Man In The News

Destigmatizing The Nigeria Police: Re-Echoing The Francis Erhabor Narative


“Integrity lies in doing what one speaks; speaking what one does” – M.K. Soni

By Substance Udo-Nature


The police officer just drove pass the ever busy Ikot Udoro junction along Ikot Ekpene Road, Uyo, and the ever present and characteristically inquisitive okadas around there were quick to identify and uproariously cheered him in a way that can simply be described as frantic, even when he apparently was too focused to have heard or noticed their wave-of-hand solidarity.

“That police officer is not a Nigerian”, one of the excited okada riders teased, ironically. “He is not supposed to be a police man”, another corroborated with subdued admiration. The third speaker spoke with a tinge of patriotism: “Let’s not always think there are no good Nigerians, no matter what happens in this country”.

What I heard that day was a sweet deviation that offered some instant lessons. One, it was an endorsed confirmation that we still have wheat among the weed. Two, it is we Nigerians who give or have given the country a good or bad name. Three, we are all like a gold fish: whether we do good or bad, people are watching, and one day one day, they will tell our stories with all frankness. It essentially boils down to our character in and outside official capacities.

In a country where motorists are always at the mercy of the police –and security operatives generally – it connotes something auspicious and complimentary for commercial vehicle operators to be easily moved or compelled to acknowledge a police officer for his good deeds. When and where that happens it could simply mean that such an officer has been so outstandingly professional and humane on his line of duty to the unavoidable extent that appreciating him becomes obligatory; very rare a rarity that can turn eyes and ears anytime.

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But that is exactly the peculiar story of Francis Erhabor, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Itam Division of the Nigeria Police, Uyo. My first face-to-face encounter with him about two weeks later around September, 2019, following the okadas’ casual introduction, further endeared him to me as a distinctive officer who respects the law, values his work and personality, and treats Nigerians as humans and fellow compatriots, although he may have a revolver hid somewhere on him as official duty may demand.

Therefore, when it was in the wind that this great police officer has been nominated for an award, it couldn’t have surprised many who knew him and his identical work ideology and idiosyncrasy. For retrospective emphasis, Mr. Erhabor was the only police officer and one of the five icons who was honoured during the Integrity Icon Award Summit in Abuja on Monday, 19 January, 2020. The Summit was at the instance of the Accountabilitylab, in partnership with Luminate, MacArthur and Ford Foundation, a body set up “to identify and celebrate Nigeria’s most honest government officials” and inspire a new cream of patriotic officers.

Whereas some other indices qualified him for the award, the most memorable and prominent was that he determinedly turned down a juicy opportunity he would have enriched himself by saboteurs who wanted to take a pound of flesh of the country. “The story that is making headlines today that has brought me here was when I had just N800 in my pocket and I was a pipeline commander in Edo State, where I had worked for close to three to four years. My actual allowance was just N37,500 from government which was not coming when due. And here I had a few persons who dangled N1.5miilion to me, and they were to be giving me N6million every week”, he recalled during an interview.

Erhabor said he was inspired by a decision he took when he joined the force: “The issue of my being here today started from when I entered the job. I took a strong vow because I knew my system thrives in corruption. I said to myself, ‘If I would in any way corrupt myself, I told the Lord, don’t humiliate me in secret, show me on big time televisions like NTA, BBC, and CNN, even if it were the N20 which we were synonymous with.”

Considering the record of police impropriety in the country, could it be inferred that more than 95 percent of the present police officers never made a resolution or really meant it when they recite the lyrics of the national pledge “to be loyal, faithful and honest”?. Erhabor has shown that this must go beyond the superficial oath of allegiance and oath of office usually taken by new entrants into the force.

Imagine that a team of army men at a checkpoint would shot and kill police officers on duty to stop them from taking a notorious and wanted kidnapper to the station, the source of their fat and steady income. Imagine that security operatives would sell or release guns or escort robbers to their target spots.

Keep imagining! Imagine that police officers escorting a bullion van from the bank they offer services could be the same ones who would conspire with robbers to kill and intercept the van. Imagine armed to the teeth police officers escorting a tanker of bunkered crude to a hideout, with clearance from above. Then imagine that police officers at a checkpoint, not the robbers, might be the quicker to gun you down on sighting you with some wraps of 1000 naira notes in your vehicle. Just imagine.

This is why the police is stigmatized. This is why some retired and serving police officers may still not understand why Erhabor chose to act foolish in the face of an opportunity that comes but once in a country where the big man steals and sells hard crude just with his green biro. This is why the Erhabor story ought to be celebrated for a long time as an incentive for patriotism and self-contentment.

Mr. Francis Erhabor has served the police for over three decades having joined as Cadet Officer on April 2, 1990, after his tutelage in the Police Academy. From that point, the super-excellent officer said the road has been laid with cactus because of his uncompromising principles. He has been threatened, maligned, blackmailed and persecuted from all angles.

One thing about the quality of the Integrity Award is that it has nothing to do with political affiliations, sentiments or where one comes from. According to the Country Director of Accounatbilitylab, Odey Friday, beginning from 2017 to date, each year has five icons identified and celebrated. The nomination of awardees is thrown open to the citizenry as a way of promoting accountability. This is further subjected to a final selection process by independent judges from the civil society, retired public servants and governance experts.

Mr. Erhabor did not just win but beat ten other nominees in the category in a situation he did not even know when, why, who and how his name was submitted for selection. Others besides Erhabor who were also awarded include – Tani Nimian, Assistant Director of NAFDAC; Christian Ahiauzu, Head of ICT Unit of the University of Port Harcourt; Tina Odinakachi, a lecturer at the University of Jos; and a secondary school teacher in Rivers State, Kacheilom Roberts.

I feel proud to tell friends that before this award, Mr. Erhabor had won – unnoticed, unannounced, unreported – what could be called a public conscience Endorsement Award of Integrity from both the commonman on the street whose case he had handled with equity without looking at his faded clothes or haggard presence, as well as the rich man who has had to leave the station shaking his head in disappointment by a DPO who resolutely refused tantalizing wads of dollars to kill a case that must be heard.

At the Itam Police Station bail is free – and truly free. At the station nobody is wrongly forced or yanked into the cell. The station is about the only one in town fenced around without taxing the force but through Erhabor’s diplomatic relations and appeal to goodhearted individuals that security is everybody’s concern. Before now, the station was a thoroughfare worst than the most interior primary school in a typical village. But because of Erhabor’s transparent dispositions, the community always queue up in total support of his altruistic initiatives.

To Erhabor, appreciating him has nothing to do with money. Apart from the customary courtesy that motivates, the best way to appreciate him is to help him live up to the expectations of his work through salutary commendations, corporate citizenship and sponsorship of public-oriented contents. What I cannot say with certainty is how many of the many gun-wielding and money-eyeing Nigerian police officers this story of their distinguished colleague has really touched with therapeutic effects.

For winning the Integrity Award, the awardee instantly becomes an Icon. CSP FRANCIS OSAGIE ERHABOR is an icon of Integrity, Patriotism and Professionalism in the Nigeria Police.
This story shall always be told, generations to come!

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