformed officers endure at the hands of politicians, celebrities, the wealthy, and their families who use police officers sworn to serve and protect lives as servants.
Some people see it as the norm for every Nigerian newly appointed to office, while others see it as a norm for all newly appointed Nigerians. Numerous IGPs have come and gone with pledges to reform the PMF (Police Mobile Force), assuring that police officers assigned to VIP escort and protection tasks maintain the honor and integrity of the force while doing their responsibilities.
The situation is reverse. The police hierarchy appears to lead two separate lives. The other is private and tends to ignore or abandon officers who are serving as servants, while the public one verbally defends or shields officers with VIPS. I was happy when the interim IGP ordered that officers leave VIPs alone. Why should a nation fighting growing insecurity prioritize the safety of a select few over the protection of the majority? VIP protection officers are better equipped than those that patrol our roadways and defend the populace and the nation.
As unexpected as the action was, the foreseeable return of police officers to VIP status does not justify the alleged joy that should accompany the instruction. One of the Nigerian realities we try to ignore is the police, NSCDC officers who serve VIPs and the wealthy, among others. Officers serve everyone from VIPs to property owners to top security commanders. They run errands for their kids while also holding bags for the wives of politicians and cleaning the large men’s shoes in public.
Have you forgotten the female officer who, in December 2015, carried the first lady of Sokoto’s luxury bag? What about the Dambazau orderly, an ex-minister of the interior, who was observed polishing Dambazau’s shoes while his service gun was visibly sticking out from under his jacket? A report by PUNCH titled “Our police, their servants: How Nigeria’s VIPs use police officers, others as domestic servants” cites instances of power abuse including a male police orderly carrying a woman’s handbag outside the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and a military orderly carrying the handbag of former beauty queen Dabota Lawson-Aku in Abia State.
No Nigerian is without a tale of how they personally seen police or NSCDC officers being utilized as domestic servants. Visit some hotels, and you’ll witness guards for VIPs opening and locking gates. Visit well-known Nigerians to witness the kind of slavery senior leaders subject their subordinates to. All of these behaviors—from frying “dodo” to packing used plastic cups in gardens to helping housekeepers with household tasks and occasionally accompanying Oga pikins to shops or playgrounds as nannies—indicate the maltreatment the aforementioned cops are subjected to.
Because there appears to be communication between these VIPs, senior officers, and junior cadres, a friend once referred to the VIP attachment as a required Industrial Training inside the police force. Why should a father of three kids carry out a father’s errands while wearing a uniform?
According to certain reports, some big men who are afflicted with a fatal illness like HIV/AIDS occasionally ask their orderlies to fetch them medications so they can take care of themselves. Have the policemen who are tied to VIPs as pals or merely be close to their supervisors if you want to understand what they go through. Very humiliating experiences.
Rich people rarely ask for officers, primarily out of concern about their protection. They use this to brag about themselves at functions and during housework. When I received the acting IGP’s order to remove personnel connected to VIPs, I was overjoyed. But would it be implemented completely? What modifications does the interim IGP plan to make? Could seniors and junior cadres who view working for VIPs as a means of eradicating poverty adjust?
Let me conclude by stating firmly that the matter at hand does not concern the morals of the VIPs or the police personnel involved, but rather the honor and dignity of the police department as a whole. The police need to rethink their strategy and start reforms that will make them stronger. Police should permit private security companies to perform guard tasks and safeguard VIPs. In this era of escalating insecurity, it makes no sense to overwork the Nigeria Police’s already understaffed and overworked employees by adding VIP and guard tasks.
I have no doubt that some police officers who are dedicated to serving the public will choose to safeguard the country over serving a select group of people if given the option. The fundamental truth behind everything is that we need our police on the streets and in their offices rather than using them as domestic help for the wealthy and privileged. Give private security companies complete power over VIP protection, and let the police look after those who are under their perpetual protection. If this is not stopped right away, if they haven’t already, police officers affiliated to VIPs may end up frying puff-puff or akara during gatherings.