November 19, 2023

Police reforms: The elephant in the room, By Tonnie Iredia

Akwa Ibom: Murder of policeman,others signal renewed terror

In an address to a management retreat organized by Nigeria’s Ministry of Police Affairs last week, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu reportedly ordered the withdrawal of police personnel from Nigeria’s top elite group simply referred to as VIPs.  If this is obeyed, the police can then take back their normal duties as spelt out by law.

Now that it is the president himself that has reiterated the point everyone in the country has been harping upon, may be something would be done about it this time around. Indeed, virtually every former Inspector General of Police IGP began his tenure with a pledge to redress the situation more so as VIPs use police personnel for menial jobs thereby damaging the corporate image of the police.

On his part, the current IGP, Kayode Egbetokun believes that withdrawing police mobile personnel from escort/guard duties would better position the police to effectively handle the internal security architecture of the country. Although, he made the statement at a meeting with crack squadron leaders and tactical commanders of the force, there is doubt if Egbetokun can achieve the plan bearing in mind that his predecessors were unable to do so. It should be noted that Tinubu is not the first Nigerian president to issue the withdrawal directive. Former president Muhammadu Buhari issued the same directive to no avail.

The boldest step to recall police personnel attached to VIPs was probably the move by IGP, Ogbonna Onovo in 2009 to recall all orderlies attached to those not entitled. According to Onovo only 22 beneficiaries are officially listed and this does not include former civilian or military presidents.But can the police ever withdraw orderlies attached to Gowon, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, Jonathan or even those of former state governors? The truth is that the issue of those entitled has since given way to those who can pay for the service. For example, some two months ago, during the convention and electoral process organized by the Adamawa state students, three police personnel were seen serving as escorts to the student union president.

The implications of sending several police personnel to undertake guard duties are many. First, it further depletes the existing inadequate numerical strength of the Force. Second, it turns a large figure of police personnel into mere domestic servants functioning as handbag carriers and gate keepers. Why is the trend allowed to subsist? Some 5months ago, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting ICIR took a hard look at the subject and concluded that the regular notice of an end to police escorts for unentitled persons is mere rhetoric meaning that the police hierarchy does not appear to mean their directives on the matter.

According to the ICIR, after issuing a directive for such withdrawal in 2003, former IGP Tafa Balogun turned around to ask those attached to judges to remain. Nothing was done about the deadline given in 2009 by IGP Onovo for all unapproved orderlies to report for redeployment in 7 days. In 2011, a monitoring team set up by IGP Hafiz Ringim to monitor compliance with his withdrawal directive made feeble impact. The threat by IGP Adamu in 2020 that commanders will be held liable for continued illegal attachment of police escorts to unentitled persons did not alter the precarious situation.

Many large towns and villages hardly see any police personnel whereas individual elite groups could have dozens guarding their private residences. Governors and their government houses had hundreds of orderlies. At a point the Rivers State Police Command announced that former governor Rotimi Amaechi had 187 escorts. The same command was however silent on who deployed the escorts to him. Did Governor Amaechi get the assistance of a foreign power to invade the police command to appropriate 187 operatives? Of course, Amaechi was ‘indicted’ only after he stopped enjoying good relationship with the presidency. 

Interestingly, now and again successive past governments kept setting up panels on police reforms without doing anything about the reports of the panels. Reports of the Murtala Nyako panel (1989), the one set up by General Abacha (1995) another constituted by the Ministry of Police Affairs (2000) as well as the one headed by Professor Tekena Tamuno (2002) were all discarded. The reports of the Vision 2010 committee and the one led by former IGP Danmadami (2006) were similarly treated. In 2008 former IGP M.D. Yusuf chaired one that produced 125 recommendations which government is still experimenting upon.

At the same time, the police has a chief executive in charge of day to day administration of the Force. It also has a Police Service Commission, a Ministry of Police Affairs and a Police Council which point to too many cooks in the police kitchen. In another clime, the enormous minute by minute societal demands on the police which require immediate attention would not encourage a bureaucratic Ministry of Police Affairs. No wonder, we keep debating police reforms instead of allowing the management of the organization to follow global realities in policing. In fact, that the police leadership is incapable of implementing its own rules on basic issues such police escorts points at the elephant in the room.

The above explains why the police hierarchy is also unable to implement the scrapping of illegal checkpoints which every IGP vows to stop on assumption of office. What makes this more disturbing is that activities at checkpoints always lead to extortion and sometimes end in fatal injuries. Although, Muyiwa Adejobi force spokesperson publicised only 3 things to be presented to the police at checkpoints which are vehicle licence, driver’s licence and insurance certificate, additional fault-finding items are always demanded by the police. The goal is to get as much money as possible from road users especially in a lucrative route such as Lagos to Onitsha which is said to have more than 50 checkpoints. 

In 2019, a report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project SERAP did not only adjudge the police as the most corrupt institution in Nigeria, it also stated that “a bribe is paid in 54 percent of interactions with the police” adding that “there is a 63% probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay bribe each time he or she interacted with the police.” The argument that the police are virtually addicted to the operations of illegal checkpoints because their salaries are poor is certainly puerile. These days how many public officers are not poor? 

Apart from legislators who have between 100 and 200 million naira each just to purchase official car, no one is really financially comfortable with the salary structure of the public service. Extorting from tax payers because of insufficiency of their salaries is a criminal breach of trust. If other police personnel were that guilty, we would never have had the likes of Francis Erhabor, a serving police officer publicly commended by government for rejecting a bribe of N2 million. During the 20th Anniversary of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ICPC, Erhabor who was at the time serving as a Divisional Police Office (DPO) Itam, Uyo in Akwa Ibom state was one of two Nigerians honoured by the ICPC as icons of integrity. 

It is time to deal with the real problem of the police which is pervasive greed and financial indiscipline among many personnel. It is suggested that the new Police Act of 2020 be strictly followed in the appointment and promotion of officers as well as the operations of the police. For instance, the Police Act in its Section 66(3) provides for a lawyer to be attached to every police station in the country to help promote human rights compliance. Former IGP Solomon Arase who is currently Chairman of the Police Service Commission should work with the current IGP to further reduce the number of personnel attached to only entitled persons. Incidentally, he reduced the figure for state governors from over 150 to 62 when he was IGP.

Finally, the police should embrace technology which all over the world has been recognised as the redeeming feature of humanity. With improved technology, there would be no need to deploy police personnel to voting centres where they are often accused of acting as catalysts for electoral malpractices. Our police personnel need value re-orientation.