A coin normally has two faces only. However, in some climes and under certain circumstances, it may appear that the coin maybe multifaceted. Therein lays the paradox of the faces of a coin. Or is that why we find it difficult to accept the coin as a currency denomination, otherwise the note too has two faces. Encounters with some members of the security forces that are the true faces of these agencies or may not be reveals that indeed we are faced with many faces of the same coin. Whether good, bad or ugly, an experience with them reveals the level of professionalism and indeed the rot that many systems in the country have had to contend with.
The purported saying that the police is your friend or not is best captured in the experience I had why traveling from Ibadan to Benue during the yuletide in 2013. It is a well known occurrence during festive seasons that all manner of personnel dot the roads in search of prey whom they will devour or exploit, as there is always a fault to be found on the vehicle or particulars. On this fateful day,at the exit from the expressway from Ojoo into the state roads at Iwo road we were flagged down by some armed policemen. Our papers were okay, but one of them took me on since I was wearing my ID tag. Having asserted that we were driving in a factory-fitted tinted glass vehicle, he went on to inform us that we had broken the law which was a high court offence and therefore we must follow him to the station or settle them with N10,000 cash. We pleaded to no avail. As if we were the cause of the rot in the force, he vituperated further that we lecturers fail students unjustly and massively.
I thought maybe he must have failed woefully in one of those institutions, so I told him that it was not in the character of a lecturer to fail a student and that the University of Ibadan where I come from is above board and that is why we don’t even sell handouts and force students to buy our books. Not satisfied, he went on by pontificating that the chaplet in our car was attacking him spiritually and he was not himself again. But who can argue with an armed robber, certainly only one out of his/her mind would argue with someone with a gun. For many have been allegedly gunned down by these friends of the public and proclaimed as robbers or much less victims of robbery attacks for failing to accede to their demands. Previously, he had played the ethnic card by speaking with my wife in his language so as to gauge the lever of extortion. We had no choice but to part with our hard-earned money to an armed man using the powers of his gun to preach to us on every subject that presented it directly or indirectly.
We had broken the extant rule on tinted vehicular glass long outlawed during the military era, but a product of intensive research from the developed world to protect passengers from harmful solar radiation and for purposes of right of privacy even on the road. No wonder since we have a paucity of research products, our very agencies are destroying the products of hard-won research gotten from other lands for health benefits as factory-fitted tinted glass are meant to protect from harmful solar radiation while on the road. Although no bombs have been uncovered in factory-fitted tinted glass vehicles, the measure has been in place for a clearance to be obtained with ‘’immediate effect’’. Like most draconian legislations that do not consider the sensibilities and responsiveness of the hapless citizenry, vehicle owners of factory-fitted tinted glasses have been on the receiving end through police extortions and intimidations on the highways. A market has been created for the extorting police to rake in between 10-15K from their victims.
Unlike the FRSC that gave a time frame and even extended it for number plates, the rule on tinted glasses is with ‘’immediate effect’’ as if we are in a military regime. This is most unfortunate, as law abiding owners would have no time for the replacement of neither the previously lawful tinted glass nor obtaining a licence or clearance from the police authorities. This is discomforting in that some would be forced to move only within restricted zones in order to avoid the recalcitrant police flagging them down for what is clearly a bogus and insensitive rule. This impinges on the freedom of movement of the citizenry. For they never give a breathing space when there is a so-called overstep. However, on the same fateful day, there was an exception in Ondo State at the boundary with Edo towards Okenne. This particular police officer on seen that all our papers were right with the exception of the permit on vehicular tinted glasses, having identified ourselves, cautioned us to make use of the next opportunity to obtain the permit without us begging him.
This was no doubt a hard reminder that good men are still in the police having been extorted by the same force members with abusive statements on the same day in Ibadan, simply because he was armed from the taxpayer’s money. It is quite possible that the sensible police man in Ondo thought about the cumbersome nature of obtaining the permit, the unnecessary cost of replacing the factory-fitted glasses, the recklessness of the resurrected extant rule and the rightness in all our other papers in deciding to wave us through without demanding a bribe. This showed how sensible the rank and file of the force can be, as I reflected.
There is no gain saying that with the calibre of leadership in the police force today, it could not have assumed the inglorious role of ‘’immediate effect ‘’ syndrome reminiscent of the military era in resurrecting and enforcing extant rules without giving adequate time for the citizenry to adjust to the situation. In this case, the police force should, like the FRSC on number plates, give a time frame within which vehicle owners with tinted glasses are allowed to change them to transparent screens or obtain the necessary permits to continue using them. After all they were lawful in the first instance and cleared by Customs at the point of entry into the country in the recent past. The process of obtaining such a tinted glass permit should be clearly defined and possible across the country within 24 hours or less.
Otherwise, it can be safely assumed that a new extortion avenue has been created for the lesser mortars in the force (and their collaborators in the stations) that stand on the roads flagging down vehicles looking for an infringe of the law. As good as the rule is in checkmating terrorism as it were, the citizenry need not be reminded of the military fiat with which things were being done in a dictatorship without recourse to allowing them to do what is right. The tinted glass vehicles have been legally cleared for entry into the country, before they were put to use, so the owners shouldn’t be treated now as criminals through no fault of theirs. Nigerians and other vehicle owners with tinted glasses need to be treated with dignity and respect. The force should stop treating everyone as a suspect and criminal. Give the citizenry the time to do the ‘’new’’ right thing on vehicle tinted glass.
Emmanuel Tyokumbur, Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters