Protecting the corpers (and everyone else)

With 48 hours to go to the Passing Out Parade of NYSC ‘Batch B’, 5 Corp members who were kidnapped a week ago in Omademe village, in Ikwerre Local Government of Rivers state are yet to be released. All 5 are supposed to be taking part in closing activities for the service year, but are held captive by people who want N100 Million for their safe return. Up till this moment, there is no statement from the NYSC as to the identities of the corp members, in a silence reminiscent of that during the post-election violence. Only one name is known: Olamide Yusuf. The Rivers state government has refused to pay the ransom in order to prevent a future occurrence, but it is too late for that. Kidnapping has long since become an industry in the South-East and South-South states, helped by ransom payments for expatriates, handled by the SSS in some cases.  It is not the first time corpers in rivers state are being kidnapped, and as each day passes and the youths are not returned, surely the government must cough up the ransom and let the corpers return to their homes, if security agents cannot find and liberate them like they are supposed to.

Of course, there are wider issues here. In the aftermath of the elections, there were widespread calls for the reform or scrapping of the NYSC on grounds of insecurity. Many of these calls missed the point: any system that operates in Nigeria is beset by Nigeria’s problems. NYSC members are not safe because Nigeria is not safe and any attempt to give corps members ‘special protection’ is impractical. The simple truth is that the security situation in this country is a disaster and stopping the posting of corpers to ‘crisis prone’ areas is actually the easy way out. It is not a real solution.

It is also not a solution to pass the buck for the nation’s security by whipping up latent tribal sentiments in the media, or to use concerns over insecurity as a cover for bigotry. This strategy only served to distract the country, for a while, from a cluelessness at the top that almost defies belief. Boko Haram are emboldened and now make demands, including asking for amnesty like their MEND counterparts got, while MEND never tire of reminding us about how much hell they have still to raise.

How did we get here? Nigeria’s large numbers of unemployed youth are ready tools in the hands of politicians who foment trouble throughout the country, but they only do this with impunity because they can. How many of the bomb blasts, kidnapping and sectarian clashes in this country have been definitively solved? How many people have been brought to justice? We must stop our lip service to police reform in this country and empower our policemen to protect us. It is more than buying vehicles and parading them on NTA.

We cannot continue to pay our legislators such astronomical amounts of money, while we treat our policemen like trash. If we paid them well, they wouldn’t stand on the road to collect twenty or fifty naira from danfo drivers. Every aspect of their training and welfare must be looked into in order for them to effectively fight crime, and to make the police force attractive for others to join. Elsewhere in the world, children grow up wanting to become police officers, but this is not the case here. No one who sees the way policemen are treated in this country will want to become one. The conditions in our police barracks all over the country are deplorable. At times, for months or years retirement benefits are not paid. Some die while waiting for them.

Why has the police force been neglected for so long? Is it because of the huge amounts of money given as security vote? Perhaps part of the solution is to take that money away and use it to actually provide security. For everyone. State police, while desirable on paper, is too advanced for the primitive politics and weak institutions that still exist in this country. They would be used by incumbents to intimidate opponents, so for the foreseeable future, it is the Federal Government’s responsibility. It is one they must live up to, whether they like it or not.

Laws are only effective when there is a system in place to enforce them. Without a sure deterrent for crime, it manifests in ever more dramatic forms as we slide into the abyss. Only a year ago, bombs were unheard of in this country. Those who commit these crimes only do because they know that more often than not, they will go scot free.

The days of ‘panels of inquiry’, examining ‘immediate and remote causes’ should be a thing of the past. What is needed now is jobs, jobs, jobs and a police force that is worthy of the name.

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