One of the biggest hassles about life in Nigeria, is the constant harassment by police officers.
In the end, the harassment is only about money: A police officer will claim that his victim has committed an offence, and, irrespective of the veracity of those claims, demand money lest he brings his prey to the police station (possibly one of the last experiences anyone would want to have on a been-there-done-that list).
Foreigners are particularly cherished as targets, due to their perceived financial strength, but no-one is really exempt.
At night, police officers in Lagos crowd the bridges, junctions and roundabouts, stopping motorists to ask for handouts. These improvised checkpoints are usually rather friendly, as the men in uniforms will simply smile and ask the driver if he or she happens to have any spare change.
A far bigger challenge occurs when a police officer enters a car: It is hardly possible to get rid of the intruder without money changing hands in such situations.
During my recent visit to Benin City, I was approached by 5 police officers asking for my “photography permit” as I was taking pictures in the city centre. I didn’t even waver, though, as I immediately realized that they were just seeking a bribe. While never letting go of the eye contact with the one apparently in charge, I remained completely defiant, resting my case that there was no such thing as a photography permit. Eventually, I turned my back on them, and walked away.
I have seen police officers seeking bribes in many countries, both in Africa and in Eastern Europe. Nigeria is in a league of its own, though.
The Kenya Police Force was also really bad once upon a time, but has improved. In today’s Kenya, cops are actually afraid to ask for money, and begging rarely occurs any more: Kenyan police officers have actually become professional, polite and hard-working – very unlikely, had you asked anyone even a few years ago. Needless to say, some cash can still make a misdemeanor go away, but Kenyan police won’t bother you unless you are actually on the wrong side of the law.
While Nigeria is moving fast ahead in many areas, their police force is still an institution in dire need of radical surgery. They could certainly learn a lesson or two from Kenya.
That people are fed up with a Police Force that is too busy robbing their fellow Nigerians to even think of protecting them, is beyond doubt. A major hit in the world of social media, is a video clip posted on Youtube, of a police officer attempting to extort a bribe from a motorist.
The video was broadcast on TV, showing the face of the Police officer, who was since fired.
The attention paid by the public to this episode is a strong indication of the extent to which Nigerians are tired of corrupt police officers. Should the Federal Government fail to clean up the police force, the naming and shaming of corrupt officers in the social media may well develop into a trend.
Small surveillance cameras are widely available, and can easily be installed at discreet locations in cars. If more Nigerians follow up the example by the person who posted that one video on YouTube, then life would suddenly become a lot harder for those armed beggars in uniforms.
It would also make life easier for anyone living in Nigeria, and for those police officers who are honest, and who suffer from the bad image that currently stains their entire institution.
Watch and enjoy the video that terminated the career of a corrupt Nigerian police officer: