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Powers, achievements, and failings of the Nigeria Police: Need for urgent attention(3)

“It was no surprise that the offshoot of the organized traditional society as complemented by the above Akoda system of policing was the respect for the constituted authority headed by the king. In this way, lives and property were preserved and protected, inordinate ambition or insatiable quest for materials, money and fame with the attendant readiness to sacrifice anything to achieve them was practically unknown. In fact cases of robbery, armed robbery were few and far between as it could lead to ostracism of a whole family. The penalty could be that severe”.

Having detailed the basic duties of the Police, it is imperative to note that the phenomenon of the police is not a byproduct of Western civilization. African society was known generally to be well organized with rules and regulations governing the conduct of day-to-day affairs of the society. As rustic as the primordial African society was, some honest early writers attested to organized system found in the continent of Africa. Little wonder then that when “settling or trading” metamorphosed into colonization at a later date, the colonial masters employed an indirect rule system as a form of governance – a system that recognized the employment of the style of government which was already in existence as a yard stick for fostering the wishes of the colonialists on the colonized. Nigeria presented a classical example of this system of government.

In this regard, the old Oyo empire readily comes to mind. Without necessarily going into details the system was structured in such away that the legislative, executive, judicial and military arms were distinct and identifiable. And it worked commendably well. Interestingly enough, the judicial pronouncements (what is referred to in modern day as “judgment” , “orders”, “rulings”, “awards” etc) were not made for the fun of it. In fact they were sacrosanct while the “judges” especially the Oba was held in awe. The Alaafin was regarded as second only to God. More importantly, there were “law enforcement agents” popularly called Akodas in Yoruba-land and Dongari in the Northern part of the country especially among the Hausas. These Akodas, it is submitted, constituted the offshoot of the Police in Nigeria.As primitive as the Akodas phenomena might seem, the fact still remains that they were respected as agents of the king (and indeed the society) and those, and indeed they were few, who  tarried in responding to the orders of the Oba as conveyed by the Akodas, were the worse for it.

It is heartwarming to recall here that cases of willful disobedience of the orders of the Oba let alone stapling, beating or manhandling of the Akoda were very rare if not totally unheard of. It was indeed a taboo as such willful intransigence would be tantamount to slapping the Oba himself. The penalty could be very severe and in some cases, the culprits ended up paying the supreme sacrifice. Such was the high esteem the traditional police were held. It is perhaps for a similar reason that even in modern day in some countries in which the death penalty is sparingly imposed, it is still mandatorily imposed where a person is found guilty of the murder of a policeman or some other law enforcement officer.

In the said traditional police system, certain features were noticeable. These are:-

  1. 1. High Discipline:- Every Akoda or dongari (nomenclature not really important) knew that he was the representative of the king in particular and the society in general. As such, he conducted himself as best as possible always conscious of the fact that the societal norms must be preserved and protected. Should he fail to discharge his responsibility as expected, the society would not spare him the attendant sanctions.
  2. 2. Honesty and Sincerity of Purpose:- Upon assumption of duty, a traditional African policeman would swear to an unwritten oath of allegiance to the king in particular and the society at large. No wonder then that cases of bribery were unknown as such could constitute a desecration of the tradition. The Akoda discharged his functions without fear or favor regardless of whose ox is gored. In short, he could be relied upon at any time.
  3. 3. Commitment:- the traditional native police was fully committed to his job. He did not engage in any other venture with commercial considerations neither could he be accused of divided loyalty. Put simply, his entire life revolved round his assignments.
  4. 4, Efficiency:- Because of the features or attributes mentioned above and more, the African traditional police was efficient. Since no one would be prepared to be stigmatized in the society, there was cooperation among the people with deep respect for the tradition and customs of the given African society. The above features are definitely not exhaustive but they constitute in the main, the salient attributes of the old systems which the white men only improved upon to effect the establishment of the modern police. Because of the efficiency, commitment, honesty, sincerity of purpose and high discipline, the native police enjoyed the cooperation and respect of the people.

It was no surprise that the offshoot of the organized traditional society as complemented by the above Akoda system of policing was the respect for the constituted authority headed by the king. In this way, lives and property were preserved and protected, inordinate ambition or insatiable quest for materials, money and fame with the attendant readiness to sacrifice anything to achieve them was practically unknown. In fact cases of robbery, armed robbery were few and far between as it could lead to ostracism of a whole family. The penalty could be that severe.

With time modern civilization brought in its trail a complete break with tradition. However, before proceeding to examine the origin of modern policing using Nigeria’s former colonial power, Britain as an example, it would be opposite to attempt a working definition of the word “police” or “policing” in modern terminology. The chambers dictionary (new edition) defines the word “police” as (1) a body of men and women employed to maintain order etc. (2) its members collectively (3) the system of regulations for the preservation of order and enforcement of law (4) the internal government of a state. On the other hand Black Law dictionary (seventh Edition) defines “police” as (1) the government department charged with the preservation of public order, the promotion of public safety and the prevention and detection of crime (2) the officer or members of this department.

From the above definitions and taking into cognizance the modernization of the “police”, the word can mean generally the arrangements made in all civilized countries to ensure that the inhabitants keep the peace and obey the law.

 

To be continued.


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