Our police, their servants: How Nigeria's VIPs use police officers, others as domestic servants

THE PUNCH Newspaper

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. Nowadays, it is also worth a thousand online shares and memes.

In a picture that went viral last December, the wife of the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, was seen holding her hands in reverence during a Muslim prayer session. She was flanked by a man and three women, including her paramilitary orderly.

But it was not her supplication that drew the most attraction. It was her orderly, a female officer who was holding the First Lady’s designer handbag that became the talk of the town.

Across Nigeria, it is common sight to see orderlies or security escorts carrying the handbags or umbrellas of those they are supposed to protect.

The trend was further highlighted recently when a video of a similar incident went viral.

In the 30-second video, which went viral about three weeks ago, Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Mr. Abdulrahman Dambazau, seated and wearing a white kaftan, appeared as if he couldn’t be bothered as his security escort, alleged to be an officer of the Department of State Service, cleaned his shoes with seeming gusto at an event which held at the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps Academy in Abuja last December.

While the orderly was cleaning Dambazau’s shoes, his service pistol was protruding loosely from under his jacket.

Similarly, last year, the photo of a male police orderly carrying the handbag of a woman outside the premises a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, surfaced online.

The military is not exempted from this practice. In March last year, ex-beauty queen, Dabota Lawson-Aku, was seen with her male military escort carrying one of her bags as she strolled regally on her arrival in Abia State.

Shoe shiners, bag carriers, errand boys

Stooping so low for their principals might have become a norm for police or paramilitary officers attached to Nigeria’s rich, who see escorts as a status symbol.

Sergeant Joshua (not real name) was recruited into the Nigeria Police Force 18 years ago. Although he had a diploma certificate, he had dropped out of the university due to lack of funds.

He knew the risks involved in police work. However, Joshua got more than he bargained for, not in the line of duty fighting crime, but as a police orderly who provides security for some of Nigeria’s civilian Very Important Personalities, including an influential senator.

‘VIP’ is a common term used to describe notable figures. In Nigeria, they include local government or council chairmen, traditional rulers, state governors, the president, politicians, senior army, police and paramilitary officers, wealthy, influential personalities across different sectors, celebrities, and so on.

Joshua, a father of three, recalled an incident: “The senator treated me like a slave. But then, even a slave is entitled to certain rights and privileges, is it a crime to give one’s service to one’s fatherland?”

He further said, “Sometimes when one is hungry and needs to get some food, it is impossible to do so, even with two orderlies present. He would shout at me, and ask why I must go out without his permission.

“They send us on errands with their wives, children or girlfriends, to buy things from eateries. If you say no, it becomes a problem and they threaten to report you to your superior officers, they shout at you and make you look stupid before others. I feel hurt each time such happens. One is not happy being treated that way and one loses morale. At times, the VIP would request for one’s withdrawal.”

Joshua is not alone in the pit of despair. In a fit of rage, one orderly told our correspondent how he had once almost turned his firearm at his boss for a series of maltreatment.

Another officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that some influential Nigerians they protect treat them badly because they believe they are not educated or smart enough.

“Usually, we are trained to give security coverage to VIPs, but some of them use insulting language to address us. As orderlies, we don’t get extra money, just our salary, unless the VIP is generous. So, although one is posted to the VIP by one’s superiors he (VIP) sees you as his direct employee. ”

For some, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a VIP to give them any sort of allowance.

One of the orderlies attached to a traditional chief said some of them who are seconded to local government or council chairmen sometimes got N500 or N1,000 as allowance only when they complained of hunger.

“If I had another option, I won’t be a police orderly because there is nothing special about it. They have driven my children from school because I can’t pay their fees and I want to sell my television to raise money,” another orderly, who gets extra income from running a small beer shop, told SUNDAY PUNCH.

Another corporal, who did not want to be named, said, “Sometimes they simply ignore our greetings to let us know that we were not in the same class with them. There was a woman that asked some of my colleagues to regularly pack bunch of bananas from her vehicle to the house. When he refused, the woman called her husband, who now called our bosses.

“We wash their clothes and cars; carry their handbags, and engage in all forms of domestic chores.”

An average officer of the Nigeria Police is one of the poorest paid among officials of other security agencies in the country.

A police orderly told SUNDAY PUNCH that the risks sometimes involved was not worth the sacrifice or denigration.

“Being a uniformed person, one does not know one’s enemy or that of the VIP, but they know one. Some of my friends have lost their lives trying to protect VIPs. The assailants sometimes could be better armed and in the course of an attack, one must do everything to protect the VIP, because that is what you are paid for. In doing that, the orderly may lose his life, be severely injured or maimed.”

Juicy perks

An orderly, who gave his name as Corporal Jonas, however noted that some of his colleagues go as far as lobbying to get juicy postings to some VIPs, but such opportunities are rare.

“Some (VIPs) don’t pay while some are generous. One of my friends, who worked with a civilian VIP, is doing well. So, it depends on the relationship. It is opportunity and luck. For me, I am still praying to get that kind of job.”

He told our correspondent how a constable, who was promoted to a corporal and transferred to another location, begged to remain at his ‘duty post’ as an escort to a particular ‘big man.’

Another orderly told our correspondent that he was paid less than N50,000 as a police corporal, and that the extras he got as an orderly helps him take care of his family. “Some VIP can pay between N20,000 and N50,000, depending on how one behaves. Again, some of us like to do ‘eye service,’ to get favours from our VIP bosses.” he said.

A security expert, Mr. Ona Ekhomu, noted that economic benefits may be tied to the reasons why officers attached as security details go as far as doing menial duties for their bosses.

He explained, “When a police officer gets such a job, because they are not well paid, it is a bonanza for them. They get special accommodation, go to big parties and eat special food with their bosses; they fly on planes with them, sometimes on first class or business class—something they may never have aspired to.”

Joshua told our correspondent of a commissioner in one of the states in the oil-rich Niger Delta who bought cars for each of the four policemen attached to him. “Not all VIPs are bad. Some have built houses for their police escorts, but there are some that are extremely bad,” he noted.

Jonas added, “Those attached to oil companies are doing well and they now drive big cars. I would be very happy if I can get that kind of attachment. Our remuneration is very poor. In the North, where I served, most of my colleagues would spend twice their salaries buying things on credit before their salaries would be paid. When their wives gave birth or their children are hospitalised, they have no money to pay for their hospital bills. Some go to the extent of robbery or suicide. Last month, a colleague committed suicide because he could not cope.”

According to another orderly, while an officer basically survives on a meagre salary of between N39,000 and N50,000 monthly, depending on the rank— Constable, Corporal or Sergeant— some VIPs usually paid them monthly for their services.

But it comes with a catch. He said, “If you are posted from your station to a VIP, the money that is meant for you will be sent there; then maybe 60 or 70 per cent goes to your superiors, while the rest comes to you the orderly; whereas, it is the orderly that is doing all the work and taking all the risks; which is not fair.

“When I worked as an orderly for a politician (name withheld), I was supposed to get N100,000 per month, but no feeding, nothing else. But at the end of the month, I only got only N40, 000; N60, 000 went to the station. In another instance, I got about N38,000. At another time, I was paid N75,000 per month, but then, I got less than half of that from my superiors. One can’t complain. When one does, the ogas would say, ‘Abuja was aware and also getting some percentages.’”

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, Mrs. Olabisi Kolawole, told SUNDAY PUNCH that any police officer worth his salt would face his professional and constitutional duties of protecting citizens, and not doing domestic work for them.

On the allegation that some superior officers short-changed orderlies, the Force PRO said, “If they (orderlies) are entitled to any amount, I think they would give it to them. The VIPs are not supposed to pay them; they are supposed to protect the VIPs. But let’s get one thing clear, there is an allowance that you pay the officers when you request for their services to protect your company. That is the one I know. But I don’t know about the one of civilian VIPs paying them, and whether their superiors are taking from their money or not, I don’t know about that.

“They should know their rights, when to say yes and when to say no. Aside from that, the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, has directed that no police officer should carry any bag or luggage for any VIP. That is not their responsibility. They should face their job, carry their arms and protect the VIP. The job terms of references are there. The IGP has continuously warned officers not to do that again, and they have asked the VIPs to stop using police officers. He recently directed that they should be monitored. Any officer found going outside his responsibility should be handled and reported. The Police continue to warn and advise both the officers and the VIPs to desist from that act. The VIPs can get their domestic aides. The police officers should respect their profession.”

A former Director of the State Security Services, Mr. Mike Ejiofor, emphasised that security details should not carry out domestic jobs for their principals.

Ejiofor said, “Their job specification is to take care of the security of the principal and his/her immediate family; every other thing aside from that is wrong. But the relationship between the principal and the security detail must be good and cordial, but not to the extent of being subservient or domesticating oneself.

“In this particular incident, suppose there was an attack on his principal, how would he (escort) have known? The attacker could have killed the security man first because his attention has been divided. It is worrisome; it breeds unprofessionalism and it’s an embarrassment to the various security agencies, because it is mainly the police and the Department of State Service that provide such security escorts.”

According to the ‘code of conduct and professional standards for police officers’ of the Nigeria Police Force, “The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.”

Ekhomu also noted that the use of security details or escorts has been abused by many VIPs in the country.

He said, “Assigning close protection professionals, or what we call Executive Protection specialists, to political executives or businessmen is well intended. It is usually predicated on the risk assessment of the principal (VIP), such as kidnap risk, suicide bomber rates, armed robbery, political violence, and so on. The level of the risk would now determine which individual VIP should receive close protection, because it is assumed that whatever role they play in society is so critical. That is why police work for governors, politicians and police executives.

“But here in Nigeria, like everything else, they do abuse it from time to time. The domestication of security details is a common practice. Having those people carry handbags and do menial domestic duties is dehumanising and it is unfortunate. But having said that, human interaction is important; the security escort wants his boss or the agency he represents to be pleased with him.”

Like the security experts, many Nigerians have expressed their disappointment over the use of police and paramilitary officers serving as security escorts to VIPs — traditional rulers, renowned politicians, government officials, council chairmen, or influential personalities or celebrities – for domestic chores.

A lecturer and a former coordinator, Psychology Unit, Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, Lagos, Dr. Ajibola Asekun, could not hide his disappointment when he saw one recently.

“I was at the international airport with a traditional ruler and I saw how he shouted at his escort who was carrying his briefcase, his complaint was that the officer was too slow for his liking. This kind of treatment can only further diminish the self-esteem of the officer which is already low. It is unprofessional, to say the least, for officers to engage in menial tasks outside their professional duties.”

A construction worker in Port Harcourt, Mr. Samuel Okon, described as an insult to the security institution in Nigeria the use of orderlies by VIPs as domestic chores. He said, “It is a bad practice that should stop. I have seen a lot of them do menial duties; that is why we are having issues with the police, they should ban our politicians and big men from using more than one or two policemen as their orderlies, some have up to 10.”

One policeman to 600 people

Nigeria has about 306,000 serving police officers. Out of this number, over 100,000 are reportedly attached to individuals.

Thus, the citizen/police ratio in Nigeria, with a population of about 170 million people, stands at one police officer for every 555 citizen, or about 180 police officers per 100,000 people.

This falls short of the global average, according to data from the United Nations, which indicated that it should be about 340 police officers per 100,000 people. The UN also recommends a minimum police strength of 220 per 100,000 people.

Nigeria is said to have one of the highest crime rates in Africa.

A retired commissioner of police, Mr. Yomi Onasile, said the ratio of police officers to citizens for a country like Nigeria, with its security challenges, was not good enough.

“When you have two or three officers protecting a VIP, the larger society is being short-changed because there are not enough officers to protect them. Yes, it is important that we protect our VIPs and our leaders, but it should not be to the detriment of the public. We should recruit more people into the force.”

A security expert, Mr. Emeka Nwenyi, said private security firms should be recruited to give protection to VIPs that are not necessitated by law to have police escorts.

He said there are over 10,000 registered security companies and about 5,000 to 6,000 licensed security outfits in Nigeria.

“They need to take advantage of the numerous private security outfits we have in the country today; then the police would be left to perform their primary functions,” he said.

Restructuring a system

Onasile said the domestication of police officers attached as security details to VIPs was not only demeaning to the individuals, but to the police force as a whole.

He said, “It is really damaging for the police force. Today, you see policemen in bathroom slippers and going about as errand boys. In our time, this practice was not as bad as it is now. That is one of the reasons why the Police don’t command respect anymore.”

Onasile called for better recruitment process, as well as better salary package for police officers.

“I don’t see how a graduate or PHD holder from the universities of Lagos or Ibadan would be posted to a VIP and he would go there to wash plates or carry handbags. Also, graduates won’t collect N50 or N100 from motorists, but when we recruit motor touts or area boys with little or no education, he can afford to collect such without any shame. With a poor salary package, an orderly would do anything for a VIP; even wash that person’s underwear, because that is where he gets his own bread and butter.”

Thousands of police officers have died without getting proper insurance benefits for the families they left behind.

A retired colonel of the Nigerian Army, Dr. Sunday Majekodunmi, said orderlies attached to senior military or police officers should not be compared to what is being practised by orderlies attached to civilian VIPs.

He said, “A senior officer of my rank is entitled to some paraphernalia, including having an orderly or a batch-man. They are required by discipline to do some minor tasks for senior officers they are attached to. But this cannot be compared with how a security detail from paramilitary agencies carries out domestic duties for their civilian bosses; it is an abuse and misuse of the security personnel, at the expense of security for the VIP. It is very unprofessional. A detail should stick to providing security first for his boss.”

Ejiofor said special courses should be organised for all security agencies that provide security details and escorts to help define their job specifications.

The National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the poor public presentation of the Nigeria Police Force and its members were among the issues identified by the Civil Society Police reform Panel during its Public Hearings across the country’s geopolitical zones in 2012.

He said, “The domestic and demeaning use of police officers by politicians, or by wives and girlfriends of politicians and other wealthy and influential persons in society to run errands outside police duties reduce the prestige of the police officer and the police as an institution. These are among the major causes of lack of public confidence in the police. Equally, the unkempt appearance of police officers, the shabby police stations, filthy and dilapidated police barracks have created a deep contempt for the police in the minds of the public. Police officers should be adequately remunerated and motivated to reduce the present low self-esteem that pervades the junior and some senior ranks.”

Asekun added that the negative perception of the police as a profession for “socially out-classed persons,” tended to lower their self-esteem; while “undue criticisms made them more resentful and led to “wrong judgements which can manifest in shooting an innocent person, emotional outburst, poor social skills, that lead to mistreatments of suspects.”

He further said, “It is ridiculous that relevant authorities ever allowed this practice (domesticating orderlies) in the first place. Many officers have no homes to always go to for emotional support. Besides, they are not there to raise their own kids. Thus an average Nigerian police officer is embittered and angry at the system that expects them to serve loyally, but has little or no respect for them.”


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