- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based Deca journalist.
This report couldn’t be more aptly named: "Everyone’s in on the Game," released by Human Rights Watch today, is a story about how corruption has eaten Nigeria’s police force from the inside out. Everyone is, as they say, in on the game: The highest officers take a cut from the middle managers; the middle managers ski off their subordinates salaries; the lowest officers make so little that they extort civilians on a daily basis for their wage. One men and women are arrested, the news is no better.
Their families must pay for them to be housed and fed in prison, and getting a case to trial requires either money or a personal political connection. Like anyone who has lived in Nigeria, I have a few stories involving getting pulled over or stopped and asked for bribes. (I wrote up a few of them.) And also like any expat in Nigeria, I know that what I got was only a smidgen of what plagued local life. The poor are the easiest targets.
Like all corruption, there is an element of victimization on both sides of the equation, unfortunately. The people who are extorted from are, obviously, suffering. But so too are the low level policemen in many cases. How can I best illustrate this? Perhaps the fact that the officers were forced to buy their own bullets, uniforms, and pay for their own transportation because the upper ranks had taken the bulk of the funding for themselves or other pet projects. The majority of the officers also likely believed in being policemen, and wanted to be a positive force for their countries. They were proud of their roles and sought to do the best job they could. But they were also pretty hungry sometimes. And as I was once wisely told, a hungry man will do anything you ask.
The report gets kudos also from pointing out just how destructive this has been to society. If your policemen — the men and women you are supposed to trust with your safety and security — are extorting and taking a cut, why wouldn’t you? It’s not just one’s pocketbook that suffers here; it’s the very ability for the country to live under the "rule of law," a tenant that the last two administrations in Nigeria have said is the forefront of their agenda.
Best perhaps of all are the cartoons commissioned with the report to illustrate what we’re talking about. If you don’t read the report, do just have a look.