In search of a police force

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By JOSEF OMOROTIONMWAN
THERE is the seemingly pessimistic view that even without a government, this country cannot be worse than it already is. As a corollary, people may also add that even without a police force, the crime situation in Nigeria cannot get any worse than it already is.

President Goodluck Jonathan has a point in assuming that if you are right, the police – be it Federal or state – will defend you.

He almost said that much when he declared the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, open in Abuja on Monday, August 27, 2012. Clearly, Edo State has been one of the sharpest critics of his administration, but “… at the last election, Oshiomhole was popular and he won.” There was nothing any police could do about that.

Along the same line, we think the ongoing debate on the desirability or otherwise of having a state police is a diversionary tactic. As usual, this is perhaps another way of giving the citizenry some bone to crack while their attention is removed from the bigger question of insecurity that has enveloped the entire nation.

In fact, what Nigerians want is a police system that works – a police system that responds to their security needs. Whether it is controlled by the Federal, state or Local administration is immaterial.

They have a common disgust for the situation in which families are left to negotiate with kidnappers of their beloved ones. Every arm of security and law administration chain, including the Judiciary, must be improved for the effective performance of its role.

The philosophy behind our criminal justice administration needs a major overhaul. What we have now is a system that punishes only petty criminals while the big ones are allowed to escape and even glorified!

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was right when he asserted: “For forms of government, let fools contest. That which is best administered is best”.

One common mistake among Nigerians is that they speak in a tone that suggests that the police exist only to protect politicians and elections.

Come to think of it, presidents, governors and other big politicians are already protected, particularly with their whopping security votes. But what about the citizens?

They need protection. Yet, they are the ones left unprotected. It does not make any difference to them where the controller of their protector is. All they want is efficiency and effectiveness of the police and the system.

The futile nature of the present debate becomes clearer when we realise that we cannot be discussing the police in isolation. No system can ever grow much higher than the environment in which it exists. We may easily agree that the police system in Nigeria is not properly funded.

We may also agree that most police bosses have invariably come out richer than the Police Force. We may proceed from there to demand that whether the police is national or local, the legislators should recommend stiff penalties for all those who divert police funds to their private pockets.

But what if the legislators took 20 percent of the budget sum to approve the budget? What if the process of releasing the fund took another 20 percent? Corruption in society must necessarily impinge on the sub-systems in that society.

The worst is yet to come. As society gets rotten by the day, everything – including the Police Force – is also going down the drain!

There are states and organisations in this country where bribery and corruption have been institutionalised to the extent that the amounts for employment and promotion are fixed. As long as you provide what is required, you are employed, whether or not you meet the laid down criteria.

It may not matter whether the policeman that emerges from this procedure is clinically blind or if he has one and a half legs; or whether he is only three feet tall or if he possesses only the primary four certificate to occupy an executive position!

And on promotion, no matter how hard you work or how eminently qualified you may be, no payment, no promotion! This is Nigeria, our Nigeria. In the face of all this, you will still expect a perfect Police Force and if you don’t find one, it is because the Police Force is federal or local!

The fault with the Nigeria Police is not whether it is national or local. But even at that, what could have been seriously wrong in experimenting on the state setup after so many years of failure of the national police? Why are we suggesting that the state police would break the country?

By the way, how many people would object to having a broken Nigeria in perfect peace and harmony, instead of the “united” and troubled country that we now have?

For now, we are stuck with the police force and the society we have. They will keep struggling together. By the time we have a better society, people will be available to find a police system that will fit the module.

When the time comes, we shall forget about the level of control and go for the real thing – an effective police system. For now, we have no moral right, expecting to reap the German, American or British police when all we have planted is the Nigeria Police! An acceptable response time presupposes the existence of good network of roads, good communication equipment and a capable work force.

Elsewhere, a policeman is supposed to possess a pleasant and an imposing personality; disciplined and smart looking; he must be able to outrun the fastest criminal; and he must be equipped with the latest investigation techniques.

How does this compare with a system where toys, half–baked and sometimes pregnant men in rags are running around as policemen? We once had a police force.

For now, there is virtually none! Why are we now chasing the shadow and leaving the substance – looking for who controls a police force that does not yet exist?

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