Friday, January 16, 2009

Stinking Police Stations and Courts

Court premises and police stations are places one expects to be neat. There is some sense in which justice reflects purity, but in Nigeria these are some of the most repulsive places to be.
A typical police station in Nigeria wears a disorderly, desolate and filthy appearance. Its surroundings is completely unkempt and uninviting. The entrance to the station is clustered with long abandoned dirty vehicles. On entry, one, in many cases, is greeted with a strong, uncomfortable odour. Furniture there looks old and rickety. If one is unlucky to be close to the tiny cubicles where detainees are cramped together, one is hit with a more repugnant odour. The dirty shelves of the station are littered with dirty case files and broken down typewriters.
Our court premises, especially the magistrate court premises, are no better. Many are littered with waste and property seized from court debtors. Most court rooms where justice is dispensed are equally dirty. The seats, air-conditioners and ceiling fans in the court rooms are broken down. Some magistrate court buildings look like places where animals are kept. In many court premises there are no rest rooms. Even when there are rest rooms they are so dirty that they cause revulsion. Consequently, many court litigants and visitors ease themselves in open places in the court premises.
It is ridiculous that our court buildings and court premises where justice is dispensed are that filthy. In today’s world, a lot of emphasis is put on clean environment. Therefore, we cannot continue to tolerate a dirty court environment. Sustainable development finds expression in a clean environment. Justice is rooted in confidence. A stinking court premises induces a loss of confidence in the judiciary as the bulwark of justice. The cleaning up of the corruption in the judiciary should begin with the cleaning up of the filth in our court premises.
The same thing applies to our police stations. We need to tidy up our police stations. A police station is not just any place. It is the principal operational formation of the police force charged with creating and maintaining records for the prevention of crime, preservation of law and order and protection of property. The Police Act demands that our police stations be kept tidy and that policemen must be clad in clean uniform.
We have heard about claims that the police and the judiciary are starved of funds. It is also argued that sometimes funds budgeted for the improvement of the judiciary and Police end up in many private pockets.
But we believe that cleanliness can be shown even when one is in poverty. It is habit that cannot be hidden when one has it. Cleanliness should not be compromised. We therefore call on the authorities in these institutions to devise effective ways of tidying up court premises and police stations. If it cannot be contracted to professional cleaners as it is the case in the private sector, a way must be found to ensure that such important places are kept clean. Training in garbage collection, sanitation works, flushing of public toilets, sweeping of public premises and cleaning of public seats should form part of the environmental training of staffers of our police stations and judiciary.
If the police stations and court premises of other countries are very tidy, why can’t ours be tidy too? By failing or neglecting to clean up our court premises and police stations, we are indirectly telling the world that nothing good can come from those two vital institutions in our criminal justice delivery system.