While it is not strange to see policemen mounting checkpoints all over the country, the sight in Maiduguri on Monday when some mobile policemen deployed to the city cut off the Maiduguri-Kano expressway to protest non-payment of salaries and allowances was shocking.
Officially, the police denied that what happened in Maiduguri was a protest, Sergeant Bala (not real name), who is one of the leaders of the action, described it as a protest, for which they are now being fished out for sanctions by police authorities.
Some of the policemen spoken to almost unanimously stressed that the infrequent and sometimes non-payment of their allowances is hindering them. “And that, in turn, is undermining the very security of the nation as a whole,” one of them said, adding: “The Nigeria Police isn’t a charity organisation, so us workers shouldn’t be treated as volunteers.” Another said: “The nation’s security suffers, because those providing it suffer”.
Daily Trust Saturday, speaking with policemen across the country, can reveal that discontent within the police force is rising and policemen in other units across Nigeria are threatening to take similar action over non-payment of salaries and allowances, and deplorable work conditions.
“It is very pathetic to hear that we were all transferred here without any arrangement for our accommodation at all,” Sgt. Bala, whose unit was transferred to Borno State from the Southwest to help combat the insurgency in the northeast, told Daily Trust Saturday.
“Go to the Command Headquarters, and you will see many of us sleeping on the bare floor downstairs. And they have to wake up very early before work starts. Their bags are heaped along the corridor, littering the place. There is also no provision for healthcare and because of this, many of us are lying ill either in hospitals or where anywhere they can find to lay their heads at night,” he said.
Sgt. Bala said there are 44 mobile police units of 63 men each from all over Nigeria posted to Borno in a special assignment to help tackle the insurgency there. Each man, apart from his salary, is entitled to a N1,000 daily allowance, amounting to N30,000 every month.
“I was posted here in January, 2018, but I am telling you that since then, apart from those of us attached to the military, none of us has been paid a kobo in the name of the N30,000 monthly allowance. Those of us attached to the military are duly paid by the military authorities, they are not owed a kobo. But the majority of us posted to other places have not received a kobo for the seventh month now,” Sgt. Bala said.
The importance of these allowances, he explained, cannot be over-emphasized as that is all the policemen have to live on while on these special duties.
“Most of us have left our ATM cards with our wives back at our respective main duty places or the states from where we were transferred here from so that as soon we receive our salary alert we notify them to go to the bank,” he said.
While the sergeant’s ordeal might have just begun in January this year, for some of his colleagues it has been a long-running horror show of neglect. Some of them have been posted to Borno since 2014, shortly before the general elections in 2015.
Their job is to secure the city and towns while the military pushed into the forests and hinterlands of the northeast to tackle insurgents. Since then, they have been guarding public buildings and providing security in liberated towns.
At the moment, about 10,000 policemen in the northeast are groaning under poor working conditions and non-payment of allowances and salaries.
However, Police spokesman DCP Jimoh Moshood, speaking in Abuja, is adamant that what happened in Maiduguri was not a protest by policemen. “Some of the Police Mobile Force personnel on Special Duty in Maiduguri went to the Borno State Police Command Headquarters on enquiry over the delay in the payment of their special duty allowance in the early hours of today and not on protest as reported in some media,” he said.
But while those in Abuja are playing semantics with the events in Maiduguri, as they did when for the first time in the history of the country policemen went on strike on February 1, 2002 over poor work conditions and non-payment or salaries and allowances, disaffection is growing within the rank and file, as Daily Trust Saturday findings show.
That 2002 strike caused then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Musliu Smith, his job. He was unceremoniously sacked by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Incidentally, the same Mr. Smith resurfaced last month when President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him Chairman of the Police Service Commission, the body responsible for overseeing the force. Barely a month into his new role, the same issues that caused his sack 16 years ago are still threatening to derail whatever project he hopes to implement at the PSC. Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, is similarly embattled. With security in the country flailing and issues of police welfare coming to the fore, he has been accused of not acting quick enough to address complaints by his men.
“When the IGP came to Borno, I think last March, we complained to him about the unpaid allowances,” Sgt. Bala said. “He said the delay in the payment was due to delay in passing the federal budget. However, up until last Monday’s protest, nothing was said by anybody about our allowances.”
However, to bring an end to the protest, Mr. Moshood said the police have acted promptly, with the IGP directing the Commissioner of Police (CP), Borno State to address and inform them why there is delay in the payment of the special duty allowance. He said the CP also assured them that since the budget has been approved, the allowances will be processed and paid without any further delay.
But the protesting officers say the police strategy now seems to be to zero in on those found to have been involved in the protest on Monday in Maiduguri for punitive measures.
“The authorities are tormenting all of us on this with threats of summary dismissal,” Sgt. Bala said,“The IGP has directed the Borno CP to investigate the protest. Those identified in the videos are currently being invited for proper identification and investigation, which we are made to understand, may lead to summary dismissal from service for those confirmed to have participated in the protest.
“This identification and investigation exercise began yesterday (Wednesday, 4th July),” he said. He called on rights group, including Amnesty to intervene on their behalf to save their jobs.
But while the police is zeroing in on protesting policemen in the Northeast, discontent is spreading across the force.
At a police checkpoint in Abuja, Sergeant Dele [also not his real name]is busy flagging down vehicles for “stop and search operation.” He has been at this station since January and hasn’t seen his family since then.
“I sleep there,” he said, pointing in the general direction of some trees, “I sleep in the afternoon and work all night, every day since January, putting my life at risk just so I can provide for my family. Everything for N49,000 salary,” he said.
“I was supposed to be here for three months, but this is my sixth month,” he said, visibly enraged. “They are not doing well for us. Some of us don’t get our salaries, we don’t get our allowances, and we are here risking our lives. Look at me, look at my name,” he said, grabbing his name tag for Daily Trust Saturday reporters to see. “This is my name and my rank, put it in the paper, tell them I said they are not trying for us,” the officer said.
Issues of policemen overstaying their post are widespread. It is one of the complaints protesting policemen in Maiduguri highlighted to Daily Trust Saturday.
“The normal duration of every squadron’s stay on special duty here is three months,” Sgt. Bala told our correspondent in Maiduguri.“But because of maladministration, most of us have not been transferred back to our original duty places for the past eight to nine months. I am an example because I am in my seventh month, but there is no news of my transfer.”
“More pathetic is the case of Mopol 26 Squadron transferred from Akwa Ibom State. They are in their ninth month here, but they are yet to receive any news of relief from the special duty. They have been calling their commander back in Akwa Ibom State to complain to him about their overstay here, but they are yet to receive any positive response,” he added.
But even in the mass chaos, there are few exceptions, Sgt. Bala said. “The luckiest among us are those in Mopol 22 Squadron transferred from Ikeja, Lagos. Their commander has been replacing duly after the three months duration. He was not used to doing this until last March when he lost seven of his men in an attack by insurgents,” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday can report that more police officers, especially those manning checkpoints along the major highways out of Abuja, are bracing to go the way of their counterparts in Maiduguri.
A team of policemen who belong to one of the highway patrol squads located along one of the major highways out of Abuja who opened up to Daily Trust Saturday on the difficulties they face in the course of their work said they may be forced to take a cue from what happened in Borno State if nothing is done to address their plight.
They say they cannot continue operating under such poor and insecure conditions, especially barely less than a week after armed attackers gunned down seven of their colleagues in Abuja.
Like their counterparts who protested in Maiduguri, the police officers who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday alleged that they were being owed allowances for six months even as they complained of lack of communication gadgets and functional operational vehicles.
One of them, Sgt.Okoro (not real name) said, “Before the commencement of this operation (code name redacted) we were promised a good welfare package including N40,000 monthly allowance, shelter, and feeding as well as operational vehicle. Instead of the N40,000 promised, they started by paying us only N15,000 per month. Even that has not been paid for the past six months,” the sergeant said, adding that they were neither fed, kitted, nor provided with tents to serve as accommodation.
Pointing towards the opposite side of their operational spot, Sgt. Okoro said, “The owner of the building over there volunteered to accommodate us, otherwise we would’ve suffered in the cold at night. Last week we all got sick because of cold. We are not well-kitted for protection; no bullet-proof vests, raincoats, nothing. Our most important concern is our feeding, because we can’t effectively work without eating.”
Okoro’s colleague, Corporal Aliyu (not real name), wielding an AK-47 rifle, said it is the only weapon they use, with no more than 30 rounds of ammunition to face bandits who have superior weapons and ammunition. “We have no life insurance, no risk allowance. Even our pension is no longer life-oriented with the introduction of PenCom,” he sighed.
Recalling a recent incident, when they heard gunshots from armed bandits nearby and needed to respond but couldn’t, Corporal Aliyu said: “’In the process, an Okada rider was killed while a woman who was returning from the hospital with the corpse of her deceased child was shot in her right arm. We wanted to move there for emergency intervention but unfortunately our vehicle could not move.”
The police officers who said the problems faced at their operational location were similar to those faced by their colleagues elsewhere within and around the Federal Capital Territory and some surrounding states said, “We have complained to our unit commander and sector commander, but all they tell us is to remain patriotic and disciplined. In fact, we depend on the goodwill of passers-by and motorists who occasionally give us tips to feed ourselves.”
“We are also afraid of what happened to seven of our colleagues at the Galadimawa area of Abuja. As you can see we are surrounded in this place by hills, without communication equipment and do not know who is watching us.”
Asked if the IGP is aware of their plight, Sgt.Okoro said, “We believe he is aware of our predicament, but so far we’ve heard nothing, not even a senior officer to address us”.
While urging President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in addressing their problems Sgt. Okoro said: “We are encountering many challenges that government is not addressing. Under normal circumstances, we are supposed to be changed from this operation within three months. But here we are for the past six months without replacement and unpaid allowances.”
“It is possible that we too may take a cue from what happened in Maiduguri in order to show our grievances. Anything can happen!” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday investigations show that the problem is not only restricted to allowances, as salaries are also delayed, and sometimes paid incomplete. Some policemen serving in the northeast confirmed this much to Daily Trust Saturday, saying that they are being short-changed even when they get any payment at all. Some say they have only received half their salaries, with one saying he hasn’t received any payment in four months, a situation that has made life difficult for his family.
Most of the complaints are referred to ‘Abuja’. But a source said it’s frustrating when they travel to the federal capital only to be told the problem is with the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) domiciled at the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Corporal Aliyu complained that in spite of the detailed feedback provided by policemen when the IPPS was introduced, problems still persist in the system.
While the police have been reluctant to categorically state that there are problems within its ranks, IGP Idris earlier in June admitted as much while addressing the rank-and-file from the 36 states of the federation as part of activities marking his second year at the helm. He noted that the police management is working with the office of the Accountant General of the Federation to address challenges with the payment of police personnel salaries. He added that with over 300,000 personnel there have been some challenges but with proper planning the situation would be addressed.
“When you have challenge with salaries you should speak out. Your salary is your right and entitlement, nobody has right to hold on to your salaries,” Mr. Idris told his men.
But while making these pronouncements, what has become clear is that despite facing the challenge of insecurity in the country, the police has a huge problem paying the men in its service, with the House of Reps Committee on Police Affairs having said that the 2018 budget proposal for the Nigeria Police is inadequate and cannot cater for the myriad of security challenges facing the country.
The panel chairman, Rep Haliru Jika (APC, Bauchi), said that his committee would seek to on the N332billion proposed in the budget for the police in consultation with the Budget Office of the federation.
In 2017, the Nigeria Police proposed N342billion for capital projects but only N20.19billion was appropriated, out of which N9.09billion has been released so far. With the budget passed and the rhetoric coming out of the force headquarters in Abuja, the police needs to act fast to contain the growing discontent within its ranks, and to save the nation’s security from looming jeopardy.