Calling it a cold war may not be the best description of the disturbing altercation that has been going on in the last one month between the Police Service Commission, PSC and the top echelon of the Nigeria Police Force. But in the absence of any better way to describe it, cold war comes close to it.
The matter which both sides have been trying to stop from boiling over into the public space has to do with the recent recruitment of 10,000 police constables. The exercise is in response to a presidential directive. But, so far, it has remained inconclusive.
The Police Service Commission says the list of successful recruits has been padded by the police, the way Federal government’s budget was padded a couple of years ago. The top echelon of the Police Force, according to the PSC, has infiltrated the recruitment exercise; as well as removed some names of candidates who have been tested and found suitable for recruitment. And those names have been replaced them with persons who did not go through the recruitment exercise. Using the popular Nigerian parlance, some top police officers have smuggled in names of their favourite persons through the back-door.
If this is true, then it is unfortunate. But sounding as if there is no smoke without fire, a PSC commissioner, Austin Braimoh, confirmed to Saturday Punch that the list that the force released to the public has been contaminated; in fact polluted.
This matter has been brought to the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari. But like a father, always desirous of peace in the family, the president advised the PSC and the police to work amicably together. The issue, messy as it is, ought to have been allowed to rest.
But there are matters arising. And in my view, they go beyond two agencies of government fighting to protect or safeguard their respective turfs. I am not sure the issue of bribery which is a heinous feature of corruption, came up when the president addressed the parties to the dispute.
Even if there is no money changing hand, it is bad enough that names of genuine candidates, possibly scions of society’s hoi polloi, who should naturally attract the sympathetic attention of government, have been expunged from the list; and have been replaced by sons of the shakers and movers of society.
That is bad enough. But it gets worse when allegation of bribe-taking is thrown into the mix. According to the Punch report, a former chairman of the workers’ union at the Police Service Commission said, almost on oath, that he knew some candidates whose names were removed by the police during the medical screening because of their inability to pay bribe money.
These candidates were replaced by those who did not attend the PSC recruitment exercise. Some of them because they could bribe their way. Or because they are sons and daughters of persons close to influential people in government.
I am not particularly interested in the childish fight for turf by the police and the PSC. Without any scintilla of doubt, the PSC has the constitutional mandate to recruit and discipline police personnel up to the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police.
The PSC may not want to cede this authority to anybody else without an amendment to the constitution. This is even if the highest authorities in the land say so. And I am not sure that the presidency would not want to sit by and watch this show of shame get out of hand and soil the image of the government.
Having said this, my main concern here is the corruption element in this sordid power play. Is the president aware of this? This money for job business, is he aware of it? And if he is not, somebody must bring it to his attention. This is because this job for sale business is part and parcel of the corruption he has sworn to fight and vanquish.
“If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us” has been one of the famous sound bites of this anti-corruption crusading president. Even if the war against corruption has been seen to be wobbling instead of gaining traction, President Buhari must not be seen to be giving up.
The man who corruptly pays his way into the Police Force as constable will do whatever it takes to recover his money. And he will extort and even kill to get that money. Is it any wonder therefore why some unfortunate motorists get killed for refusing to part with N200 at police check point?
But the Police is not the only institution of government where applicants pay to be employed. This noxious practice has become common-place; and only the incurable hypocrite would deny this and proclaim otherwise. Even at the highest level of governments, the best and the brightest may not have a chance today. He must know somebody who knows somebody to pave the way for him.
I know a graduate who has credible certificate from a well certificated university. One day, he asked me to help him to look for any job opportunity. I promised to help as much as possible.
He didn’t forget to let me know that he had been able to save some money in case his prospective employers would require him to grease their palms. I shook my head in wonderment.
This is what Nigeria has been reduced to by dubious characters who have found themselves in positions of authority. And when you frown at this unwholesome practice, some of them wonder if you are a kind of dinosaur. Everybody does it, they are quick to tell you. They collect the bribe in cash or in kind; depending on the gender of their unfortunate victims.
I wonder how the president would react if told that this is the practice that has become rampant; especially in public service. I am sure he would find it difficult to believe it. Living in denial may not be a bad idea because the reality of it is galling enough.
But the question to ask is this: has this war against corruption overwhelmed him? I remember – how can I forget – that he has said many times at the risk of repeating himself that he would not, never, allow anybody to use his money to buy his way into public office.
Defined most liberally, this would mean that political office seekers must be pristinely clean and untainted by allegations of corruption; or any other form of malfeasance to have any chance of getting to political office.
Apparently, this is easier said than done. Many political office holders today must be grinning from ear to ear, laughing the president to scorn. This is because the majority of them have used their ill-gotten money to pay their way into public office. Does the president know or does he not know? Or, he is simply overwhelmed, he can’t be bothered?
At the end of the day, it comes down to credibility or lack of it. Majority of Nigerians believe that President Buhari is a man of abundant integrity. Consequently, he must be seen to be worried when government officials openly hawk jobs to poor, pitiable applicants; or even to those who should help his government to achieve its publicly advertised objectives.
If such people are to pay bribe money to be given the opportunity to serve, won’t that be an incentive to corruption? And corruption, by popular acclaim, is anathema in this administration. Be it in the Police Force or elsewhere in the corridors of power.
For the sake of his credibility and the preservation of his integrity, somebody must bring all known cases of perfidy and crooked dealings in official circles to his attention. We can’t all fold our arms and allow official corruption to kill us.