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“I grew up knowing the fact that they say a lot of negative things about the police,” says Aliyu Giwa. “At some stage in my life, I started writing against the police.”

But that was until he found himself in the police force and became the poster boy for the highly contentious, although very popular, catchphrase: Police is your friend.

Giwa is the Deputy Police Public Relation Officer for Lagos state (PPRO) and has in the past few years achieved a sort of celebrity status with his suave, urbane, clean cut appearance that many find unusual in a Nigerian police officer. His social media pages –with his picture pasted all over it- have become a tourist attraction of sorts (Aliyu’s instagram page has more than nineteen thousands followers).

I met with Aliyu at the police barracks in Ikeja, GRA. He arrives thirty minutes late for our meeting; his fiancée, Aminat, in tow. His wedding is coming up in a few weeks he says, as he apologies, and he has been caught up in planning.

Aliyu is clean shaven, dark skinned, with a voice that somehow rough around the edges and at the same time endearing. His eyes twinkle as we made light jokes about the rowdiness of social media and news reportage. Unsurprisingly, he is up to date with the space.

Originally from Kwara, Aliyu had spent a large chunk of his life in northern Nigeria and had learnt the Hausa language, which he speaks fluently. He grew up in the north, attending secondary education in Sokoto and university in Maiduguri, Borno state.

Giwa sees himself as a full Nigerian with his wide knowledge of different part of the country. Over the years, he had made conscious efforts to identify and make friends along those lines.

“How would you rate my Hausa and Yoruba?” Aliyu asked his fiancée towards the end of our conversation. 70/30 she says before breaking into a fit of laughter.

A deeply religious man, Aliyu had studied Physics at the University of Maiduguri and also ran a magazine, Neptune, and a photography studio before he joined the Nigerian Police Force.
“I’ve been in magazine, photography and fashion thing for a long time before I actually joined the police,” he said.
In the years that followed, Aliyu rose through the police ranks, falling in love with his job and growing more comfortable in his identity as a police officer.

“We all know that police is your friend,” he says, defiantly, as if preempting criticism, “Forget about what people say, if you want to do the right thing and follow the rules, the police is your friend. When issues arise you have to call the police.”

He argues that across the world people make negative comments against the police not necessary because the police are terrible but because they are easily accessible and deal with every member of the society regardless of social or economic status.

“The bad comment about Nigerian police is not just a Nigerian mentality but a world-wide mentality,” he says.
“You don’t expect people that don’t have anything to do with immigration to have something to say about the immigration service or customs.”

A gymnastic argument to be sure, but that’s why he is Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, yeah?
Giwa insists that unlike other paramilitary agencies specialized in a specific service, the police deals with everyday people, in different ways and are a constant feature of our daily lives – and that makes them more liable to be criticized. hence it makes sense that the police will face negative comments.

Not that he won’t accept blame – which is what makes him truly endearing, and also effective in a time of social media.

“I don’t want to support the police hundred percent but I don’t want to be biased in answering this question but what people don’t understand is that the police are a product of the society,” he said.
More importantly, he said, the police reflect the attitude of the society they grew in and are currently serving: “They always say ‘every society deserves the kind of police that they have.’

“A lot of people expect so much from the police, forgetting that the police are humans.

That’s where the problem lies, you get? So it’s just the society we find ourselves in. You’ll see a small boy and you’ll ask the small boy ‘help me buy something.’ The small boy brings change, trust me the small boy will be expecting you to give him the rest of the change. You must have experienced that, or maybe you did it when you were growing up?”

I nod in agreement.

“Apparently it is a societal thing. Why can’t he just buy the thing and just say ‘I’m doing it for my elders. Am doing it because of the respect I have for them.’ So because there’s money involved, it’s like you’re doing a job for that person knowing the fact that same person is catering for you and getting all you need. So that is the society that we belong, that’s the society we live in.

“Police are here to put things in order,” but “Nigerians are the most impatient citizens.”

Giwa points out that a typical Nigerian prefers a quicker, less expensive, route to settle a matter rather than go through the process stipulated by law to ensure that justice is served.

“Actually at the end of the day,” he said. “It is society that is generating that corruption thing.”
Giwa won’t talk about the state police, but he will talk about the future of the police, even if he refuses to be called that future.

“Like fine wine, the Nigerian police will get better,” he says. There are more talented people than I everyday. In later years we will get people that are better than I am.”

So why does he think he enjoys such a robust image on social media.

“The truth is that what is trendy about me is that a lot of people haven’t gotten close contact with the police, as I have,” he says shrugging.

“I am working on three images at the same time,” he adds. Accordig to him, this is his inner self, his personal image, and then the image of the police force.

On the first two counts, the accused is successful as charged. On the other, the jury is still out. But Giwa has certainly played his best hand.

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