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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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It is therefore more helpful to review the law to, instead of a blanket ban, clearly state the degree of tint that is permissible and the unacceptable threshold should be clearly indicated. In the USA, different states have set different limits for vehicle tints that are measurable. The police should be provided the instruments to measure the degree of transparency (what is called visible light transmission (VLT) on any vehicle they wish. Only vehicles violating the stated threshold should be banned from the roads. The customs can then adopt this criterion in determining which vehicles could be imported into the country. The beauty of this proposal is that, the implementation of this law would be at source. It will eliminate unnecessary inconvenience to the buyer of the vehicles once allowed into the country by the Customs. It is a more proactive way to administer the law compared to the current approach in which the Police are merely administering medicine after death.

 

Much Ado About Tinted Glasses

The Police in Nigeria have achieved a sinister notoriety of always being in the news exclusively for the wrong reasons. It is more common to read that the Police have released accidental bullets on innocent citizens than that they have arrested and successfully prosecuted a notorious criminal. It appears to be a more appealing task to the police to shoot live bullets at peaceful, unarmed citizens in time of public protest than to provide protection to them as is expected in societies where the people are held supreme. The only time police would provide cover to citizens on a public protest is when the crowd is hired by the President or his Wife to protest in support of some silly  idea like the proposed 4billion Naira African First Ladies  Mission Center in Abuja or to beg the President to contest election.

 

It would appear that the overall guiding philosophy for policing in Nigeria is to inconvenience and exploit the public. The zeal with which the Police go about implementation of obnoxious anti-people directives is rather astounding.  If the police would also pursue people-oriented policies with equal vigor, this nation would have been an Eldorado. For instance, let the Police respond to distress calls from the public within 5 minutes and then they can also impound vehicles with tinted glasses with the alacrity they have been doing since the IGP woke up on the wrong side of the bed lately.

I will return to the matter of tinted glasses later but let me tell a story of an experience in Ghana sometimes last year. I had spent one month in a hotel on the COCO beach in Accra, a famous tourist area on the Atlantic Coast. The hotels in this area with their exotic palm gardens receive a steady influx of white tourists and so they are always busy. I reasoned, in my Nigerian orientation about security risk, that the hotel should have a heavy presence of armed Police to protect the tourists, but to my amazement, there was no single Policeman in the vicinity of the hotel. I had approached one of the hotel staff and asked him why there was no security presence in the hotel.

‘We don’t need them here; they are 5-minutes away! All we need is a phone call and the police would be here in 5 minutes, so we don’t need to keep them here to scare our customers.’ Mr Nana, the hotel laundryman had answered with an air of pride and patriotism for his country that left me jealous and embarrassed at the same time. I remembered an incident back in Nigeria when armed robbers attacked my apartment at about 2.30 am and my neighbor called the Police. The police arrived four hours later at 6.00 am, only to arrest a local ‘vulcaniser’ who was going to his workshop. It took the intervention of my neighbor who was also a senior Police officer to get the poor boy off the hook.

‘What if the Police don’t show up in 5 minutes?’ I had tried to push Mr.Nana a bit further in my frantic bid to recover from the embarrassment of the realization that the Ghanaian Police were more efficient than their counterparts in my country. ‘We will file a public complaint against them and the matter will be investigated’. Mr.Nana said almost too confidently. The display of such confidence in the Nigerian context would be completely misplaced because the Police do not even see themselves as being under any social contract with the Public.

 

The mere imagination of the prospect that a citizen in Nigeria could complain against the Police for not responding to his distress call within a stipulated time-frame and the complaint would be heard made me to cast doubts on my sanity at that moment. As I left Mr.Nana, in awe of the profuse confidence he had in the social contract between the Police and the public, I wondered if something is genetically wrong with Nigerian citizens that makes it impossible for them to do simple things that other nations take for granted.

When the current Nigerian IGP took over and not only announced, but made good the removal of indiscriminate road blocks on the roads, Nigerians sighed a relief. The practice  of blocking the roads with used tires or drums, every two kilometers which often caused accidents and promoted various unwholesome practices by some policemen was replaced with patrol and ‘stop & search’ methods of security surveillance. The initial apprehension by the public that the removal of checkpoints could lead to increase in criminal activities vaporized after several months in the new regime that has proved even safer and convenient for road users as the hitherto long traffic queues caused by these checkpoints disappeared. It has proved that the previous practice of blocking the roads by policemen actually added no value to crime control; rather these checkpoints were mere extortion points.

Reports indicated that many Policemen did not find this abrogation of checkpoints funny at all. The ban practically yanked off food from their mouths. Many believe that some corrupt officers in the top echelon of the force may have put pressure on the new IG to find an alternative means of ‘compensate’ for the ‘loss’ from the removal of checkpoints and the sudden clampdown on cars with tinted glasses is the replacement they need. With this, they now have another source of extortion.

It is a multi-million Naira business that promises to restore all that the ban on checkpoints has robbed these men of the gun of. With almost all new SUVs, cars and ‘tokumbo’ vehicles manufactured post 2000 coming with factory fitted tinted glasses, the number of cars on the roads everyday that fall into the category prohibited by the new ban is mind boggling. So the Police are already having a field day with many of them smiling home at close of work every day unlike a month or two ago when the ban on tinted glasses excluded those with factory fitted tints.

The motive for the sudden inclusion of factory fitted tinted glasses in the ban is highly suspect because in 2011, on page 16 of Thisday Newspaper of Friday March 4th the Ministry of Police affairs in a circular signed by the Minister of Police Affairs, Humphrey Enemakwu Abah, indicated that the ban excluded cars with factory fitted tints. That circular also voided all permits and licenses granted to some motorists for the use of tinted glasses. Interpreted in the proper context, what this circular said was that the Police had no intention of giving any permits to any citizen to use non-factory fitted tinted glasses on Nigerian Roads with the exception of the President, Vice President, Governors and their deputies, Senate President and his deputy as well as the Speaker of the House and his deputy.

Now that we are told that all categories of tints are banned, but we could go for a permit, which only the IG can give, a whole lot of questions are begging for answers.

One, what was the thinking in security quarters that excluded factory fitted tints in the circular of March 2011 from the ban and what has changed since then to warrant their inclusion now? Secondly why should the Customs allow the import of these vehicles in Nigeria only to ban their use on the roads?  Thirdly, is the permit granted the entry of these vehicles into the country not also deemed to be   a permit to use same on the roads? Fourthly, if all the owners of cars with factory fitted tints are required to go for a permit, then why do we even need a permit; since by default, factory-fitted tints are permissible? Fifthly how does this permit system stop an armed robber or a suicide bomber, for example, from using his ‘permitted’ tinted glass vehicle to commit his crime? Sixthly (not sure I have ever used this word before because I have not been moved to ask six questions in a row and in quick succession) Why would the IGP require that every Nigerian who needs he Permit must get it from him? The law may have vested the final authority on the said Permit to him as the accountable person, but that does not in any way deny him the exercise of discretion by delegating the task to the various Commands. I see nothing wrong with a DPO issuing the said permit, if we must get one, provided a criterion is clearly set and adhered to.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that this ban on factory-fitted tinted glass vehicles is a misdirected and improperly conceived Policy because in the end, it does nothing to eliminate these cars on our roads; neither does it stop the crimes it is purportedly targeting to halt. The excuse that this ban is to curb Boko Haram menace is rather laughable. There is no evidence to suggest that a suicide bomber would be more comfortable in using a tinted glass vehicle for his crime. Someone on a mission to die cannot possibly be so worried about being killed as to seek to hide inside a tinted vehicle. On the other hand most of the gun attacks in the North are carried out by men on motorcycles.

I think the Nigerian Police need to grow up technologically in the fight against crime. They need to improve their intelligence gathering methodologies. In advanced societies, technology has replaced these kindergarten practices still being touted by the Nigerian Police as crime fighting strategies. For instance, one surveillance camera can monitor a street more effectively than ten gun-wielding Policemen at a checkpoint. It is the footage from a CCTV recording that revealed the suspects of the recent Boston Marathon Bomb blast in the USA and within 24 hours, the Police tracked down the culprits; meanwhile, here our President finds it convenient to call terrorists  ‘ghosts’ or ‘faceless’, because our law enforcement agents lack the technical and intelligence capabilities to see the ‘ghosts’.

The law that the Police is quoting to ban the use of vehicles with factory fitted tinted glasses is a technologically obsolete law that was put in place conceivably when only artificially tinted-glass vehicles were in the Nigerian market. It is not likely that the drafters of that law had these modern cars in mind. Whereas the artificial tints are excessively dark and prevent even a glimpse of the occupants of a vehicle, the factory-tinted are lightly colored and can allow a view of the occupants of the vehicle. Contrary to the thinking by the Nigerian Police that these factory tints are meant to hide criminals, they are actually designed for energy conservation as translucent glasses tend to minimize the loss of heat by radiation from the car and helps reduce the heating energy requirements for such cars in cold climates.

It is therefore more helpful to review the law to, instead of a blanket ban, clearly state the degree of tint that is permissible and the unacceptable threshold should be clearly indicated. In the USA, different states have set different limits for vehicle tints that are measurable. The police should be provided the instruments to measure the degree of transparency (what is called visible light transmission (VLT) on any vehicle they wish. Only vehicles violating the stated threshold should be banned from the roads. The customs can then adopt this criterion in determining which vehicles could be imported into the country. The beauty of this proposal is that, the implementation of this law would be at source. It will eliminate unnecessary inconvenience to the buyer of the vehicles once allowed into the country by the Customs. It is a more proactive way to administer the law compared to the current approach in which the Police are merely administering medicine after death.

 

 


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