The Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, wants to raise the entry point salary in the force from N28,000 to N100,000. He is proposing the increase as part of his effort to reform a force that is so ill-trained, poorly equipped, unmotivated, corrupt and dangerous that it is universally vilified and held in the highest odium and ridicule of all the institutions of the dilapidated Nigerian state.
The police may not entirely deserve that reputation, considering how thick the layers of slime that cover every other key organ of state. From a presidency that does not flinch at a billion naira food budget and that is eager to build a N2 billion banquet hall and a N4 billion “First Lady” secretariat, to the most expensively-paid national legislature in the world, down to ministries and parastatals whose sole reason for existence is contract-mongering, the entire Nigerian public sector is a cesspool of corruption.
Unfortunately for the police, it has by its own hand seared two images indelibly onto the mind of anyone, citizen or foreigner, who has ever travelled a kilometre or two on a busy Nigerian roadway (say from the Lagos airport to Oshodi, or along any motorable stretch of the Benin-Shagamu expressway). They are images of gun-point extortion at roadblocks and of the cold-blooded murder of the citizen who resists being robbed. Abubakar is aware of the daunting image problem of his force and may have taken the first genuine step at doing something concrete about it. He can hardly be faulted for wanting to start by raising the slave salaries of the lowliest of his men and women in the hope of achieving a commensurate boost in morale. A salary, after all, is meant to cater to the material needs of the worker for optimum performance and for a healthy replenishment of the labour pool. Those needs include food, housing, clothing, healthcare, school fees, leisure and saving for a rainy day as well as for retirement.
Yet, somehow, the assumption has been that N28,000 is enough to meet these needs monthly, even if a policeman had only himself to care for. Well, not anymore. “The money you are being paid is not enough,” said Abubakar to the Plateau State Command in Jos. But his “officers and men” know that well enough, so he quickly added, “that is why the police is working towards increasing the money.” Money may not buy happiness, but it might just buy for Abubakar’s troops some sorely needed morale: “We are doing our best to ensure that your morale is high,” he said further, in the hope that they would then do their “best at ensuring that the society is free of any form of crime.’’
Quite often, when we bemoan corruption, we do not make a link to its underlying socio-economic causes. And that is mostly because we are now accustomed to hearing of billion and trillion naira thefts, sums that the ordinary duty officer at a roadblock will never haul home even if he did nothing else but collect N50 notes night and day for ten years. Yet corruption is now choking the country to death simply because it has permeated the entire fabric of our social life. Such that it is now impossible to distinguish it from the norm. Actually, it is now the norm.
Under the intolerable burden of surviving literally on mere air and water, the masses followed the example of their opulent rulers and gradually changed their attitude from condemnation to condonation and approval. A fundamental revision of the ethical code, it required justification in social necessity. As, for instance, the bleak fact that the minimum wage is N18,000. And anybody who has ever bought a fish bigger than her hand or a sizable tuber of yam knows that figure has absolutely no basis in reality. A police constable earning N28,000 has about N900 per day. Now, try feeding one mouth — child or adult, it doesn’t matter — “three square meals” with that! And, while you are at it, be sure to never need a shirt or a pair of shoes; to pay rent or transport fare, school or doctor’s fees.
Any surprise, then, that corruption should become a way of life for us, perpetuated over time chiefly by the thieving ruling class and now enjoying the status of a paramount but unofficial policy of government? Why wouldn’t the clerk at the motor licensing office, the customs officer at the airport, the headmaster of the primary school, the local government officer in charge of market stalls, etc., demand a bribe before doing his or her duty? Back home at the close of work, will the conscientious discharge of his duties silence the wailing children? Pay the school fees of the child home for a week now? Buy the drugs to cure malaria?
Labour congress president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, is ecstatic to the point of prayer about the IG’s proposed minimum wage for police constables. “I pray to the almighty God that the federal government grants the request … they deserve it,” he said. And I say, As well for the cow as for the bull. Now there can be no excuse on the part of Omar not to call for a final showdown with the government for a livable minimum wage of N100,000 for all workers.
Professor Ifowodo, a lawyer and poet, teaches literature at the Texas Central University in the United States.
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