Media Scourge Versus Police Enigma

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Mummy, mummy, four

            people with guns and in uniform stopped daddy’s car on our way to Zoo today and asked daddy to bring out some documents. And when we got to the Zoo, another group of three men and a woman holding pen and papers were trying to question daddy and I what we were doing at the Zoo.

Ade, a three-year old boy was narrating his experience to his mother when his father took him and his two siblings to the Zoo in Lagos for excursion during the Easter period.

Oblivious of the roles and duties of these two groups of ‘interlopers’ trying to meddle into the affairs of his family, Ade saw the four policemen holding the gun at a check-point and the four journalists with pen and papers at the Zoo as unnecessary threats to them. Ade had already made up his mind not to follow his father to the Zoo again. But his mother who explained the roles of the men in uniform and the duties of the members of the pen fraternity saved the situation.

That was a similar explanation the author of the book we are all gathered here to launch today tried to offer to his audience in “Media Reports and Police Image in Re-branding Nigeria”.

All over the world, two prominent institutions that hold the key to the survival of any society are the Mass Media and the Police Force. No society survives without information. As the carrier of information, the mass media is not just the watchdog of the society, but also the conscience of the nation. But for the mass media, our society would have remained in the medieval age and most countries of the world would have continued to languish under the tyranny of military dictatorship.

In the same vein, the Police Force is another important institution that has helped in keeping the world together. It is pre-requisite to social orderliness. Besides its unique role as the law enforcement agent, the task of peace-keeping operations around the world rests on its shoulders. It is not for nothing that the United Nations accords the Police Force the necessary respect and dignity.

Ironically, while the men and women in Police uniform in other parts of the world are held in high esteem, the Nigeria Police receive the strings of bullet from the Nigerian populace.

Reasons for this are not far-fetched. Of all the Nigerian institutions with image problems, the Nigeria Police Force ranks the worst. Its mere mentioning instills fear and creates suspicion in people’s minds. No one hears the word ‘Police’ in Nigeria without looking over his shoulders.

The Transparent International (TI) in one of its recent reports described the Nigeria Police as one of the worst harbingers of corrupt practices. The image of the Nigeria Police, to say the least, has gathered so much stains that no detergent can cleanse overnight. The battered image of this important institution has not only made the men and women in Police uniform the butt of beer parlour jokes, but has also earned Nigeria an unenviable status among comity of nations.

But how did Nigeria come about this ugly image? How did an important institution such as the Police Force become the scoff of the town? Why, how and when did the Nigeria Police become object of ridicule? Are mass media reports and several other reports by the anti-corruption agencies about the Nigeria Police true reflections of their image? If these reports are correct, then what detergent can we apply to cleanse the dirty linen in the stable of the Police.

These are some of the questions Mr. Celestine Msunwi Dickson tries to provide answers to in his book. “Media Reports And Police Image In Re­branding Nigeria”.

 The eight-chapter book is more or less an image laundering effort for the Nigeria Police in particular and Nigeria in general. It tries to key into the Re­branding Nigeria Project being championed by the Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili, all in an attempt to correct some of the negative impressions created around the Nigeria Police, as well as assisting the Nigerian public to form the right attitude and mindset about Nigeria.

The book tries to rationalize the inefficiencies of the Nigeria Police to combat crimes and maintain law and order. It also tries to absolve the men and women in Police uniform of the acts of criminality that pervade the Nigerian society.

According to the author, The recruits are poorly trained because the training facilities are grossly inadequate for such a large number of recruits (Page 53).

He continues his justifications on page 55 by referring to a statement credited to the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomasie that ……. anytime a citizen becomes a public figure, his first official correspondence on assuming duty is to write the Inspector General of Police to ask for an orderly and Policemen to guard his house … Everybody wants to use the Police as a status symbol, yet the members of the organization remain without accommodation, adequate remuneration, tools to work with, transport to patrol, effective communication and intelligence outfit to support their operation.

As a man who has a stake in the Nigeria Police, these justifications are not unexpected from the author. He, however, concedes that a significant number of Policemen have lost their morale compass due to corrupt practices and utter depravity of humanity.

Nevertheless, the author argues, although without enough justifications, that the negative image being suffered by the Police was as a result of misinformation and misrepresentation by the mass media.

It is pertinent to say at this juncture that there is no institution without its own ugly side. Only the degree and depth of depravity and rot differs. Just as the Police enigma continues to haunt and assail the nation, so does the recklessness of some people in the media industry continue to give the media profession a bad name. But in spite of this ugly side, the Nigeria Press remains the most vibrant in Africa in terms of informing, educating and entertaining the public, as well as in its watchdog role; just as the Nigerian Police remain one of the highly, respected forces by the United Nations. That Nigeria is enjoying democracy today is to the credit of both the Nigerian Press and the Police.

It is in view of this that I find it subjective and offensive the author’s conclusion on page 56 that the journalism industry in Nigeria is now left in the hands of quacks who habour hatred and bitterness for the Police and whose mission is to misinform, misrepresent and mislead the public, just because the media tries to perform its watchdog role over the Police and in the process exposes some of the dirty linens of the men and women in Police uniform.

Is the Nigeria Media also responsible for illegal check-points mounted by the Policemen across the country to extort money from the public? This is the question we should ask ourselves.

Nonetheless, the author demonstrates rare courage and patriotic zeal in handling his diagnosis of what I will call Nigeria’s unenviable image. He recognizes the might of the pen and argues brilliantly that the Nigerian media holds the key to the success of the Re-branding Nigeria Project. He therefore charged the mass media practitioners to focus more on the good sides of the Nigerian society.

But while it is right to assert that the Nigerian media should begin to temper national foibles and, idiosyncrasies with something noble and inspirational, the Nigerian society, especially the Police should also live above board and should not abuse the power of the gun or see themselves as the instruments of oppression, coercion, repression, intimidation and exploitation, even in the face of provocation.

We will be playing to the gallery if we see the mass media as an image laundering agent or as a mere tool in the hands of government and the powers-that-be. For clarification purposes, the mass media, besides its primary assignment of informing, educating and entertaining the audience, has the onerous responsibility of holding government and the governed accountable.

And as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the Press is not expected to grovel under the feet of the government. And I doubt if the intention of the Akunyili’s Re-branding Nigeria Project is to consign the truth in the garbage of lies or to make Nigerian Press look like a carrot in the hands of government. This is where the real challenges lie in ambush for Dickson’s book.

Again, the book would have been more interesting and challenging if the author had focused only on the theme of the book which borders on media reports and Police image. Nevertheless, the 160 – page book, in spite of its literary deficiencies, unnecessary comments and zigzagged analyses that are often associated with budding writers, leaves the readers with the assignment of exploring and discovering some facts about the Nigerian Police, the mass media and Nigeria at large. The challenges are now yours.

 

This review was  presented by Mr. Boye Salau at the presentation /launching of a book “Media Reports and Police Image In Re-Branding Nigeria” held at the Love Garden, Rivers State University Of Science And Technology, Port Harcourt on Friday, December 3, 2010

 

Boye Salau