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When police constabularies protested in Kwara

The recent protest by the special constabulary police officers in Kwara State has generated reactions across the country. Daily Trust on Sunday’s report probes the…

The recent protest by the special constabulary police officers in Kwara State has generated reactions across the country. Daily Trust on Sunday’s report probes the issue and examines the fate of affected officers among other concerns.

Beginning 

On Saturday, August 20th, 2022, some police constabularies recruited to assist the police in crime fighting and maintaining peace in the state protested the non-payment of their 16 months’ salaries.

Time for issues-based politics

Seventy years of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah 

The protesters, who caused traffic gridlock around the popular Challenge area, Ilorin, sang solidarity songs and displayed placards to highlight their plight and the suffering they have been through since their engagement in 2021 after their four weeks of training at the Police School, Ilorin.

The video from that incident sent the wrong signals across the country and drew national and international attention to the state which is incidentally the highest contributor to the scheme with 1,056 constabularies drawn from the 16 local government areas. 

Although the protest was unplanned as Daily Trust on Sunday later discovered, it, however, highlighted the hardship, frustration, pain and disappointment that the affected officers had endured for over 18 months working without pay. At the centre of it all is the controversy surrounding the true status of their employment and who is responsible for their welfare.

Precursor  

The precursor to that incident can be traced to the visit of the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, to Kwara State in September last year where he said the police constabularies were recruited on a voluntary basis and are therefore not entitled to salary. 

The IG’s comment not only rattled the affected officers who had anticipated that the visit will positively address their struggle, it was an anti-climax to their hopes and expectations and prepared the ground for the showdown that later followed. 

The affected constabularies had initially planned to ‘welcome’ the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, with a protest over the issue when he visited Kwara ahead of the APC presidential primaries, but it was blocked by the police who invited them to the command’s headquarters where they submitted a letter to him for the governor.  

Confusion/controversy  

The constabularies, who accused IG Usman Baba of contradicting and confusing his predecessor Mohammed Adamu on the issue, referred to the statement of the former Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyebade, while featuring on a Channels Television’s programme, ‘Sunrise Daily’, in 2020 that state governors will be responsible for the salary and upkeep of the special constables. Oyebade’s comment came a week after President Muhammadu Buhari approved N13.3bn for the take-off of scheme.

“The process of recruitment shall be guided by Section 49 to 50 of the Nigeria Police Act… We’re expecting them to put in 16 working hours weekly and the remuneration (stipend), is going to be paid by the state government after we must have trained and deployed them to the local government where they have been recruited…” the DIG had said. 

Differing Responses

Reacting to the protest, the Police Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi (CSP), described it as a rude shock and “clarified” that the scheme “is a purely voluntary service commenced by the Federal Government to train and incorporate individuals with prior paid employment who desire to spend their spare time assisting the police in its simple police tasks within their various communities.

“No payment was agreed with the individuals under the scheme neither were paid terms of appointment discussed prior to its commencement… in the light of this, we will be taking adequate measures to review the effectiveness of the scheme as soon as possible,” he noted.

However, the Commissioner for Communication, Mr Olabode Towoju, told Daily Trust on Sunday in an interview that the scheme is just like that of the Special Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), adding that “it has nothing to do with the state government. This is just political mischief; it is the police that can speak on their plight now.”

Also, the SA Security to the Kwara State Governor, Saliu Bello, requested our reporter speak with the Commissioner of Police when contacted. Several calls to the spokesman of the Kwara State Police Command, Ajayi Okasanmi, were not answered on Friday.  

But the Kwara Police command under which tutelage the constabularies were trained had broken its silence through a statement when Okasanmi dissociated the command from the protest. According to him, “The special constabularies are not on monthly remuneration or full time and they were briefed before taking up the job. 

“But due to their complaints regarding non-payment of stipends by the state government, they were invited for a meeting by the state government at the Government House to look into the issue. It was surprising that the same set of constabularies after the meeting could go online with a video claiming that the government was owing them salaries for a year. 

“The Kwara State Commissioner of Police, Tuesday Assayomo, wishes to state categorically that the police is not owing the special constabularies salary. The public are advised to disregard the protest as it was designed to embarrass the police and draw undue sympathy from the public. The men and women of the special constabulary are at liberty to honourably disengage from the service if they so wish,” Okasanmi submitted.

‘We were not told it’s voluntary, Payless’

But the spokesman of the constabularies who also doubles as their secretary, Ahmed Abubakar, while stating their position during an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, said they were recruited in April 2021 through a text message from the committee inaugurated by the state government to report at the police training school in Ilorin.

“Some of us who were hitherto engaged in the private sector as artisans and bankers resigned from our former places of work because we thought this is a government job with security. There was never a time throughout our recruitment and engagement they told us we were not going to be paid. We were employed through the state government that coordinated the recruitment process. Names were shortlisted from all the local governments through the traditional rulers/leaders. It was after we resumed that we learnt that we are not going to be paid,” he added. 

Three Options

On what led to the protest, the spokesperson said they were invited by the SA Security on that day who addressed them in batches in his office.

“They said although the job is voluntary and without salary, the state government wants to come in because we are indigenes of the state, but they us gave three options. Those of us with certificate and still within the age bracket that could be absorbed into the police force were told to put down out name. Same with others not qualified but who agreed to be empowered and those not “qualified” but still want to continue. 

“Many of us had thought we will be compensated that day because most of us have been living from hand to mouth and were stranded. Assuming we got transport fare, we wouldn’t have protested, it was unplanned. On Friday, August 30th, 2022, we were called again through our DPOs to converge at Fate, in Ilorin, for final examination and screening. When we studied the general paper questionnaires, at the bottom of it, there was a statement that we should sign the paper if still interested based on what we already know that the job is voluntary and payless.” 

“Most of us did not sign it but noted that we want to continue but not as a volunteer while others ignorantly endorsed it. At the end, we were given N10,000 each as transport fare courtesy of the state government. It was not that they cleared our remuneration as is been peddled,” he noted. 

Death/Disability     

Abubakar, who said some of their members had received just once amount ranging from N10,000, N5,000 and no payment at all from the local government they were deployed to in the over 18 months they’ve been working, said they have lost 2 members who couldn’t afford money to buy drug and due to kidnapping, while the third broke his two legs in an accident in the course of duty. 

He said though they were supposed to work for 16 hours weekly which amounts to two hours daily, that is no longer the case as some of them work for 24, 16 and 12 hours with the least working for 8 hours because of manpower shortage in the police. “We are living on debt and some of us were better off before we got this job as some artisans are selling off their things because they spend more time at the police station than their actual workplace,” he noted. 

What next? 

For Abubakar “They should consider us for payoff and properly enlighten those that will be engaged again that the job is voluntary and without pay. They shouldn’t rely on the responses on the examination paper because some answered it ignorantly. In Ondo, Lagos, Kogi and Ekiti states, our colleagues are fully paid and those in Abuja were given N180,000 last November as a result of their struggle with another ‘tranche’ coming,” he added. 

For the Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Community Development, Lafia Aliyu Kora Sabi, the state government is working to settle their grievances following the last protest. He said a proper design that will ultimately benefit them is in the offing “but it is difficult now to determine their status until after the committee has decided,” the commissioner submitted.  

Political solution      

According to a top lawyer in the state, Akin Akintoye (SAN), a political solution should be adopted in resolving the logjam. “Without employment letter, it is a bit dicey because they might not have anybody to hold responsible. Except if the text message in this case spells out these terms. But if it only directed them to go and resume, then their fate is hanging. Such letter would have helped us to know their status, who employed them, terms of the engagement, payment and for what duration, in line with the labour law. Now, the best thing is to address it politically, it’s not a legal issue.

“I advice the government that haven trained and exposed them, disengaging them will expose us to more dangers and they can turn out to be hooligans. They should be encouraged and allowed to use all the trainings for the benefit of their motherland, not against it which disengaging them portends, making them ready recruits for bandits and terrorists. The government has a larger stake in this matter,” he added.

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