By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN
Last week I started a discussion of the current challenges of the Police in Nigeria which birthed a nationwide protest and unfortunately resulted in violent massive disturbances across several states.
I examined the primary duties of the Police of prevention and detection of crime. In addition to these, the other duties, according to Section 4 of the Police Act are as follows:-
•Apprehension of offenders;
•Preservation of law and order;
•Protection of life and property;
•Due enforcement of laws and regulations and;
•Performance of “such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required by them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.”
Regrettably it is an open secret that the police in Nigeria is largely unpopular. The unpopularity could be attributed in the main, to the ever-present deeprooted suspicion that is embedded in the minds of many members of the Public. People prefer in most cases to refrain from reporting crucial incidents to the police than igniting police awareness.
Why is this so? The answer that is often proffered is that many who have reported commissions of crimes to the Police have ended up becoming the accused and subject of unfair investigations and prosecutions.
In sharp contrast to this is the fact that in most advanced countries of the world, including the United Kingdom, the Police readily get the full cooperation of the community. This may be because they are seen as courteous, responsible, efficient, responsive, civil and friendly. Police officers are respected and are regarded as the best friends of the community.
However, I know from experience, occasioned by personal interaction with members of the Nigeria Police over the decades that police officers in advanced countries of the world are by no means more superior than our own here in Nigeria. In fact, investigation and research have demonstrated it beyond all doubts that just as we have in other disciplines, our own men and women in police uniform are rather more brilliant, tougher, rugged and endowed with enormous wherewithal to withstand pressure and serious deprivations than their counterparts in those countries!
Given the above indices, what then are the identifiable problems confronting the Police in Nigeria, thereby depriving them the much-expected efficiency making the Nigerian society the overall loser? The first problem, in my estimation, is lack of the required support of the society.
Need for Support of the Public
In order to have a better appreciation of the importance of cooperation of the members of the public to the successful operation of the police, I refer once again to the extract from the Instruction Book of the Metropolitan Police Service in Britain. It says in part:-
In attaining these objects, much depends on the approval and cooperation of the public, and these have always been determined by the degree of esteem and respect in which the police are held. One of the key principles of modern policing in Britain is that the police seek to work with the community and as part of the community.
In the same Britain, just like any other evolving society, it should be stated unequivocally that “the police have suffered many trials and difficulties in overcoming public hostility and opposition, but, by their devotion to duty and constant readiness to give help and advice coupled with kindliness and good humour, they eventually gained the approval and trust of the public.”
This achievement has been fostered and steadily maintained throughout the history of the force, so that today its relationship with the public is established on the firmest foundation of mutual respect and confidence.
The above, to say the least, represents the ideal. Over there, people trust the police to carry out their duties of crime prevention and protection of lives and property more than anything else. It appears that the need to have the support of the public has never been lost on the top hierarchy of the Police in Nigeria.
Nothing demonstrates this the most than the fact that one of the first decisions taken by any newly appointed Inspector General of Police is the disbandment of police checkpoints across the country as such checkpoints have notoriously become the greatest source of friction between the Police and those they are meant to serve and protect. However in most cases, after a few months of compliance, the roadblocks appear, leaving many to wonder if the initial announcement of disbandment was a mere publicity stunt.
Furthermore, a visit to many Police stations and formations would reveal a conscious effort by the Police to sensitise members of the public about their rights and the fact that the Police actually needs the support of the public. It is thus common to see in Police stations, posters bearing messages such as: “Bail is Free” or “Police is your friend”. As laudable as this development is, the transformation of these words to reality would go a long way to fostering an enduring sense of confidence about the Police in the minds of members of the public than mere words would ever achieve.
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Another means employed by the Police to attract the confidence of the public appears to be one by which it seeks to make transparent its disciplinary measures for errant officers. In this respect, the Police set up, a Police Complaint Rapid Response Unit, PCRRU, with the aim of affording members of the public an easier way to report cases of extortion or other cases of police officers who abuse their powers.
To a large extent this has worked as demonstrated by many publicised cases of graft reported to and investigated by the unit leading to the dismissal of several policemen. Indeed, to show its intolerance to corruption and other vices, police officers dismissed after investigations by the unit have often been paraded before the press or have had their identities revealed in what obviously has been conceptualised as a strategy to deter similar abominable conduct by other officers.
While the above is commendable, I feel that there are other areas which the Police could still explore to shore up its reputation with the public. As I stated earlier, there are many policemen who remain dedicated to their duties and display a far higher level of gallantry than their counterparts in other parts of the world.
The feats of many of these men are hardly celebrated or even brought to the attention of the public. Even on the many occasions that policemen have paid the supreme sacrifice in the discharge of their duties to serve and protect, the announcement of such events, even from the Police often fail to disclose not only their names but also the gallant circumstances in which they laid down their lives.
In 2013, over 55 police officers, alongside 10 others from the Department of State Security Services, were killed in an ambush by militiamen in Nassarawa State. I doubt if the name or photograph of any of these men ever made it to the page of any newspaper. They were forgotten the moment their badly burnt corpses were dumped in the ground for burial.
Prior to and after this sad event, other policemen have either lost their lives or suffered long-lasting injuries which have impacted negatively on their abilities to lead meaningful lives. Why the Police authorities do not think that the stories of these gallant men, much like publicity on corrupt officers, would help to shore up public confidence beats all imagination. In other countries, there are websites dedicated to preserving the memories of such fallen officers.
If anything, the Nigeria Police should have taken a cue from the positive reaction of the public to the story of the late Sergeant Iboko, who suffered and eventually died from gunshots received when he gallantly engaged some bank robbers in a gun duel in Owerri early in 2017.
After a video of the encounter was released on social media, many Nigerians marvelled at the gallantry of the officer and upon confirmation that he eventually succumbed to his wounds two months later, members of the public raised a huge sum of money as a donation to his widow and children.
In my view such conduct, if given the same publicity that errant conduct currently attracts, as tragic and unfortunate as they may be, can help the image of the police and bring about a better understanding by the public of the challenges of policing in Nigeria.
Next week I will discuss the major problems of poor remuneration and lack of equipment confronting the police in Nigeria which militates against their efficiency. These are problems that have remained with the organization for a very long time.
To be concluded …..