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Police reform should be at the top of Jonathan’s agenda

By Obi Nwakanma
It is clear that the Nigerian Police Force is no longer capable of providing Nigeria’s internal domestic security. It has been outgunned and outmanned by more powerful criminal actors. It is true also that police roadblocks and check points have never stopped the commission of crimes.

If anything, such road blocks have aided crimes against Nigerian citizens more often than we dare recount here. As the new president settles to completing the final term of this administration, reforming and upgrading the Nigerian Police system should be at the top of his political program. The urgent need for police reforms cannot be overstated particularly given the terrible state of Nigeria’s national security. To put it plainly, Nigerians now live in great fear, from the multifarious spike in violent crimes by seemingly organized non-state actors.

This fear is driving away Nigerians from their homes, and restraining social and economic activity. I could not frankly reconcile my experience of a place like Lagos last year with the city that I knew once throbbing at the fecund and restless edge of time, to the Lagos that had become socially gaunt.

Lagos now sleeps and the city no longer holds any attraction for the nocturnal delights of city life on which much economic activity also depends. This is profoundly true: the economies of countries are as dependent on what happens in the day as with what happens at night. But the nights in Nigeria now hide long knives. Indeed daily life has become slippery and uncertain.

There are constant, mind-boggling reports of violent crimes. Nigerians were recently harassed with the bloody images circulated on the internet of a horrendous and senseless slaughter of passengers on the now infamous Ore-Benin interstate highway.

This level of crime is abnormal and psychotic. There have been reports of waves of kidnappings, particularly in the East of Nigeria. It is an increasing fact of life in Nigeria generally, that people can now be kidnapped at the clear height of noon, right under the noses of the Nigerian police and the other state security organizations.

The most recent victim of such a kidnapping is Mrs. Njideka Ezeife, spouse of Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra state. This is unconscionable, more so because, weeks later, the Nigerian Police does not seem to have a lead or indeed have a clue about what to do with kidnap cases of this sort.

Nigeria has become particularly the den of atrocities of the kind never before known or reckoned by anyone even only a decade ago. Nigerians returning or visiting their ancestral homes are routinely kidnapped and ransomed, and some have even been killed for no other reason than that they are sojourners in distant lands, where it is often erroneously assumed they make great bundles of money.

This is of course mostly not true for many Nigerians living in places like Europe, the US, or Asia are hardworking and struggling immigrants who mostly try to make ends meet. They struggle daily, like those in Nigeria to keep afloat. They are materially not better or worse than many Nigerians living at home.

They enjoy only a different quality of life: good, clean water; clean, well built cities; well developed public services like clean and regular public city transportation; regular electricity; well built public spaces; good schools and hospitals; law and order; and a sense of public safety, all of which have increasingly become alien to Nigerians at home. There is a certainty by which one can regulate the self and find a balance in these other places that is absent in Nigeria. It is the absence of social order and control – the very basis on which governments are established.

These are the only differences that Nigerians abroad enjoy, not material wealth of the sort that now wrongly makes them targets of the violent crimes of kidnap and murder. A close friend of mine recently related the sordid account of how his cousins visiting Nigeria from overseas were attacked and raped in Lagos by robbers who came to the house they were staying in, asking for dollars.

Friends of mine were threatened with the abduction of their one-year old child in Port-Harcourt where they were visiting from Houston. These kinds of crimes are systematically alienating Nigerians abroad, and forcing them to rethink their relationship with “home.”

Last year in Burlington, Vermont, I met a young Nigerian woman studying at Princeton who once loved visiting her ancestral home in Owerrinta, but who told me, “I’m not likely to visit again and that makes me sad.” Her parents will not permit her from all the news about kidnappings that they have heard from reports both in the media and by friends of theirs.

Nigeria exists in the imagination as a crime-infested, corrupt and unsafe place to live or visit. This image is dangerous to Nigeria’s social and economic aspirations. No country can survive when it is isolated and ignored by the larger world beyond it. Exchange is the intercourse of travelers and without the kind of intercourse that draws travelers to a land, exchange – economic and social – will never develop or grow.

Prominent members of the Nigerian society are now also under severe threat, as evidenced in the Ezeife case, and in some ways, this is a teachable moment: for many years, the Nigerian elite had neglected the reform of the Nigerian police, the organization charged with maintaining Nigeria’s internal security.

They saw the police merely in terms of its coercive and constabulary functions. They recruited virtual illiterates and brutes into its cadre. It grew into a corrupt, bloated, and inefficient organization.

But that is not the only trouble with the Nigerian police: its central problem is the problem of its mission. The Nigeria police is fundamentally a colonial police in its organization and mission. It is not suited for a modern, civilized, democratic and egalitarian society.

It has retained this colonial character because the key moments when it should have transitioned into a proper postcolonial, democratic police system have been fraught with instability, war, and military dictatorship. It is thus imperative for President Goodluck Jonathan to initiate the fundamental reforms necessary for the reorganization of the Nigerian police and build it into an effective and modern police service.

I should point here that the Parry Osayande commission set to propose a reform of the Nigerian police is unlikely to give Nigeria the kind of police service that will work. Osanyande belongs to this colonial police mindset, and does not have the tools to conceptualize a police service in the 21st century with all its unique challenges.

Dr. Jonathan must thus cast his net wider: there are Nigerians who have worked in many modern police services in the US and the UK, as well as many Nigerians trained in modern security and policing systems, this president must seek them out, starting with Mr. Ikeazor, formerly of the London Mets. It is imperative that Nigeria not only reforms its police system but must close attention to implications of the serious crime situation in Nigeria and its potential links to external security factors. Public safety is the sumum bonum of all rights. Goodluck Jonathan must therefore close the cracks of insecurity that makes our society uncivil and deadly.


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