…The problem with the police, by Civil Society Panel On Police Reform In Nigeria
By Chris Onuoha
The Civil Society Panel on Police Reform in Nigeria, chaired by Ms Ayo M.O. Obe and raised by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, was not the first body to look into the challenges of the police as the agency vested with the duty of providing internal security for the people of Nigeria.
There were at least three such previous Presidential Committees on Police Reform established by Jonathan’s predecessors whose recommendations were neither made public nor seriously or scrupulously implemented.
It was not that the recommendations of the committees were not desirable. For instance, one of such previous panels, the M.D. Yusuf’s Presidential Committee on Police Reform, in 2008, suggested community policing, as has just been recommended and being implemented, when it, in its report, said, “There is need to adapt community policing to suit Nigeria’s peculiarities. Government should formulate a community policing Policy and Framework for the country, taking into account our cultural and political environment.”
The latest of such committees is the one raised by the Buhari administration which make a case for community policing to enhance crime prevention and control, improve intelligence-gathering capabilities of the police and deliver quality and people-oriented policing, as against state police favored in some quarters.
In the unfolding dispensation, 40,000 Special Constables (50 per LGA) will be drawn from members of the community to serve as voluntary community police officers under the coordination of the Nigeria Police.
This new drive is in line with the expressed desire and directives of President Muhammadu Buhari to the Inspector-General of Police while announcing approval of community policing in April 2019.
Meanwhile, there is nothing on ground to suggest that the report of the Obe panel, the last of such committees to be raised on the police before this federal administration, was implemented, otherwise we should not be beset with the security challenges on the scale we have it today in kidnapping and banditry among other violent crimes. The Obe panel diagnosed the police problems and offered solutions. The aspect that concerns community policing is contained in chapter 6 of the panel’s report as reproduced hereunder:
“6.4.1 Community Policing
Concerns were repeatedly raised with the CSO Panel about the divide between the NPF and members of the public, with contributors identifying this divide as a major obstacle to the police being positioned as the preferred and trusted security agency to which citizens could take their security concerns. Even where police officers were not seen as being involved in the corrupt activities and oppressive behaviour that have earned the force the active dislike and hostility of the public, or where they might even have earned the trust of local communities, contributors to the Panel’s work complained that there was no continuity or certainty in such relationships. Instead of building on such relationships, the NPF was more apt to transfer police officers from one end of the country to another in what appeared to be an arbitrary and even punitive fashion, with only perceived ‘bad eggs’ seeming to be able to
pull strings to remain amongst communities who were praying for their departure!
“6.4.2 One concept identified as a possible answer to this problem is community policing, which recognises the importance of involving the public in making the environment secure. It challenges the police to adopt strategies that strengthen their relationship with the
community and earn the support of the people for effective monitoring of individuals and gathering of intelligence and information. It requires active effort on the part of the police to endear themselves to the community and to take supportive actions in order to earn the people’s trust and friendship.
“6.4.3 A pilot project took off in selected states in 2004, and there were visible signs such as inscribing some police vehicles with the words ‘Community Policing’. But in its memo to the CSO Panel, the CLEEN Foundation noted that support for community policing had
hardly permeated the higher echelons of the NPF, let alone its junior officers. It identified
the failure of the NPF to take ownership of the Community Policing project as a key problem. In other words, as long as NGOs and other outside agencies were ready to fund pilot projects or carry out the necessary training, the NPF was willing to go along, or rather,
to be carried along. But the way that officers who had received community policing training were then transferred from place to place, or back to general or other duties, not only meant that the benefit of their training was lost, it also showed that those taking decisions about such postings had completely failed to imbibe the purpose and importance of community
policing, and what was necessary to take it forward.
The CSO Panel notes that the NPF has been open to the idea of community policing, and that in Borno and Imo States, which were selected for initial implementation, the project has visibility through the ‘Community Policing’ inscribed vehicles dedicated to the project by the State Commands.
x The Panel also notes that previous panels on police reform have recommended that the
NPF should adopt and expand community policing.
x The government and the NPF should take full ownership of the community policing development programme and commit Nigeria’s resources to develop it instead of depending on development partners to shoulder the entire cost.
x The NPF should revive the Steering Committee it established in 2004 to drive the implementation of community policing in Nigeria and to liaise with development partners in the implementation of other reform programmes currently supported by them.
x Police officers who undergo training in community policing should be returned to continue the project and remain in situ.
x The police should develop a framework where all divisional commanders sustain periodic meetings with citizen groups engaged in security activities to elicit their help in combating crime and as a means of monitoring their activities in the community.
“6.4.1 Police Accommodation
As mentioned in Chapter 4 of this Report, which looks at the reasons for the public’s loss of confidence in the police, the deplorable condition of police barracks across the country contributes greatly to negative perceptions about police officers and the NPF. Members of the public were united in condemnation of the condition of such living quarters, which is so notorious that the CSO Panel was told of architecture students, being given an exercise to design barracks for the armed forces and the police, were instructed that “the police are known to be very dirty”.
“6.4.2 These conditions are clearly due to systemic failings and neglect, an unrealistic expectation about the role that others are expected to play in keeping police property clean and hygienic and an abandonment of oversight and supervision by police authorities to ensure that acceptable standards are maintained.
“6.4.3 At the same time, it was clear both from submissions to the Panel and reports of previous government investigations that only a small percentage of the total police strength is actually accommodated in police barracks. A situation where barracks accommodation was never enough for police personnel was aggravated with the massive recruitment of the Obasanjo administration, such that 80% of police officers have no official accommodation.
6.4.4 The Panel’s heard disturbing testimony from participants – some of whom were either
former police officers or the children of police officers – about the hardship caused by the arbitrary posting practices of the NPF. The situation was graphically captured in by the Apo Six Commission which noted that officers were posted on transfer with no regard to their need for accommodation. The Report described how many transferred officers are forced to find shelter in offices and corridors of police stations or buildings, in containers or broken down vehicles in police premises, or to squat with relatives.
The Report noted that as a consequence many police officers are forced to engage in what is sociologically described as ‘living-apart-together’. They are forced to maintain two homes and spread meagre financial resources thinly to fend for themselves and their families. The financial hardship often comes with strain on family life, so that transferred officers also live with the fear that unscrupulous colleagues may take advantage of their absence to seduce their wives.
“While detainees seem to be saddled with the responsibility of maintaining police stations in their deplorable condition, police officers wives and children seem to be the ones expected to carry the can in the barracks”.
And whereas the police, through Force Headquarters spokesperson, Mr Frank Mba, believe community policing, in the form it is being implemented by the authorities, is the way forward to secure Nigeria, the influential Yoruba group, Afenifere, continues to root for state police while the pan-Igbo group, Ohanaeze-Ndigbo, says community policing is already in operation in the South-East, explaining that it is the reason there is relative peace in the region.