Nigeria is a fascinating country with a lot of potential. The country is much better than its reputation. The Nigeria Police is, if anything worse though!
Constant harassment by the people who are supposed to enforce the law, is one of the most stressful aspects of life in this otherwise so promising country.
Actually, it is only about money: A police officer will claim that his victim has committed an offence, and, demand money to avoid visiting a nearby police station. That is possibly among the last things anyone would on their bucket 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 bridges, junctions and roundabouts, stopping motorists to ask for handouts. These improvised checkpoints are usually rather friendly. The uniformed beggars will smile and ask the driver politely for small change.
It gets worse when a police officer enters a car. It is hard to get rid of the intruder without money changing hands in those situations.
When visiting Benin City, I was approached by 5 cops, asking for my “photography permit” when I took pictures in the city centre. I didn’t even waver, as I knew they just wanted a bribe. Never letting go of the eye contact with the one in charge, I remained defiant. I rested my case there was no such thing as a photography permit. Eventually, I turned my back on them, and walked away.
Among the worst in Africa
I have seen police officers seeking bribes in many countries across the world. Nigeria is in a league of its own, though.
The Kenya Police Force was 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. Unbelivably, had you asked anyone even a few years ago. Cash can still make a misdemeanor “go away”. Kenyan police generally won’t bother you unless you are on the wrong side of the law, though.
While Nigeria is moving fast ahead in many areas, their police force is still in dire need of radical surgery. They could certainly learn a lesson or two from Kenya.
Naming and shaming on social media
Nigerians are generally fed up with Police Force more busy robbing people, than protecting them. Recently, a Youtube video of a police officer attempting to extort a bribe became an instant social media hit in Nigeria.
The video went viral, showing the cop’s face. He was fired!
The attention this episode got, shows the extent to which Nigerians are tired of corrupt police officers. If the Federal Government fails to clean up the police force, naming and shaming of corrupt officers in social media may well become a trend.
Small surveillance cameras are widely available, and can easily be installed at discreet locations in cars. If more Nigerians pick up a cue from that one YouTube video, then life would become a lot harder for those armed beggars in uniforms.
It would also make life easier for those few diehard cops who reject corruption (yes, they still exist!), and who suffer from the bad image of their institution.