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Why community policing in Nigeria is imperative

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community policing

By Ademola Orunbon

NIGERIA’s past, present and even the future, make the establishment and operation of a federal, state and local government policing or law enforcement un-debatably mandatory! Nigeria needs and should have Federal Police, State Police and Local Police! It just makes sense! The local authorities know the neighbourhoods, the local people and local circumstances better!

In the past, it was the case with Native Authorities, NA, or Local Authorities, LA. These primary level authorities maintained law and order through the NA or LA police departments; these NA or LA police enforced local ordinances, byelaws, rules and regulations of the localities or municipalities over which the NA or LA presided.

It is also a fact of Nigeria’s political history, that some regional government leaders abused local policing as the local police was used as instruments of political intimidations and harassments and other manners of illegalities; all these called for reforms, checks and balances, such as Police Service Commissions, with clear oversights over each command.

There should also be civil complaint review boards for each Police Command to handle police misconduct, corruption, abuse of power, police brutalities and extra-judicial killings by the police. Nigeria Police should be enlarged, reformed and decentralised and fine-tuned for more efficiency and effectiveness. The advent of military form of government turned the three-tier form of government of a federal government system on its head, and instead, Nigeria remained a federal system in name only.

In the present democratic system, the federal form of government has started to ascend to its pride of place, there is now a clear distinction between the federal, state and local government. Indeed, some instances actually now exist, where the political party in control at the federal level may not necessarily be the political party in control at the state and or local government levels. And, this is quite dissimilar to what Nigeria endured during the military, which operated as if it was a one political party running the political administration of the country.

All the misgivings about the likelihood or possibilities of regional governments, now state government, misusing or abusing their control over the police command must be abandoned or jettisoned for the greater good. There must, however, be adequate safeguards and safety nets, some of which I have already addressed.

We must all realise by now, especially with the Edo House of Assembly abracadabra, that even the federal police can be misused by a state governor, deputy governor or by a political godfather who sponsors a governor; the checks and balances and reforms of the police will tackle all these. The police, as presently constituted and controlled, can be misused by individuals, by states or the Federal Government.

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At the state level in all the 50 states of the Union of the United States, there are individual state police that enforce state laws and rules and regulations, without much interference from the federal law enforcements. Exceptions are where the US federal government may want to exercise some supremacy; a recent example being the attacks in New York on September 11, 2003.

The New York City which is like Lagos Island or Lagos Mainland Local Government, has its own police department of about 40,000 members. Until recently, it had separate departments and separate chiefs of department as in housing police, transportation police and sanitation police, etc, until it was merged to cut cost and avoid the duplication of departments.

This merger was debated for more than 20 years in New York City before it eventually happened. Also, sanitation police are like War Against Indiscipline, WAI, enforcers(with the WAI draconian enforcement tactics); sanitation police in New York enforces rules of garbage collection and ensure that compliance with summons and or fines.

Nigeria needs aggressive but fair policing, and community policing; police officers on the beat, or on patrol are familiar with the neighbourhood; they know the Area Boys and trouble makers; the police officers probably attended the same primary and secondary schools with them.

Knowing the neighbours and the neighbourhood is important is equal to knowing the perpetrators and also knowing the good and gentle people who would be willing to give useful information against those who prefer to operate outside the laws. The establishment of local police will happen in Nigeria sooner or later as our country develops and expands; it simply just makes a great lot of sense to have more police officers, and to have law enforcement that knows of all the nooks and crannies of our country.

Imagine sending a guy who cannot swim to be a marine police officer in Burutu, Bomadi or Epe or such other ravine areas of Nigeria? Does it not make more sense to send a police woman or man who knows all the tricks of swimming and the rivers and marshlands in Nigeria? Is it not simply easier for someone from Numa to know who the trouble makers in Numa are? Is it not likely that the police woman or man from Damaturi or Gombe knows the trouble makers in these towns?

Local policing just makes logistical and law enforcement sense; it is also more cost effective. Nigerian taxpayers  will also be spared the expense of moving federal police officers from state to state in Nigeria, apart from the expense of accommodating police officers on the move.

Policing in Nigeria urgently need reforms, including but, not limited to, the establishment of state and local police departments. The establishment of Civilian Complaints Review Boards or Commissions in every state and local government areas to oversee and act as safeguard against police misconduct, police abuse or brutalities will go a long way in saving money too and the Nigeria police will regain its needed respect.

Lives and properties in Nigeria will then be secure and insecurity will be a thing of the past! Effective Nigeria police will result from the decentralisation arising from the formation of state and local government policing. Nigeria needs more police, not less.

Orunbon, a journalists and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun State

VANGUARD

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