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The primary duty of any government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens. The Nigerian government since its independence, especially in recent years, have fallen far short of this duty. With police brutality, bribery, extortion, and other crimes against human rights the country can no longer afford to put back the reform of the police service.
The police is an agency of the executive arm of government that maintains law and order in any society. Unlike the military, the police investigates and prosecutes cases in the law courts. It plays a vital role in ensuring peaceful coexistence among the citizens without which the society would be a jungle. In Nigeria, the police, though a necessary evil, has lost the confidence of several Nigerians because of poor attitude to work, unethical conduct, and ominous disregard for fundamental human rights which have brought about the call for a complete overhaul and reform of the Nigerian police force by different parties and individuals.
The Nigeria Police Force these past few years has been on a straight downward spiral. From gross negligence of duty to haphazard methods of carrying out security duties with their long history of engaging in unprofessional, corrupt, and criminal conduct. These have led to a high influx of crime in the country. They treat the poor differently from the rich. What is most shocking is the fact that all bids to sanitise the Nigerian Police have been futile an example of this is the recently disbanded SARS unit. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a dreaded controversial unit of the Nigeria Police Force. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad is a unit under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police Anthony Ogbizi. The DIG receives its directives from the Inspector General of Police. SARS as it is popularly called is known for extortion, torture, framing up suspects, and even blackmail. Stories of their misdemeanors have since taken to international recognition since the inception of the #EndSARS protests of October, 2020 which has led to the disbandment of the unit by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
This makes one wonder whether the personnel have become above the law, or whether there are no practical measures to address the scourging issues from the police to civilians as well as the society as a whole. In civilised countries such as the US, UK, it is a thing of pride to have a family member in the police, but the reverse is the case in Nigeria where stubborn children in the family who probably had dropped out of school are encouraged to apply for enlistment into the police. Many parents have done this to get rid of miscreants from the family. Nothing good would come from a police force made up of poorly educated rascals known in Nigerian parlance as ‘area boys’. Such policemen are ready tools in the hands of blood-thirsty and renegade politicians who would pay any amount of money to ensure that terror is unleashed on perceived formidable opponents and intimidation of their supporters. This is one of the most important reasons why the Nigerian Government has to get back to the drawing board and work out the issues with the police force.
The reform must start with an honest and robust assessment of Nigeria’s current security issues, the constraints on the ability of the police to respond to these challenges, and its legitimacy in being categorised and referred to as a force.
The experiences of many Nigerians in the hands of the personnel of the Nigeria Police Force have shown that the Nigeria Police Force is grossly under-resourced, poorly trained, poorly paid, and deeply corrupt. To address these issues in the police force, the government will do well to first understand what drives these behaviours in their police officers. For most police officers, especially the thousands at the bottom of the ladder, corruption is a matter of survival. They are paid starvation wages, sent to work in deplorable conditions with little resources, housed in squalor, and then expected to perform like the FBI or London’s Metropolitan Police.
In contrast, a typical police officer on patrol in the developed world would be equipped with bullet-proof body armour for protection, a baton, a Taser gun, a cell phone, a pair of handcuffs and a two-way radio for real-time communication with the station and other officers. They would also have on their belt pouches spare armour, first aid kit, gloves, a pen, and a notebook. Compare this with a typical Nigerian police officer that depends largely on members of the public to provide him with the tools to do his job – stationery, fuel, etc. They even have to buy their own uniform from their meagre salaries. How sad! It is like sending a farmer to plough the field without a hoe and then complain that the farmer has not delivered the required harvest.
These foreign counterparts understand the real meaning and significance of the police unit hence names like NYPD (New York Police Department), LMP (London’s Metropolitan Police), Scotland Yard of Britain, Texas Rangers, The Militsiya or the Russian Police and so on. They are classified as Governmental departments and institutions and not as a ‘Force’. Tagging the Nigerian Police as a force is only a deluded notion that has been pushed on by the Federal Government since after Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
Regrettably, the leadership of the police, past, and present, cannot absolve themselves from the current state of policing in the country and the way the force is perceived by the public. The deep culture of bribery, corruption, and many allegations of police brutality would not have thrived without the implied or express acquiescence of the leadership. In most countries the police station is where people flee for refuge; in Nigeria, it is where people avoid at all cost, a place Nigerians have described satirically as business centres where extortion is commonplace under the direct gaze of police commissioners. If the members of the Nigeria Police are to endear themselves to the public, they must start by putting their own house in order, starting with the re-orientation of the leadership.
The Nigerian government also has to stop the politicisation of the police and their security services. The police on their part must resist all attempts to be drawn into partisan politics. Addressing crime effectively in Nigeria would require a complete reorientation of the police force and a rebuilding of a new force around new, well-trained recruits. This may involve the retrenchment of large numbers of police officers who are so mired in the current way of doing things that trying to retrain them would be an exercise in futility. Another type of reform which currently has the support of some governors, is the creation of state police forces to replace or augment the Nigerian Police. In the north, vigilante groups, most notably members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, have an established presence in their communities which have proven to be effective instruments of law enforcement and in the western region they have the Amotekun corps which have also proven their mettle in curbing crime in the region.
The reform would require a huge investment in training and technology to improve the detection, investigation, and prosecution of crime. It must address the pay and general welfare of police officers, as well as the calibre and qualifications of the people that are attracted and recruited into the police service. The Nigerian Government must also re-examine the colonial practice of police officers living in barracks. It is not done anywhere else. They should be living in normal communities where the intelligence is. The current barracks can then be sold to fund the reform. The reform will not be cheap and will require a huge investment in vehicles, equipment and modern police stations. The investment will pay for itself in the long run with a leaner and a more professional police force. The government would also do well to enlighten the members of the Police and the public as well on the proper use and functions of the police. This would entail teaching the public about how important the police unit is to the general society, its function in the Government as an institution, and not as a force like the military. The term ‘Nigerian Police Force’ should be gotten rid of as should have been done many years ago.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK