Policing the Nigeria of our dream

on   /   in Special Report 5:49 am   /   Comments

By SAM IGBE
THERE is no form of government that does not need a police organization in its administration. The oligarchy, the monarchy, and the republican governments of yesteryears, the socialist regimes, ancient and modern, all ran and still run their governments with the active support and participation of the police. Dictatorships, totalitarian, and even military regimes do accept the help of police forces.

These governments require the police to keep them in power and frequently use them for personal protection, and for the protection of specific interests associated with the maintenance of their pomp, power, and even their vanity.

Some of the earliest forms of policing in Nigeria were found among the many servants used as palace officials, especially in the central emirates of Northern Nigeria, and the Edo and Yoruba kingdoms of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria. They were appointed by the kings to whom they were responsible, and for whom they combined the roles of bodyguards, messengers, and at times, those of executioners.

Their duties increased, as time passed, with the development of community police functions to apprehend and discipline offenders, and guard the towns during which they were also expected to prevent crimes from being committed.

They were effectively used as instruments of their masters for legitimate oppression. This reputation has grown with them as they developed into modernity, and it has become a feature which the modern police force in Nigeria has found difficult to shed.

The need for police to protect rather than oppress citizens has been appropriately established in the legal instruments setting up the modern police force in Nigeria expressed in section 214 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for

•Prevention and detection of crime; •Preservation and upholding of law and order; •Apprehension and prosecution of offenders; •Protection of life and property; •Due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and, •performance of such military duties within and outside Nigeria as may be required of them under the authority of this   constitutional provision and any other laws.

The general administration of the police force and the organization of its logistics rest with the Inspector-General of Police, with specific aspects of their administration held by the Police Service Commission and the Ministry of Police Affairs for the President under whose overall powers the force is run.

However, in our opinion, the Ministry of Police Affairs seems to constitute the odd man out in the set up, as one does not readily appreciate what the ministry does in the chain that the Police Service Commission cannot take care of.  The presence of the ministry in the chain is obviously an unnecessary and unwanted bureaucratic imposition.

As a result of ignorance and, or lack of the knowledge of what is appropriate for the force, there are bound to be disturbing delays, and at times deliberate stalling, by biased staff; and, in truth, there are only very few Nigerian civilians who are not, in the Nigerian circumstances, biased against the police. In this respect, the unclean and insanitary conditions and paucity of police barracks across the nation, and the general lack of essential working apparatus speak volumes.

Every effort must be made to eliminate all obvious obstacles to improvement and progress. Perhaps all that is required is a connect to pass policy requests to the President.

IN any case, with the very crying need for reorganization of police administration in the nation, if the needfull is done, the ministry would not be needed in the organization, and the police would not be under any unnecessary influence of government. One of the most manifest challenges of police personnel in Nigeria is corruption which, along with indiscipline, is the most intractable bane of the Nigerian society.This situation makes the Edo saying true which hypothesizes that if a thief joins others to search for lost property, it would be difficult to find.

There is a desperate need for officers and other ranks of the police to work out administrative measures to move them close to the generality of the people they serve, with institutions and methods that will win their confidence through service delivery. As it is, the people neither trust nor respect anything police. This is very unfortunate as the force cannot operate satisfactorily without the cooperation of the people.

If the police must perform their duties fully to the satisfaction of the people, however, the state and indeed, the people must take these and its other inadequacies more seriously.  Lots of these inadequacies are actually crying for attention. I met a young English constable at the British Police College in 1961. He had a Master’s degree from Oxford University.

I asked what made him enlist into the police force as a constable with such comparatively high education. He promptly answered that his father before him was a constable, and that his basic salary was better than the earnings of his university colleagues employed in the civil service. He added that his calculations were turning out wise as he was then actually doing the course at the Police College as an Officer trainee. Sooner than later he hoped, he would add the dignity of a higher rank to his good pay. It is obvious that this will not happen in Nigeria as things are.

It is perhaps necessary, in retrospect, to quote here in part, the Vanguard editorial comment of Wednesday, January 15, 2014, as follows: What happens to policemen who routinely shoot commercial bus drivers who refuse to be extorted? Which policemen have been successfully prosecuted for murder even as they fire live bullets point blank at rioters? Have the police not killed unarmed children, women and got away with their crime? The police believe they can do anything.

There are enough precedents to encourage their lawlessness. They have succeeded so far. Are the police punished when their road blocks on the highways cause accidents?  Have they not killed without provocation or while quelling mayhems? Those who killed suspects claiming they were resisting arrest are commended.

When these happen, lawmakers and the executive look the other way. The victims in most cases are the voiceless. Impunity that has grown from these abuses has emboldened the police. They enforce laws by placing themselves above the law. They are incurably reckless and equipped with enough excuses for the human rights abuses they perpetrate.

This is a very adverse comment, yet it is more true than false. No matter what palliative excuses the police authorities might have, the comment conveys what the generality of the people feel. Think what you like, however, and do what you like, the need for an able and viable police organization remains absolute. Not only the police authorities, but also the government and people of Nigeria must think seriously of how to reverse the trend. It is imperative to do this or the nation might be chasing anarchy.

We require the police to help in the sanitization of the polity. We need it to enhance discipline, as it is necessary for the general protection of society. We need them as anti-graft watch dogs within and outside their organization, hugely and painstakingly organized to deal decisively with the nation’s intractable ills of corruption which are in all ways wrecking the nations thought processes. We need the police to work ceaselessly at self-cleansing.

Operational activities

However, we need the organization to be strictly professional in both its administrative and operational activities, which must on all fronts, be purpose-driven. The Nigeria Police Force must do something urgently about its reputation. There is no way they can succeed without the cooperation of the other people of Nigeria. The authorities must be dispassionate and take the enormity, difficulties, and values of the service into consideration in fixing fair and just remunerations for officers and men of the force.

The turn-out of an officer reflects his state of discipline, his self-pride, self respect, and attitude to his duties. The daily turn-out is given very serious attention at the training institutions, and it is checked out daily during postings to their duty beat. Sloppy and dirty turn-out for duty, including improper dressing were serious offences that earned all ranks disciplinary entries into their records and personal files. Proper and permanent arrangements should be made for periodic supply of uniforms as was the case during the colonial era.  It would not do justice to the men, or to the service, if they continue to buy their uniforms.

Modern implements of work, and all necessary requirements for carrying out their duties should be fully provided, and proper housing and welfare arrangements must be adequately addressed. Police officers and men are, most of the time, at the receiving end of criticisms and abuses. It is also obvious that they, by their activities, invite the negative comments which can only be avoided through their responses to refresher on-the-job training and consistent purpose-driven supervisory efforts of the senior officers of the Force.

Complaints and abuses are never in short supply, but there is hardly any positive action taken, from within or outside the force, to attend to the complaints, not even by those paid to do so. The people are rightly the loudest complainants, but they also play the major role in corrupting the police personnel, especially when they find themselves deliberately on the wrong side of the law.

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