IN what appears like a ritual for virtually every government in Nigeria, the Federal Government has once again, constituted a panel to make recommendations for a better Police Force. This move has once again raised this pertinent question: Does Nigeria need another police reform committee? CHARLES KUMOLU writes.
THE time was 5.00pm. And the setting was Lekki Phase 1. The dramatis personae were three civilians and two members of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF. At the centre of the drama was a 27-year-old Akwa-Ibom State born construction worker, Udeme Akwa-Jackobson. For Jackobson, Thursday, April 15, 2010, would go down in history as the day he came face to face with death.
Narrating, how his encounter with death, which could be described as a tragicomedy happened. He said: “I was not the only one there; so how come the police attacked me? I believe there is a spiritual undertone. I was in front of my house chatting with some friends about sundry issues.
We were talking about a maid who desperately needed another job and we mentioned one lady in the area who could help her. Just then, the lady we mentioned passed by and we all laughed at the coincidence.
Bus painted in Lagos commercial colour: “Shortly after, a bus painted in Lagos commercial colour stopped beside us. In the bus were two mobile policemen. One of them alighted and came to me, held me by my shirt and asked why I was laughing at him.
I was confused and thoroughly shocked to say the least. But he was serious about his allegation because he was violently pulling me towards the parked bus. All entreaties from my friends that we were not laughing at him fell on deaf ears.
“We were shocked the more, when another mobile police man who had long parked his motorbike by the road side, came up to corroborate the allegation. As the argument raged, one of the mobile policemen who came with them tried to calm the situation by saying that we could not have been laughing at his colleague.
When the argument degenerated into slaps and blows, a Pastor who lives on my street came to the rescue and was able to free me from his grip. But just then, he grabbed a pistol from the waist belt of his colleague and tried to hit me on the head and I dodged it and jumped over the gutter.
At that point, he pointed the gun at me and before I could turn to react to my friends shout of Udeme, Udeme, I heard a gun shot.
“The police man had shot me on the leg and I began to bleed. After the shooting, the Mobile Policeman disappeared into thin air with his colleagues while my friends and neighbours rushed me to a nearby private hospital and later, Mainland General hospital.”
While Jacobson was lucky he did not lose his life in this ordeal, not many are alive to tell their tales of tango with men of the NPF. In fact, there is hardly any month that alleged atrocious conducts are not reported about NPF. If it is not extra-judicial killing of suspects in custody, it is shooting of innocent drivers who refuse to pay toll fees at illegally mounted police checkpoints.
Police reforms: Against the backdrop of this reputation of violence, extortion, extra-judicial killings and other operational shortfalls, many have consistently called for police reforms. Indeed, the reforms have not been in shortfall, as governments in the past and present, have constituted various reform panels to reposition the Force. A more recent reform is the Parry Osayande-led Police Reorganising Committee, PRC.
Like others before it, the PRC which started sitting on Tuesday, February 8, at the headquarters of the Police Service Commission, PSC, had the following as members: Mr. Casmir Akagbosu, AIG (rtd); Major-General S. N. Chikwe (rtd), former Provost Marshal, Nigeria Army; Dr. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN); Prof. S. D. Mukoro; Mr. Bashir Albasu; Aisha Tukur, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Office of the SGF, Secretary of the committee.
Terms of reference: The panel among other things, is charged to identify the challenges and factors militating against the effective performance of the Police and make recommendations for addressing the challenges. It is to examine the scope and standard of training and other personnel development activities in the Police to determine their adequacy or otherwise.
The panel is also to determine the general and specific causes of the collapse of public confidence in the Police and recommend ways of restoring public trust in the institution.
The Federal government noted that the panel’s recommendation shall be implemented along with those by previous committees set up by government on the reform of the Force. However, for a lot of people, the birth of another panel, is not new given that similar ones had existed in the past. This is why the pertinent question every where is: Does Nigeria need another police reform panel?
The question is generally predicated on the believe that the exercise appears to be a repetition of similar efforts in the past. Though, there is a consensus on the fact that the NPF is in dire need of reformation, another disturbing question today remains: What happened to the reports of previous panels set up to reform the police?
A former a retired Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, responds thus: “I think the president just wants to give jobs to his friends and party faithful, otherwise there is no need for another reform panel. Some reform panels had submitted their reports in the past and nothing has happened, so what is the guarantee that something different would happen this time. They are just giving jobs to their people.”
Does Nigeria need another police reform panel?
VanguardFeatures,VF, investigations, however, reveal that the history of police reforms could be traced to 1967, when a commission was set up by the military government. The commission concluded that the “despicable image of the police” was in part attributable to “bribery and corruption.” And it consequently stated that, unsuitable candidates had bribed their way into the Force. Since then, it had been one reform police panel to another.
For instance, it was gathered that the 1979 constitution had some aspects of reforms, which created the PSC. Essentially, PSC was responsible for NPF policy, organisation, administration, and finance (except for pensions).
But the PSC was also abolished in 1989 by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and it was consequently replaced by the Nigeria Police Council. The council was chaired by the president; the Chief of General Staff, the minister of internal affairs, and the police inspector general were members.
In the same year, then military government adopted the Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako’s report. Consequently, a Quick Intervention Force was created in each state. This was separate from the mobile police units, specifically to monitor political events and to quell unrest during the transition to civil rule. All these attempts under the military yielded little or no fruits in improving the Force.
Obasanjo’s reforms: Little wonder President Olusegun Obasanjo at the inception of his administration in 1999, initiated another reform process. In line with this, the various Inspectors General of Police, IGPs, under Obasanjo initiated different reformative agendas.
For instance, Alhaji Musiliu Smith had a six-point agenda for the police. During that period, the Police affairs Ministry, introduced a five-year development plan which outlined strategies for transforming the police.
Under Tafa Balogun, an eight point agenda was introduced. That was also doubled to ten point by his successor, Sunday Ehindero, who wanted the NPF “To serve and protect with integrity.” In addition to these, a police reform bill was forwarded to the National Assembly in 2006 as part of the reform efforts.
Yar’ Adua’s reforms: Despite, the presumably ongoing reforms initiated by Obasanjo, President Umar Yar’Adua had in 2008, inaugurated a 16-man police reform panel led by a retired IGP, Alhaji M. D. Yusufu. Charged with terms of reference nearly similar to Osayande’s, the panel performed its functions and consequently submitted its reports.
Further investigations by VF, indicated that the former president approved a committee led by the Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Yakubu Lame, to begin the implementation of the recommendations of the panel. That implementation was reportedly expected to gulp N2.8 trillion in five years (as at 2009).
By implication, had the implementation of that report been followed, there would not have been need for another reform panel in 2012, given that the five-year benchmark was supposed to be attained by 2014.
For this reason, the birth of another reform panel in the face of a supposed ongoing reforms, has aroused public anger. Perhaps, this was why a former head of a past reform panel told VF: “I don’t know anything about that, don’t ask me what I don’t know.”
In the same vein, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, NHC, Prof. Chidi Odinkanlu commenting on the issue noted: “I don’t think I need to comment. The fact would speak for it, because if you go back you will find out many concerned stakeholders had written something on that. There is also a significant segment in the Uwais Electoral reforms reports, which dwelled on police reforms. So I don’t think there is any thing for me to say on it.”
Prodded further on the stance by stakeholders and its consequences, he observed: “Sometimes, the facts and the verbs speak more than rhetoric. This does not even require a story, just look at past reports and present them, so that the facts can speak. I don’t think there is anything I need to say on that.”
Why past reports were not implemented
Corroborating, the apparent consensus on the frequency of police reform panels, Tsav said: “We have had several panels and reports on how police should function creditably well, but the reports were not implemented. And now they have constituted another reform panel.
I don’t think the government is sincere over the issue, because if they truly want reform, they should open inquiry so that people would come to tell them what the police is doing and what the police lacks. When they organise this public enquiry, people would tell them about police failure and police achievements, because the rubbish that is happening in the police today was not created by the present generation of police officers. They also inherited it. Everything has gone wrong.
“Senior police officers in the past also contributed to this decay in the police service. You will find somebody, who is a C.I.D, but has never investigated a case during his time in the Force. The emphasis in the Force now is on promotion and how to make money.
Already people are now complaining about the recent promotions in the Force. They are complaining that it was not done on seniority lines, that people who were supposed to be promoted were not promoted.
And my opinion on that is that the present Police Service Commission, PSC, may have done that based on individual merit and not on seniority grounds, because we know very well that officers buy their report annually.
When you grade an officer C, he would come back to influence you to give him an A. And he keeps on having excellent at the expense of merit. For you to have an A, you must have had an exceptional performance, which is rare now.”
Plight of junior officers: When asked what was responsible for non implementation of past panel reports, Tsav added: “I can tell you that lack of sincerity on the part of our leaders is responsible for the non implementation of past reports, because each time any report does not favour any particular person or group interest, they would push the report aside.
When they see that contracts in a particular report would not come to them, they throw the report away. We are not serious in this country. I agree that the police is poorly paid and I also concede that the police lack operational equipment.
But one thing is that police at all levels are very dishonest and corrupt. Government provides money for fueling of patrol vehicles, but this money does not get to the junior officers.
“The senior officers are very selfish, they do not want to expose junior officers, who are very competent on their jobs, to training. For instance, when a junior officer, performs an act which would bring glory to the Force, they would not bring him out to commend him for the job well done.
The senior officer, will rather take the glory. And there is no solution near in sight. The police has so much battered its image, to the extent that people fear to wear their uniforms on the streets. You can see what is happening in the north, where the Police is the main target of Boko Haram killings. This is supposed to make the authorities ask why is it so.”
Osayande panel is a waste: Another person who is angry with the formation of another police reform panel, is a member of Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma. He told Vanguard: “The Parry Osayende led committee, for me, is a waste of time, because Osayande had been a member of most of the reforms we have had in the past.
And he is also the Chairman of Police Service Commission, PSC, which on paper has all the powers in the world to reform the Police, which he has not been able to do. So for me, it’s a waste of time and amounts to giving job to the boys. People should not take it serious.”
He however noted that: “currently, two police reforms are going on. There is one introduced by the Inspector Genreal of Police, Abubakar M.D and then we have the Parry Osayande led police reforms. That of the I.G which has witnessed the changes he is making, is in the positive direction and it should be encouraged. It is the success of the reforms that makes meaning and not the rhetoric.”
Parallel reform panel: Besides, Chukwuma hinted on the next line of action by the civil society. He said: “What we are planing in the civil society community is to organise a parallel one that would really address the issues and present our own recommendations on what should be done.
So, we are not taking the Osayande committee serious and we are not going to send any memorandum to them. What we are going to do is to get together and send to the government our position, but we would encourage the one the present I.G has engaged and we will give him all the support he needs to succeed because that one is result orientated.
“The last police reforms was set up by President Yar’Adua and was headed by M.D Yusuf. It was also chaired by President Jonathan, who was then the Vice President. There was a white paper on that reform and it was handed over to the ministry of police affairs to act on.
But what they focused on was procurement, they never focused on the aspect of attitudinal change, which is a very serious challenge in the Force. This is what they are supposed to focus on and also the one led by Mamadani a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG.
All those panels came up with beautiful recommendations, which government should implement, instead of going round the country to get people’s opinions. Constituting a new panel amounts to another jamboree, because at the end of the day, nothing will be done to the recommendations.”