Published On: Mon, Sep 25th, 2017

The police should speak improved English

Share This
Tags

By ’Tunji Ajibade

There had been this altercation between the police leadership and a senator of the Federal Republic of late. Isa Misau, Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy said the police generated revenue from individuals and organisations but they didn’t render account to lawmakers who should appropriate funds. Misau alleged that some N120bn per year was involved. The police responded that they neither smelled N120bn nor did they have a pocket big enough to contain it. If that was the entire response, it would have been a tidy interlude to the breaking news. It wasn’t. Instead, an exchange of fire has ensued, raising issues that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Speaking on police-related issues not long ago, the Chairman, Police Service Commission, Mike Okiro, said the law permitted the police to collect money from private bodies that needed their services. Nigerians know this because they hear uniformed men grumble about allowances that their superiors haven’t paid for operations that have to do with private organisations. There’re others who mention that they would have loved to be posted to different theatres of operation for reason of better allowances. Nigerians know that uniformed men attached to Government Houses and banks also get allowances. Add oil companies, international agencies, and top politicians who must travel around the country with uniformed men to the list and one could imagine what the funds that flow to our security outfits amount to. But, how much do the police generate from this?
In an interview published in The PUNCH newspaper lately, Misau said if the IGR accruing to the police were properly documented and accounted for, police operations would benefit. He said instead of the police complaining about lack of operational funds, whatever is left of this IGR ought to be paid into the government’s coffers so that it could be appropriated as operational funds. He also said state governments donated vehicles and operational funds to the police, but there wasn’t any record showing what was donated to the various state police commands. Following the allegation, the police called a press conference, debunked Misau’s allegations but went on to say that Misau deserted his post seven years ago as a Deputy Superintendent. According to them, “It’s expedient to disabuse the minds of the members of the public…. (regarding the) unsubstantiated allegations and shallow imaginations of a personality claiming to be a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with premeditated evil plans to incite the public against the Nigeria Police Force.” In the melee, a newspaper had this headline: “Police declare Senator Misau wanted, say he patronises Indian hemps joints”. A day after, the same newspaper had this: “Corruption: Police declare Senator Misau wanted for forgery.” This was after the senator showed to the press in Abuja evidence of his formal discharge from the police.
I watched the police officer who delivered the press statement for the police. After he denounced Misau, he called him a deserter and went on to speak to Nigerians as to why they should believe the police and disregard Misau. He sounded as though he’s commanding Nigerians to believe the police, fallout of the police erroneous mentality that they are a “Force” not “Service”. His tone reminded me that the manner our security formations communicate with the public is not it. Most Nigerians understand the point Misau was making. I’m not sure the police made clear their point with the manner they’ve handled Misau’s allegation, as well as the tone and language they adopted. Now, there’s a tone to the communication meant to warn lawbreakers or would-be lawbreakers — firm and unequivocal resolve. There’s another tone that security services utilise when they want to gain the confidence of the public — open, honest, humble. Our security outfits aren’t projecting this at the moment. Their English is generally indelicate, inappropriate for institutions that strive to present the image of being reformed to citizens as one current police TV advert shows.
This makes me wonder if the police have a communication strategy, and if whatever they have helps their image in the minds of Nigerians regarding Misau’s case. Yes, what happens in the police is a reflection of what pervades our society. But since the current police leadership insists they are effecting change, such should be comprehensive and strategic. An overhaul of how the police communicate with the public is a part of it. For Nigerians already know how their security forces respond to allegations — total denial. When the police leadership responded to Misau, it was in denial, the same way they responded to the findings released recently by the National Bureau of Statistics about the preponderance of corruption in our institutions. I wonder if the police think that with the posture of President Muhammadu Buhari on corruption, he believes their denial as against the NBS’s submission. An institution such as the police can’t engage in denial as usual and expect to make progress in its image laundering effort. I don’t state here that Misau is right or wrong, what I state is that the response by the police thus far isn’t in tandem with the new image their leadership makes effort to build in TV adverts. Open, honest and logical communication is critical too.
Meanwhile, the PSC that should know about recruitment and discharge of officers from service had since said Misau’s retirement from the police followed due process and that the papers he showed the press were genuine. The response of the police was that they wouldn’t comment until the PSC notified them. It’s where this matter is at this time.
There are a few things I want to call attention to. First, I’m for the success of our institutions. Reason? If they work well, they work well for all of us. The TV advert by the police states that they have been reformed, re-engineered, and that police don’t take bribes. I know each new leadership that presides over an institution tries to improve it. The current police leadership may be doing what it can to make the force better. But what the audiences see in the street leaves stronger impression on them than what the police claim in adverts. During my evening strolls, and less than 10 feet away from where I’m on the sidewalk, I see police officers commanding commercial tricycle riders to park because they don’t offer bribes. I watch as they collect the bribes, pocket them before they order those poor souls to go. Other Nigerians have their experiences too. The other day, the police commissioner in Lagos State “removed” the leader of the anti-kidnapping unit for collecting N50,000 bribe from a Nigerian.
In Misau’s case, Nigerians notice that rather than use the media platform to tell the public what they do collect as IGR, they level their own allegations, befuddling the issue. We’ve travelled this path before, and it should stop in the police that say they are reformed. There’s also this other aspect in the statement that the police have released to the press. Those grandiose negative adverbs and adjectives (always from a template, a mindset) used in describing the person and action of their target couldn’t have helped to convince discerning Nigerians. Communicating with the public to get mass sympathy has gone beyond the usual “Force” template that our uniformed outfits still use.
The job of reforming an institution isn’t done in a day. It’s also beyond one administration. It’s gradual. However, if the police leadership wants to convince Nigerians that it has a formation different from the past, how its officers relate with the public is where it needs to start rather than TV adverts. For instance, in its public relations, I would have preferred to see the police state that they rejected Misau’s allegations, while asking Nigerians to give them time to look into the records and return to state what they actually receive as IGR. There’s no escaping this, is there, if this matter must be tidily laid to rest? I would also have preferred that the police conducted their responses to Misau’s allegation in such a way that Nigerians didn’t have to wonder how such a security institution had allowed Misau to move freely when it knew he was a deserter. Equally, I would have preferred that the police made available a short contact number through which Nigerians could complain and get redress concerning officers involved in vices which the police leadership advertised it had rid the formation of.

’Tunji Ajibade is a Public Policy Analyst.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>