By Supo Balogun, The Nigerian Expression (TNE)
When the World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) recently ranked the Nigeria Police the worst in the world, many members of the force cried out in protest against the ranking.
But among Nigeria’s most vilified public institutions, the police stand out in a class of their own. At once hated and despised, many Nigerians will readily give up their rights than engage the police.
Michael Ositadinma Duru, a guest writer on a social media platform, offers an illuminating character sketch of what the police have become in the eyes of the ordinary Nigerian:
“It is quite debilitating and annoying that the government institution established to foster peace and security; be the hope of the common man, downtrodden and victim of class abuse or harassment by the rich has turned to be a tormentor and enemy to Nigerian citizens. Most people prefer to relinquish their valuables and rights when molested or abused.
“Some prefer to swallow their pain, anger and pride when their rights are being trampled upon by the influential ones than going to the police or court to seek redress. Many are jailed for the crime they know nothing about. Many are languishing in police cells today because they don’t have money to bail themselves. Many cases are left untouched and untreated because the complainant has no resources to push their case files.
“Many debts are not recovered today just because seeking the help of Nigeria Police Force will eventually result to sharing that money if recovered from the debtor between the police and the owner. Many personnel of the Nigeria Police Force are seen today as monsters because of their negative behaviour and attitude to either the accused or the complainants.
“Many of our ladies are raped today while in police custody. What about the story and testimonies of our commercial motorists, drivers and commuters? They are singing and saying negative things about the Nigeria Police Force because they are mostly victims of police brutality and extortion.”
Could the police be living up to its colonial heritage of an instrument of occupation? The first police-like force in what became Nigeria was the Consular Guard of 30 men which was established in Lagos in 1861.
The Hausa Guard was to be formed in 1863 and became the Hausa Constabulary in 1879 by an Ordinance.
While there has been an explosion in sheer size of personnel and capacity since then, pretty little had changed within the force in terms of community relations and service delivery at home, but ironically, they are showered with encomiums while on missions abroad.
The groundswell of opposition to police impunity under the aegis of the hashtag #EndSARS on social media is a measure of the pent-up frustration of Nigerians.
To be sure, the force like many Nigerian public institutions, is reeling under the yoke of decay and neglect occasioned by long years of military misrule.
For one, recruitment into the force has not kept pace with the country’s explosion in population which now stands at an estimated 183 million.
A 2006 report cited the UN recommending about 300 police officers to every 100,000 persons. Yet figures released by INTERPOL − the International Police − for 2012, indicated that Nigeria has about 187 policemen for every 100,000 persons.
This is in contrast to Malaysia which has 320 for every 100,000 persons, Bahamas 793, France 340, Russia 515, Singapore 713 and Turkey 524.
Beyond population, the current scope of security challenges confronting the police has also widened even in the face of poor funding, obsolete equipment and poor welfare package for the rank and file.
Many, however, believe that institutional reform is the ultimate elixir in creating a people’s police that will be responsive to the yearnings of Nigerians.
A retired Commissioner of Police, Victor Nosa-Ojo, identifies lack of continuity in the reform process as one of the contributory factors impeding police reform.
“Successive governments in Nigeria have come out with different agenda aimed at reforming the police. But the problem we have is that there is no continuity.
“I don’t see any reason why we should still be talking about police reform in Nigeria by now. Why do we keep going back and forth? In 1983, I was a member of the police reorganisation committee under the retired late AIG Abayode Cole. At the end of it, the report of the committee was swept under the carpet. What we need now is state police.
“That is the only way crime can reduce because whoever is policing a community will know the residents. A policeman that is posted to a particular place and has stayed there over a period of time will know the people and the terrain well.
“If a policeman is posted from here to a strange place, say Maiduguri to work, such a person will face many challenges. One of such is language barrier; then there is religious barrier,’’ he says.
“I am of the opinion that we go into state police; that is the only realisable reform now. This is because policemen consider some states lucrative, so they lobby to be posted to such states. But if the law establishing state police is enacted, nobody can lobby to be transferred to another state. You know once a state employs you, you work and remain there,’’ Nosa-Ojo says.
But Mr Tony Oghoghorie, the Executive Director of Trapex Security Consultants Limited, says a police reform programme must go deeper into treating the manifestations of the challenges.
“We have to look at the structural and strategic factors that have bedevilled the Nigeria Police. One of the first steps will be to review the Police Act that defines how the police operate. A serious look at this document should define their powers and limits/units of operation.
“This step will address issues about the foundation; it then becomes the pivot upon which a proper reform programme for the police will be executed. We can then look at the structural requirement such as personnel recruitment. Proper steps should be taken to scrutinise the quality of recruits, both officers and men.
“Again, those recruited should be thoroughly trained to face future challenges. We have a lot of challenges within the system that we still have not come close to dealing with. The world’s global social structures are changing and the Nigeria Police must move along that direction. How prepared is the Nigeria Police in dealing with cyber crime.
“From there, we can look at the issue of funding. This is also critical so that they do not have to start looking for unethical means of funding their operations,’’ he says.
For Mr Salaudeen Hashim, Secretary of the National Peace and Security Forum, any reform in the police must begin with their bureaucracy and decision-making process.
He says: “The architecture of the Nigeria Police as currently configured is faulty. That is why the issue of response time to distress calls bordering on criminality in various communities is becoming very slow.
“If you recall, the police is the parent body of every security organ in this country. Unfortunately, the issue of capacity has been going down and that is because of years of neglect by policy makers.
“They have given priority to the Army, Airforce and Navy because there have been some structural challenges that have adversely affected the Nigeria Police.
“They include recruitment and manpower; the issue of corruption which affects even the posting of personnel, recruitment and wages. Thirdly, issues that border on the incapability of the people that manage the police in its entirety.
“If you want to reform the police, you must first look at the issue of bureaucracy. You have the Force Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
“Why don’t we begin to look at a process that will address the structural and infrastructural dimension of the police force? Until we change the entire police architecture, we may not get the desired result.
“There is also the issue of appointment of the Inspector-General of Police and the leadership of the Police Service Commission. There should be a good succession plan that will provide for a clear-cut process of selection. This would go a long way in removing partisanship which usually trails such appointments.
“There is the issue of infrastructure, equipment and training. Go to the various police headquarters in states and you will discover that they are at the mercy of philanthropists. How do you intend to have an efficient system of policing when policemen sometimes rely on criminals to help them with logistics to perform their job within the community?”
But Assistant Commissioner of Police, Austin Iwar, clarifies the greatest challenge facing the force:
“The police as it is now came out of a military administration. That is probably the biggest challenge we face – turning it from a force into a service,’’ he says.
The Federal Government is not unmindful of the yearnings of Nigerians for a humane police as there are ongoing efforts to reform the force.
A White Paper with 79 recommendations for improving the police force is couched in the Nigeria Police Reform Trust Fund Bill that is currently before the National Assembly.
How far this initiative would go in changing the police from a force to a service remains to be seen in the years ahead.