I grew up partly in military regimes in Nigeria and the fear of soldiers and policemen have always been there. I say fear and not respect because majority of Nigerians do not have an atom of respect or regard for policemen and soldiers but instead fear them because of the position they hold and the arms they bear. They haven't exactly given us much reason to have faith in them on the whole, and I find it really baffling that little is being done by the government to restore the nations' faith in these men in uniform. The police/military are very important in every society to maintain law and order and stop the break down of the system.
I had my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in Abuja and the three weeks on camp gave me a bit of insight as to the lives of our military and what could be a part of the reason they often act as irrationally as they do. I arrived in camp with a very big box, probably the biggest (don't judge me yet, lol). I really did not know what to expect and Abuja was far from home so I figured I would go to camp with all I might need for the duration of the camp stay. Besides, I'm absolutely rubbish at traveling light, so there. When I got to the gate of the camp there was a very long queue which I quickly joined and thankfully I met some former school mates amidst the thousands of strange faces and we quickly got together and trudged the queue slowly. Suddenly it started raining heavily, without any warning at all. I was wearing white trouser pants, there was red mud all over and I had to drag my big box behind me because there was no shelter from the rain, so you can imagine the sort of state I was in. As if things were not bad enough, while dragging my box one of the wheels suddenly came off while I kept getting drenched in the rain.
Suddenly, a soldier came up to us and barked orders at us to run along into the yard. My friends took off, immediately. He took one long look at myself and my box and shook his head. Next thing he barked at me to put the huge box on my head and hop to it! Ehnnnn!!! O.O I was very sharp-mouthed back then and I immediately retorted that I wasn't superman and there was no way I was going to carry the heavy box on my head. He flipped and threatened to beat me up and lock me in the guard room. It sounds funny now but it was the most incredulous things I had ever heard back then. I asked him what my offense was to deserve all he was saying but he feigned anger at my perceived insolence. Just as he was about to launch himself at me, and I saw he meant business, I bent over to try to lift the box while cursing him colourfully under my breadth. He began to throw jibes at me, mocking my "ajebutterness" and asking what I was thinking packing a full box like I never wanted to leave camp. I was furious at him and almost turned around to go back home. Fortunately for me, a young chap came up to me and volunteered to help me carry my box. I'd never seen him before and I think I only saw him one more time during the three weeks I was in camp, bless his heart.
I really wondered why the soldier was that aggressive towards me when he did not know me. (We did eventually became friends during my stay in camp, "Mad Dog" they called him. He wasn't as ferocious as he made us think initially though.) I got the reasons a few days afterwards. I discovered that the soldiers rarely got a good sleep at night and were always awake very early in the mornings. I also stumbled into their quarters one day while looking for a place to iron my clothes and the sordid squalor and clear poverty I came face to face with haunted me for a long time. Each soldier was allocated a fairly large sized room and in this room, themselves and their families lived. The room I took a look into was so dingy and dark. It was partitioned with worn wrappers, separating the parents' bedroom from the children's. What could pass for a kitchen was also partitioned inside the same room. I was mortified and appalled by it all. I engaged the wife of the soldier and the heartbreaking things she told me further shed more light into why these armed men often engage in questionable acts just to make ends meet.
While I am not excusing bad behavior from soldiers and the police, I think it makes more sense if the government can put certain benefits in place for them to motivate them into being committed to what they signed up for. The task they have, having to fight off criminals and so on, is daunting enough so giving them incentives to perform better makes more sense. I would like to suggest a few ways government can tow in order to have a better, more qualified and dedicated police workforce.
* Psychological Evaluation: Before new recruits are employed into the force, I believe an updated and thorough psych evaluation should be carried out on them and this should be a continuous process involving and including the old hands as well.
* Meaningful Pay Structure: I believe the minimum any policeman or soldier should earn should be N100,000 monthly. These men and women put a lot in line to ensure peaceful societies and should be financially encouraged to join, stay, avoid temptation from bribes and what-not. You cannot pay them peanuts and expect topnotch performance.
* Pension Plan: A proper and attractive pension plan should be put in place for these gallant men and women in uniforms. A lot of them get maimed and even die on the job, so a dependable pension plan at their disposal is often a great motivator for them and a consolation for their families.
* Training: All of them should be sent on periodic and vast trainings as often as possible. A perpetually trained workforce is a perpetually better one.
* Quality Education: I think provision should be made by the government for the children of these men and women in the forces to have quality education up to university level. If you cannot invest in their children's' education, then whats the point of anything, really?
* Accessible Healthcare: This is so important for the forces and their families. Thankfully there are several affordable Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) in Nigerian now, with flexible plans which they can be signed up on.
* Modern Weapons: Sigh. From when I was a kid, up until now, it seems armed robbers and terrorists always have far better weapons than the police and military. I've seen this withmy own two eyes. This is unacceptable and should be rectified.
* Benefits: Several other juicy benefits should be thrown in for them just like other private organizations do.
I think if most of what I have listed above can be integrated, we would see an impressionable and positive change from our policemen and military forces. Having said that, if all of the above are done and any policeman is caught misbehaving by taking bribes, harassing and intimidating citizens using their position and uniform or engaging in disorderly conduct involving alcohol, then they should be made to face the full wrath of the law!