It was on a sunny Friday afternoon. Inspector Joy (not real name) stopped by at the stall of a pepper seller on the premises of the Obalende Police Barracks, Lagos. After buying some spices she dashed into a beer parlour adjacent the pepper sellers’ spot.
“I really need to step down. It’s been a long and tiring day. You can join me if you wish,” she advises this correspondent who had requested to have an audience with her as she walked into the beer parlour.
The traffic policewoman who later requested a bottle of stout resides in the Women Police Barracks, situated behind the Obalende Barracks.
In a chat with this correspondent in the drinks joint, she laments that her experience over the years in service has made her desist from raising her hopes too high over improvement in welfare of policemen and women.
“Do I need to explain how I feel about the state of the barracks where we (policemen and women) live in? You have seen it all yourself here. It is the same situation in many places. Please, let’s talk about other things because it appears that we have long been forgotten,” she laments as she sips a glass of beer.
After finishing the bottle of beer, Inspector Joy, who notes that she is delighted to make the acquaintance of this correspondent, asks him to join her as she heads for home.
On getting to her room-and-parlour apartment in the Police Women’s Barracks meant for spinsters, the first item which strikes the attention of the journalist is a photo frame hung on the wall of the sitting room showing Joy and a well-built man.
Asked if she is married, Inspector Joy explains that she is “somehow married”, adding that she cohabits with her man who also happens to be a policeman.
“Don’t mind the inscription you see at the entrance of this barracks as it does not apply here. In this barracks, everyone is for himself or herself. My man stays here with me and goes to work from here just as it is the practice among other couples irrespective of if they are married or not.
“Nobody conducts checks on how we are faring and that also explains why the barracks is not being maintained and has become a total eyesore,” she explains.
The policewoman who occupies an apartment on one of the two-storey buildings in the barracks laments that since she moved in, no rehabilitation works have ever been undertaken in the barracks. But she said in the course of this year, she has, through the resident association, paid for sundry petty rehabilitation.
“The soak away recently got filled up and we had to contribute N4,000 each to get it fixed. Even the toilet we are talking about, there is nothing to write home about it. About 10 of us from three apartments make use of that dilapidated toilet and only one bathroom is usable on this floor and tens of people make use of it.
“This barracks can at best be described as a refugee camp as it is simply an eyesore and yet rent is being deducted in my salaries monthly.”
From meagre allocations that put police stations across the country at the mercy of charity from communities and criminals, the appalling dwelling places of policemen adds up to the several factors which make the Nigeria Police Force one of the most uninspiring institutions to work for many people.
From Obalende, Surulere, Iponri, Bar Beach to Women’s Police barracks, all in Lagos the story is that of a sad tale of utter neglect. But the picture is similar in other states of the federation. While the sewage pipes in many of the barracks visited are damaged, their rooftops bristling with satellite dishes were adorned with largely broken, sagging roofing sheets – many of which have indeed fallen off.
At the Obalende Barracks, many wives of policemen have simply turned their respective kitchenettes into shops of some sorts where they sell their wares. At some other sections of the barracks, wives of policemen have resorted to cooking in the open due to the dilapidated conditions of their kitchens.
A visitor to the Surulere Police Barracks could think that it has been turned into a motor park as seven commuter buses were parked on the premises during this correspondent’s visit. Besides, two drinking joints sited on the premises of the barracks have also eaten up available breeding space, thus confirming the lack of close monitoring from the authorities.
At the Bar Beach Barracks, only four of the over 20 blocks occupied by inspectors show signs of renovation. All others were in dilapidated conditions.
During our correspondent’s tour of the dwelling places of the policemen, the Alausa Barracks, however, stands out amongst its peers as it is generally in a good condition. It was gathered that the police authorities recently carried out renovation works on it.
Home to rodents and reptiles
On the whole, apart from lacking in basic aesthetics, the barracks are largely in dilapidating conditions with many structures fallen off or on the verge of giving way. For instance, at the Surulere Barracks, it was observed that rodents and reptiles moved in freely into the kitchens, toilets and bathrooms as the windows and doors have been broken off and have yet to be fixed. Also, the cement castings covering the decking on some of the storey buildings are already giving way.
Besides, the open drainages and broken sewage pipes oozed out a repugnant smell while houseflies and other insects capable of transmitting diseases had a field day.
Sadly the budget of the Federal Government makes provision for the rehabilitation of police barracks on a yearly basis. For instance, in the just concluded year, the National Assembly allocated the sum of N425,060,826 for the rehabilitation and repairs of police stations and barracks across the country. Yet the state of many of these structures remain abysmal across the country.
No alternative to broken barracks
Findings reveal that in spite of the sorry state of the barracks, policemen and women still jostle to get accommodated in them. It was gathered that police officers and men usually ‘water the ground’ often by giving bribes to some officials attached to the provost offices in the various state police commands.
A police corporal at the Bar Beach Barracks, Lagos explains that before he got his apartment, a colleague of his who was moving out influenced the allocation to him.
“After meeting with the colleague of mine parking out of the barracks, I tipped him and he took me to the office of the provost where we also watered the ground. Afterwards, I got the apartment allocated to me,” the police corporal says.
Asked why he chose what looks like a life of squalor with his family in the barracks, the corporal explains that he opted for the barracks due to the exorbitant rents that many landlords place on their properties.
He says, “This barracks is not too good for human habitation. But I think I have got no other choice than to move out of the civilian residential apartment as my landlord was not fair with the rent as he put it up at will.
“Although I can’t put a specific figure to the amount I pay monthly due to the newly introduced e-payment regime, the rent in the barracks can’t be more than N5,000, which is far less than how much I paid in my former place of residence.”
At the Surulere Barracks, a police sergeant attached to the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters Annexe in Obalende, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, notes that he hardly makes use of the toilet he shares with other residents of his block. He explains that due to the dilapidated state of the toilet, he always makes use of rest rooms of one of the banks opposite the barracks whenever he is pressed.
“I try as much as possible to empty my bowels at the office but whenever I am pressed at home, I rush down to the bank opposite the barracks and act as if I’m one of their customers with a view to passing out waste.
“This is the third barracks I have resided in. I once stayed in Sunrise Barracks in Olodi-Apapa area of Lagos as well as in Obalende Barracks and I can tell you that the barracks are also in very worrisome states,” he laments.
The police sergeant says he has refused to allow his family to stay with him in the barracks due to the level of deterioration adding that the environment is not good enough to raise his kids.
In spite of the cooperation among the policemen occupying the barracks, which led to the formation of a development association on block basis, the police sergeant notes that only little has been done to salvage the situation.
“During the rainy season, this whole place leading up to my apartment is always waterlogged and to add salt to injury, the human faeces in the broken sewage adds to the stagnant water around and pollutes the whole environment. This has been the trend for the three years I have been leaving here as no renovation has taken place. My children and wife stay in Ibadan where I got them a decent accommodation. To be realistic, it is not easy staying away from one’s family but this environment is not good enough. My children are still young and any of these structures around are hanging precariously and could fall on them,” he adds.
Senior officers embrace self help
But just as the rank and file of the police lament the state of the barracks, those in the officer cadre are not left out in the sad tale of neglect of their housing units. At the Ikeja GRA Police Officers’ Quarters occupied by those in the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police up to those in the Deputy Commissioner of Police cadre, it was gathered that residents have been forced to self help to make their apartments and indeed the environment habitable.
A deputy superintendent of police who resides in the quarters explains that their various apartments appear to be in a fair state compared to other barracks because of the huge sums of money they expend on general maintenance.
The police officer who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in the quarters says, “It’s frustrating that one is being forced to expend huge sums of money on critical maintenance and sometimes outright reconstruction and renovation of a place you pay monthly rents. In the course of the year, the roofing and ceilings of my apartment got damaged, I spent close to N100, 000 to get it fixed.”
Asked if she made an attempt to claim the money from the relevant authorities, she says, “Who will repay you? The fact is that there is this culture of self-help that has grown tightly interwoven amongst officers and men due to the neglect we have been facing for many years now.”
A clinical psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Leonard Okonkwo, says the poor state of the barracks may account for one of the several factors causing the “not-too-pleasant behaviour of many policemen in the country.”
According to him, shelter is one of the basic physiological needs of humans which should not be toiled with .
He observes that in the case of the police, housing needs ought not to be “partially met.”
The psychologist notes that there is a correlation between shelter and performance.
“When a policeman is made to live under shabby conditions you can’t get the best from him or her,” he says.
Okonkwo explains that toiling with the adequate shelter of those saddled with the responsibility of internal security of the country will only breed a police force populated with “disorganised and disorderly thinking” officers and men.
He adds, “If a man is not well sheltered he is not well motivated as shelter is a symbol of safety. When a policeman goes out to work, he should come back to the safety and comfort of his house. But in a situation where the barracks is not in a good shape, the policeman’s performance is affected.
“The policeman is always thinking about his or her welfare. If you are not well sheltered in a tidy and decent environment, the level of disorganised thinking is promoted and concentration on the job is affected. It is worthy of note that where you live boosts your confidence and in view of this, taking proper care of barracks improves the ego of the policeman as they are proud of their job, thereby ultimately boosting their performance.”
He explains that one of the potent methods some organisations from around the world have been devising to boost the performance of their staff is to provide them with good accommodation and a conducive working environment , adding that the Nigeria Police should not be an exception.
“Until our policemen and women are well taken care of in terms of the provision of decent shelter, Nigerians are not likely to get the best from them. I advise that their welfare should be a top priority.
“Since they are saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order and in the course of doing that their lives are at stake, the authorities concerned should know that our policemen will be more courageous to do their job when they know that their welfare is not been taken with levity,” Okonkwo adds.
Apart from the men and women who are on the receiving end of the negative consequences of staying in barracks that are of poor and bad conditions, experts are of the opinion that children raised in such environments are also at risks.
Trouble for barracks children
A lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Dr. Oludele Ajani, says while the morale of an average policeman or woman who lives in a slum-like barracks is dampened, experience has shown that their offspring tend to exhibit deviant behaviours.
Ajani , whose area of specialty is development studies and social change, argues that the environment where one lives dictates and influences once behaviour, conduct and attitude to life.
He says, “The effect of the dilapidating state of our barracks is one of the issues we as academics have raised over the years. And that is why when you interact with our law enforcement officers, they are always on the edge, you begin to wonder who annoyed them. Poor environment and housing units affects their output and interaction.
“But more worrisome is the fact that children raised in such environments are generally deviant and become social misfits as they tend to take after the behaviour of their parents. And that is why people tag children raised in the barracks as “omo barracks” (barracks kids) – to depict those traits they exhibit which are against social norms. We are products of the environment.
“Allowing policemen and women as well as their children to stay in overcrowded housing units, which lack drainages and basic amenities, is not in the best interest of this all important institution. These children may not see beyond their immediate environment and this may affect their life goals.”
When our correspondent contacted the Provost of the Lagos State Police Command, Busari Okunola, who is in charge of allocation of barracks in the state, he declined comments over the issue.
The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Ngozi Braide, who was at her office during our correspondent’s visit, says she is not in the best position to address issues relating to barracks maintenance and allocations.
“We operate a centralised police system. Please, direct your enquiries to them at the Force Headquarters in Abuja,” Braide notes.
However, successive attempts to get the Force Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, to speak on the conditions of the barracks proved abortive. On December 24, Mba told our correspondent on the telephone that he was in Yobe State and was not in a position to grant any interviews at the time.
On December 27 when our correspondent called him again, he simply went silent on the telephone after this correspondent introduced himself, in an apparent move to dodge him.
Also, an electronic mail as well as a text message sent to him had to get his reaction was not replied to as at 9pm press time on Sunday.
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