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The Nigerian police and the challenge of nation building

29 August 2014, 11:58 Hussain Obaro

My nephew was once asked to describe the function and duty of the Police in one sentence, but the little boy quickly said “Simple! police points gun at vehicles on the highways and asks them to bring money”. As funny as this may seem, it is the reality of what Nigerians experiences daily.  

I remembered vividly as if it was yesterday, I had just returned from Imo State where I had being for my National Youth Service. A group of touts in my area had harassed me just because I refused to ”drop something” from what the government had “settled” me with on completion of my National Youth Service Corps Scheme. I thought it was something I could handle until things eventually got out of hand. I was attacked and beaten and my cloths torn, As a law abiding citizen I resisted the urge to fight back as I located the nearby Police Station at Oja-Oba area of Ilorin to report what had happened. As I got there I was first asked to go and buy two(2) white plain sheets, a ruler, a blue biro and two(2) office flat files. In uttermost surprise, I asked if I was going to write an exam but one of the policemen furiously told me if I expected them to write down my “statement” on their cloths.

I had to do as they asked, it took them almost two hours to finally document my complains, they asked if I wanted them to make an arrest to  which I happily said yes, but I met another surprise when they I was asked to give them 2,000 naira so they could fuel their vehicle, I felt so disappointed but I again had no choice because I really wanted the touts arrested but I even became more frustrated after I was asked to pay them another 2,000 naira for them to “wet” their pockets. I eventually ended up spending about 4,000 naira before the police could finally arrest some of those touts.

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As soon as they got into the station, they were asked to give their own “statements”,It was at this point that one of the female police discovered that the boys were natives her “Ijebu” speaking part of Ogun State. I presumed the woman was the most Senior Officer of the officers on duty because they all referred to her as “mummy” when they were done taking their “statement”  the “mummy” called the boys to a corner and spoke with them for few minutes, she then came to me and requested that I gave her 750 naira to buy MTN Recharge Card but I vehemently refused, I asked if she was aware that I had already spent more than N4,000 but she didn’t utter a word, instead she turned to the boys and spoke to them in Ijebu dialect after which some of them brought out money from their pockets right in my presence, the boys put together the sum of N8,000 and handed it to her. To my dismay, they asked the boys to go home!, I felt so cheated, humiliated and frustrated! I had to engage in an intense argument with them, I demanded an explanation on why they had to request bribe from the boys and release them. I was later arrested and detained until the next day on a charge of constituting nuisance in a Police Station.

In April 1861, the British Consul in Lagos obtained permission from his Principal in London to establish a Consular Guard comprising of 30men. Two years later, the small body of men became known as the “Hausa Guard” which later metamorphosed from the Hausa Constabulary in 1896 into Northern Nigerian Police Force in 1900. Also, the Lagos Police Force and part of the Niger Coast Constabulary which originated from the Oil River Protectorate of Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, River and Cross-River States in 1891 with Headquarters at Calabar fused to become the Southern Nigeria Police Force. After the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 both Police Forces continued to operate separately until 1st April, 1930 when they were merged to form the presents Nigeria Police Force.

Even though, the initial aim of establishing the Police in Nigeria and elsewhere is to protect life and properties of the colonial authorities at the expense of the people, these objectives have since been extended and reformed to include the protection and security of lives and properties of the ‘people’ for economic growth and development. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the police have not been effectively reformed to soot modern policing. The modus operandi of the Nigeria Police is still such that the authorities, the rich and of course the “Oga” at the top’s lives and properties are given a priority at the expense of Nigerians’ especially the poor and average.

Inadequate man-power and lack of modern operational equipments and gadgets is the bane of effective and challenge of modern policing in Nigeria. Now that countries like Britain is aiming a target of one-police-to-eight- Citizens, Nigeria can only boast of about 500,000 officers and men, these is grossly inadequate compared to our population of more than 170 million. More than 60% of this inadequate officers and men of the Police are either deployed to man road-blocks or are attached to politicians, the rich and the high and mighty in the society. When you visit a Police Station especially at night to report an emergency you hardly find any officer at the stations and even if one or two officers are around to attend to you they tell you that all the vehicles have gone for road-blocks so they can’t possibly follow you to the scene of the crime.

Also Read: Police make breakthrough in search of missing officers

In this 21st Century when the world has gone digital and operations, investigations and documentations are being computerized, the Nigeria Police is left far behind. The public are still required to give statements with pen and paper, interrogatory confessions are still been forced out through torture instead of Psychological questions and answer or use of electronic gadgets as a result of which increasing number of Nigerians have either suffered disabilities or have been killed in detention due to torture. An alleged criminal is still being paraded publicly and displayed on pages of Newspapers and television sets even without being pronounced guilty by a competent court of law, “innocence until proven guilty” has since been thrown into the bin.

We have a police that is not people friendly, peaceful protests and rallies suddenly turns violent and bloody as soon as the police gets there. The fundamental human rights of the Citizenry are not respected, court rulings and injunctions are not obeyed, extra judicial killings and accidental discharges have almost become a daily routine, unregulated use of tear gas with disregard to the health implication to the citizenry, and recruitments into the police force has become who-you-know exercise as politicians now easily use their connections and might to get their political thugs into the force.

Now that Nigeria is facing the challenge of insecurity, there is urgent need for the Nigeria Police Force to be effectively reformed and repositioned to quell insurgency, and the challenges of modernization, nation building and the transformation agenda. Although, the current IG of police, MD Abubakar on assumption of duty advocated a N50,000 minimum wage for a constable in the force, saying such will go a long way to boost morale and promote efficiency, he has also ordered about 300 patrol vehicles to be deployed in all major roads the country, much more still need to be done.

Also Read: Igbo group cites marginalisation in force

Everywhere in the world, the mentality and concept of policing has changed from the normal conventional policing into a more people’s friendly and people’s centered community based policing. Crime prevention rather than crime management is now the in-thing and the approach is no longer people-to–police but police-to-people in such a way that the police doesn’t stay at the station expecting the public to call or come to report crimes, but the police stays and lives amidst the people so as to prevent them from committing crimes. The use of ICT and modern electronic gadgets like CCTV cameras, lie detector machines e.t.c. have made the job of policing so easy and effective all over the world and the Nigeria Police cannot afford to lag behind if it is to take its rightful place as a leader in Africa. Unfortunately, we do not still have a free–dial simple digit police phone number in place in Nigeria apart from the recently launched 112 which connects to the department of state security (DSS), the Nigeria Police should key into ICT and computerize not only its record keeping and documentations but also its investigations, interrogations and crime detection operations.

Funding of the police has become a challenge as the federal government is left to solely fund the police. Recently, the need to establish and have a state police in place, to be funded by state governments have been strongly advocated, but fears from some quarters is that this could be abused by the governors who may not only use the state police to terrorize ad harass its citizens but could also use it to witch-hunt political opponents, and perceived enemies. To this end, an all-inclusive funding by the federal government, states government and the private sector is highly indicated.

The issue of welfare for officers and men of the Nigeria Police has being a source of worry to security experts, analysts and of course every security minded Nigerian. The slums called barracks in which some of our policemen reside cannot bring out the best in our officers, thank God! efforts are already in progress at renovating existing barracks and building new ones. But yet, there is a need for us to de-emphasize the mentality and the present arrangement whereby majority of the officers resides in barracks. Modern policing strategies entails that the police reside and live with the people, that is the only way an effective crime prevention could be achieved. Life and hazard insurance cover for the police have been strongly advocated by security analysts, and all stakeholders involved in the proposed police reforms should take serious note of these.

Recruitment and training of Police should be more transparent and “open”. The whole recruitment and training process should be restructured as the present pattern which allows the “wrong” people to get into the force is already doing more harm than good. Criminals, political thugs, and people who are morally bankrupt and indiscipline finds their way into the force just because they have “godfathers”. Even when the “wrong” people make to the police colleges and training camps, we do not have an effective tactical and psychological screening strategy in place to fish them out. To this end, Psychologists, guardian counselors and indeed psychiatrists should be part of the training of aspiring policemen to ensure that officers who would eventually evolve are mentally and psychologically fit and disciplined to know that he/she doesn’t have to point a gun at a vehicle on a highway indiscriminately, to know that he doesn’t have to jump in front of a moving vehicle like an armed robber, to know that his gun and tear gas isn’t his greatest strength, to know that every alleged criminal is innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law, to know that his services is to secure and protect lives and properties of Nigerians and not to be used by politicians, the rich and the authorities to oppress and harass the people and to know that he is also part of the people.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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