President Goodluck Jonathan made an unscheduled visit to the Police College, Ikeja, Lagos after watching a Channels Television video report on the squalid conditions at the training institute. He was furious. But that was just a tip of the iceberg. What will he do if he visits the barracks? The condition of police barracks across the country leaves nothing to desire.
Yet, there is a controversy over who should pay contractors to renovate the barracks.
Littered in every available space, including under staircases, are various sizes of mattresses, sleeping mats, buckets and other personal effects belonging to stranded policemen attached to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command. Many of these officers have been in Abuja for months and there is no accommodation for them in the barracks. So, they make the police command their squatters' paradise.
The situation is not peculiar to Abuja. In almost all the police commands in the country, from Lagos to far-flung Borno State, the situation is the same. For those who even have rooms in the barracks, they might as well be living in open-roof houses.
Investigations across the country reveal decay occasioned by years of neglect by the authorities. At the various barracks, the structures are dilapidated from foundation to the roof. Owing to wear and tear, one can hardly make out the original colours the weather beaten structures were painted in. The environment depicts a mixture of organic and human waste caked up by the harsh, blazing sun. Separating the various apartments are streams of dark coloured, viscous and slimy fluids oozing lazily by. The putrid stench that assails the nasal passage can constitute a health hazard. No rehabilitation has been done on many of the structures since they were built several years ago.
The Presidential Committee on Police Barracks Rehabilitation seems to have gone into sleep. Contracts were awarded for the rehabilitation of the buildings, but the contractors do not seem to be making progress on the job, a development that has continued to be a source of worry to the policemen and their families living in such deplorable conditions.
Contractors say the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Force Headquatres have been pushing them around over who should pay for the rehabilitation.
Tale of neglect
While the ministry and the Force headquatres seem confused about who should pay contractors for the rehabilitation, the barracks are sinking deeper into rot.
The barracks at Ikeja are derelict, with the flats no longer suitable for human habitation. The walls are perforated. The pillars and deckings have signs of weakness written all over them. The plaster on the concrete is peeling off and the iron rods are becoming naked. The drains are silted, forcing waste water to find its level, thereby making the environment to stink. The sewage system has collapsed; the soak-away and septic tanks are not functioning; the pipes connecting the toilet with the chambers constitute an eyesore to visitors.
Residents of the State Traffic Division (STD) B Operations Department Barracks are using pit latrines, which the Lagos State government outlawed over a decade ago.
The facilities, built with iron sheets, could be taken for a shrine. There is no water supply into the quarters. The occupants rely on water vendors for their daily need. Overcrowding makes living in the barracks unbearable. Three families share a two-bedroom flat in some blocks, irrespective of gender and family size. The open gutters have become breeding ground for mosquitoes and this exposes residents to frequent malaria attacks. With no provision for the evacuation of refuse, the residents discharge their waste into the drains, thus clogging the channels. The stench oozing out of the drains is offensive to the nostrils. Despite the filthy environment, it is business-as-usual for the wives of policemen, who run restaurants and eating joints.
The Iwo Road Barracks in Ibadan, located inside the Area Command, have cracks on its walls; the windows of the two-storey building are broken and the sanitation is appalling. The lack of routine maintenance makes it to look like a typical house in the slum. The barracks is home to the rank and file of the Force. The building, which houses no fewer than eight families on each floor, has an abandoned water tank in the front.
At the Police Headquarters, Eleyele, where several of such buildings are located, the story is the same. The facilities are in a sorry state. For instance, the bathrooms in the two-room apartments are largely unkempt, making them to look like public toilets. Because the taps in the apartments dry, residents are left with no option but to go down the stairs to fetch water from a communal tap. It was learnt that occupants pay to fix facilities, such as electricity. Some of the vacant apartments have broken ceilings and their balconies stinks.
In Kano, many officers elect to rent houses on their own, owing to dilapidated facilities within the barracks.
A police officer attached to the Bompai Police Headquarters said: "Police men living in the barracks are suffering and smiling. In fact, apart from the security threat of the Boko Haram insurgence, I decided to park out from the barracks to rent an apartment for myself and family because I want to live long.
"Our police barracks are in bad shape. They are an eyesore. They are practically inhabitable because of lack of maintenance and provision of basic facilities.
"In fact, those of my colleagues still living the barracks do not have a choice, particularly the rank and file; because, there in the barracks, you still have the VIPs."
The MOPOL 9 Baracks at Hotoro Quarters is a replica of what obtains elsewhere, despite the fact that it belongs to the senior officers. There is not much difference at the Zone 1 Police Barracks. The structures are dilapidated and the roofs lick. Residents at the barracks complain of lack of access to potable water and epileptic power supply.
In Plateau State, many of the barracks look like refugee camps. Yet, many officers do not even have space in the dungeon. The largest police barracks in Jos, 'A' Divisional Police Barracks, have been undergoing renovation since 2010. Some of the blocks at the barracks now have modern aluminum roofs and have been repainted. The other facilities, such as toilets, are unsightly. The environment stinks.
The situation of most police barracks in Ondo State is not different from what is obtainable in other states. The barracks could pass for ghettos and shanties, as they lack the basic amenities to make life meaningful for its inhabitants.
The 'A' Division and the MOPOL barracks along Oba-Ile in Akure are in a terrible state. For instance, the 'A' Division Barracks in Akure is in a sorry state with no potable water. A large portion of the two-storey building is completely abandoned, after it reportedly gutted fire several years ago.
In Kaduna, majority of police personnel live in rented apartments. Those who are privileged to live in the barracks, spread across the metropolis are not excited to live there. Many of the facilities cannot be described as habitable.
The one located close to the St Gerard Catholic Hospital, in Kaduna, have recently received attention. Many others, including the Kawo Police Barracks, have not received any form of renovation for a long time.
It has been gathered that the barracks were supposed to have benefited from the barrack renovation scheme under the Presidential Committee on Police Barracks, but only a few of the houses and the institutions were actually renovated.
A source within one of the barracks says "some of these buildings were built before independence and many of them are just single rooms, while some others are two rooms. There was no provision for the extended family. That is why you have a lot of makeshift structures within the barracks."
If you go to the Gabasawa Police Barracks, you will discover that what would have served as the balcony for the houses have been converted to rooms constructed mainly with plywood and that is where the children of the policemen and their extended families are living.
The J.P Clark's popular poem, 'Ibadan', which reads "Running splash of rust and gold, flung and scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun," succinctly captures the pathetic state of the barracks in Kwara State.
Many of the buildings have known better days. Stench wafting from silted drains and soak-aways assail the nostrils of visitors to the '' Division of the Police Barracks, on the popular Ajase-Ipo road in Ilorin, Kwara State.
Rehabilitation a huge joke
One of the contractors handling part of the barracks rehabilita tion contracts said the project has become "a huge joke". The contractor, who did not want his name published for fear of victimisation, said the Preseidential Committee has not been fair to the contractors. He said nothing would be achieved at the end of the day. Paucity of funds, he said, has been the major challenge.
He added that some of the contractors, who borrowed funds to implement the project are alrready blaming themselves.
He said: "The truth is that I don't see the project achieving the desired results. I even doubt if the Federal Government itself expected any result from the exercise. They are not releasing funds to mobilise the contractors. Those who borrowed money to do part of the job are regretting our actions. As I am talking to you, some contractors have developed various kinds of ailments arising from the disappointment and the pressure being mounted on them by their creditors, including banks. As a matter of fact, I am aware that one or two of the contractors died while pursuing payments for the jobs handled by their firms."
It has been gathered that the rehabilitation contracts were awarded between 2009 and 2010. Curiously, the question of who is responsible for payments to contractors has become a subject of buck-passing between the Force Headquarters and the Ministry of Police Affairs. Deputy Force Public Relations Officer Frank Mba said he was not competent to speak on the matter.
In a telephone conversation on Monday, Mba said his brief stops at routine operational and administrative matters concerning the Force Headquarters. He advised to direct its inquiry to "those whose responsibility it is to pay the contractors".
But a source at the Force Headquarters said payments for police contracts, including the ones for barracks rehabilitation, are being handled by the Police Affairs Ministry. The source said: "There is no office at the Force Headquarters that pays contractors. All contractors are paid by the ministry. Even petty contracts awarded by the Force Headquarters are verified by officials from the ministry before payments are made. It is the ministry that exercises absolute control over police contracts. Even allowances and estacodes of police officers going on courses are being processed and paid by the ministry. Only funds meant for salaries are disbursed by the Force Headquarters."
Last September, contractors under the aegis of the Association of Police Contractors protested at the Police Affairs Ministry over the N7.4 billion allegedly owed them by the police since 2008. The group, in a letter signed by its Chairman, Patrick Ojo and Secretary, Aloysius Okonkwo, asked the National Assembly and the Finance Ministry to prevail on Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Abubakar and Police Affiars Minister Caleb Olubolade to use their quarterly allocations to offset the debt.
The group lamented that despite several appeals and meetings with Olubolade and the IG, "no concrete effort has been made to correct the unwholesome system of funds and project management in both the police force and the ministry".
The contractors said: "This action smacks of gross insensitivity, recklessness and an attempt to further impoverish and pauperise our members. The action of the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Nigerian Police in handling the problem is at variance with the Bureau of Public Procurement Act."
The contractors also claimed that two of their members died due to frustration-induced stress, high blood pressure and stroke.
Police Affairs Minister Caleb Olubolade said the contracts were awarded by the Force Headquarters. He said: "We are not the ones that award contracts for the rehabilitation of police barracks. So, you are asking the question from the wrong person. You have to take that question back to the Force Headquarters.
"The Police Affairs Ministry only serves as a clearing house because vouchers for payment to contractors are usually raised at the Force Headquarters. The Ministry only ensures that due process is followed in the award of the contracts and that the contracts are executed to specifications."
Olubolade added that the contracts awarded by the Force Headquarters are in excess of available funds, thereby creating friction between the anxious contractors and the paying authority. The minister said contrary to the general belief that the ministry warehouses the total police budget, every police formation controls its budget. According to him, the ministry only gets its own budget and funds meant for police intervention projects under the Reform Programme.
Olubolade said the Police Reform Committee is chaired by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo. He listed other members of the committee as the Minister of Finance, six state governors, minister of Police Affairs and representatives of the police.
The minister continued: "Authority for the distribution, approval and disbursement of all appropriations for the police lies with the IGP who is the accounting officer of the Nigeria Police Force. The Ministry does not tamper with approvals and disbursements of police budgetary allocations, but only carries out its supervisory roles of ensuring that all financial regulations and statutory due processes are followed in the award and execution of contracts and fund allocations."
The minister expressed worry at the non-payment for contracts awarded for the rehabilitation projects at various police barracks. To address the problem, the minister said he gave a directive at a meeting with stakeholders in October 2012 that incoming funds for barracks rehabilitation should be split on 60/40 percentage. The directive was that 40 percent of the funds should be used in paying outstanding liabilities for contractors, while 60 percent should go into rehabilitation project.
"I also directed that contracts should be awarded according to available funds. But what is on ground today is a situation where the amounts of contracts already awarded exceeds the available funds."
The minister said the priority of the Federal Government for now was how to tackle the insecurity in the land. According to him, attention is focused on how to address challenges like bombing, kidnapping and other security challenges, saying it is a case of competing demands in the face of limited funds. His ministry, he said, does not have a subhead for barracks rehabilitation in its budget.
The ex-Naval Chief added that available funds are being complemented by funding from the Police Reform Programme which was established in 2010. He added that even at that, funding from the programme, which comes in trickles, is mainly for training of police personnel and police training institutions like the Police Academy and Police Staff College.
"There is dwindling funding from the Reform/Intervention Programme, which is making things a bit difficult. For instance, the budget for the Reform Programme for 2012 is merely N22 billion and we are not sure how much we are going to get from that amount at the end of the day," he said.
The sum of N65, 6 billion was budgeted for the Reform Programme in 2010; N17. 1 in 2011; and N12.3 in 2012 out of which only a fraction was released in all the instances. In view of the perennial shortfall in budget releases, the minister urged the Force Headquarters to prioritise its projects, stressing that the Force Headquarters has its own budgetary provision for the rehabilitation of barracks. The ministry put the total outstanding liabilities of the police to various contractors, including rehabilitation, at N26 billion.
He attributed the distortions in funding of police projects to shortfall in budget releases, pointing out that just like other ministries and departments, both the police and the ministry do not get their full annual budgets released to them. By way of filling the resource gap in the funding of barracks rehabilitation project, the minister promised to make case for the project whenever the 2013 budget for the Reform Programme is released.
He said: "If the police table barracks rehabilitation as their priority in the current year, we will make a case with the committee headed by the Vice-President for more funding in that direction. This will be in addition to the police budget for rehabilitation of the barracks. But let me make it clear that contrary to what members of the public believe, this ministry does not decide the fate of the police. They turn to us whenever they have specific challenges and we support them according to what available resources permit."
A document shows that budgetary allocations for police formations and commands are released directly to the Force Headquarters and that the budget section of the IGP's office handles budgetary matters of the police, including allocation of funds and distribution to heads and sub-heads. The document also stated that capital budget allocation, distribution and utilisation are the sole responsibility of the Force Headquarters where approvals and contracts are carried out in line with extant rules on thresholds (approval limits).
Payments are processed at the Force Headquarters accounts department after due approvals by the IGP. The document states that the IGP, through the budget section of his office, issues fund allocation instructions on overhead and personnel costs, which are decentralised to formations and commands.
It was also discovered that approval limits for the Force Headquarters Tenders Board are N50 million for supplies of goods; N250 million for works; and N50 million for non-consultant and consultant services. These approval limits are said to be in line with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
"The authority for the distribution, approval and disbursement of all appropriations for the police lies with the IGP who is the accounting officer of the Nigeria Police Force.
"The Ministry does not tamper with approvals and disbursements of police budgetary allocations, but only carries out its supervisory roles of ensuring that all financial regulations and statutory due processes are followed in the award and execution of contracts and fund allocations," the document reads.
When asked on February 14 why the rehabilitation of police barracks could not be done through direct labour, as being done in respect of the transit camp around the Force headquatres, Abubakar, the IGP kept mum. Instead, he said the police institution under his leadership, will continue to ensure decent accommodation for police personnel. For now, the bad times for the officers who live in the barracks continue.