Tonye Princewill

March 2, 2012

Lamentations for the Police (1)

Lamentations for the  Police (1)

Police

By Tonye Princewill
HOLD am!” I’m sure you know what that means. You may also have heard children at play, spoofing police officers at checkpoints: “Park well, my friend. Show me your particulars!”

Nigerians enjoy poking fun at the Police—a measure of the depth to which this strategic institution has sank.

Over time, we seem to have lost sight of a simple but essential truth: That our lives would be very different without the services the men and women of the force are providing.

Not only that, but it is unrealistic to expect high ethical standards to prevail in other institutions, until and unless our frontline enforcement agency is highly functional and efficient.

Yet among all public servants, members of the Nigeria Police are probably the most unappreciated and under-supported. They perform their duties, under utterly deplorable working conditions.

This include low pay, antiquated or insufficient equipment, poor training, arbitrary denial of benefits, squalid and overcrowded living quarters….you name it. If it’s negative, the Nigeria Police can claim it. Take a look at their training facilities and you will know what we think of them.

The rank and file, in particular, from Inspectors down to Constables make up what Jon Chikadibie Okafor once described, on Internet, as “the kwashiorkor that is the Nigeria Police Force”.

“It is an ugly picture,” he wrote, in a polemical blog entitled “A Tear for The Nigeria Police”. “It is the type of picture that should shame the men and women that occupy space in the National Assembly and our Executive …”.

The plight of our law enforcement personnel should, in fact, shame all of us—because all of us are responsible. We take the services of this crucially important sector for granted, investing little more than the time and energy it takes to complain or cast aspersions.

There is, I must admit, lots to complain about. Police personnel generally are hardly paragons of perfection, morally or professionally.

I’m aware, for example, of what goes on at road checkpoints—how money is openly extracted from drivers and, in some instances, passengers carrying certain types of cargo.

Nor am I oblivious to other often-reported police practices, which fall short of the professional standards law enforcement personnel are expected to meet.

These imperfections and anomalies are all too apparent to anyone who has plied Nigerian roads, read the papers or tuned into the electronic media.

Still, the Nigeria Police is what we have; and we are certainly better off with the force, than without it. In light of this, I share fully the sentiments of Archbishop Chris Omeben, erstwhile Deputy Inspector General, who yearns for the restitution of the force and “the restoration of its former glory”.

This is naturally easier said than done. Over the past 17 years, the Federal Government has constituted no fewer than six committees—one of them chaired by Omeben–for the purpose of reforming and resuscitating the nation’s law enforcement agency.

But so far, little of substance has been achieved. The reports of these committees, containing recommendations for reviving the Nigeria Police, are either lodged in the hard drives of government computers or gathering dust on the cluttered desks of Abuja bureaucrats.

Indeed, both Omeben and Alhaji M.D. Yusuf–the retired Deputy Inspector General who headed the Presidential Commission on Police Reform in 2008–have complained about the Federal Government’s failure to act on the reports of previously constituted bodies.

The implications are, as Omeben and others have noted, that political will may be what is needed, even more than the knowledge and guidance of Reform Committees–something we should all be very conscious of, as a new Committee commences its work.

The most recent body was appointed January 25, after President Goodluck Jonathan dismissed Police Inspector General Hafiz Ringim and his six deputies—in response to the escape of Kabiru Sokoto, an alleged operative of Boko Haram.

Inaugurating the eight-member investigative organ, Vice President Namadi Sambo said its objective was to “redress the rot in the Nigeria Police Force and reposition it to face the challenges of a democratic society”.

“Rot” may be the understatement of the year. The Nigeria Police Force is mired in a debilitating plethora of administrative, legal, structural and behavioural anomalies—the details of which I will return to in the second instalment.

But first, let me introduce the new Reform Committee, which evinces a reasonable balance between armed forces and civilian representatives. They are: Kasmir T. Akagbosu, (Asst. Inspector General, rtd.); Bashir A. Albasu (A.I.G., rtd.); Major General S.N. Chidwe (rtd.); Prof. S.D. Mukoro; Dr. Fabian Ajogwu; Aisha Laral Tukur; Alhaji Abdullahi Yola (Solicitor General/Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice); and Aliyu Salihu Gusau (Special Services Office, Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government).

Heading the reform effort is Chief Parry Benjamin Osemwegie Osayande, a retired Deputy Inspector General. Osayande, now in his 70s, is a tough and highly skilled detective, who distinguished himself during the 1987 Lawrence Anenih drama in Edo State.

After my experience as a member of the Niger Delta Technical Committee and remembering the wave of enthusiasm that greeted our formation, I have to say that I wish them well.