Our Police In a Free Fall
I cannot count how many times I have written on the need for successive governments since 1999 to undertake fundamental and not cosmetic reforms of our Police Force. Just searching through my laptop, I counted 29 papers and briefing notes that I presented at several consultations on the state of the Nigeria Police and the need for reforms. In all these writeups, I have consistently said that our failure to reform the Police will one day constitute a clear and present danger to our democracy.
I take no delight in saying that. I fear that day is upon us. How is it possible that every government since 1999 failed to realise that our Police Force is in free fall, the effect of which will be near total incapacity to live out the true meaning of its mandate? It is beyond belief that from 1999 to date, we have adopted the easy way out of a problem so fundamental to our existence.
Committee System as Official State Policy
As official State policy, we have adopted the tragic practice of setting up Committees to advise the government on what needs to be done to reform the Police. The existence of a plethora of previous reports on this issue by government-established committees appears to be of little to no consequence, including the fact that the very notion of implementation seems to be antithetical to the reasoning behind the setting up of these committees.
Many of us would have bet our entire life savings on the assurance that the Tinubu Administration will not go down that route. We were wrong. Stunned in disbelief when, in October last year, at the end of a meeting of the Police Council chaired by Mr President, it was resolved to set up another Committee on Police Reform to advise the government on how to proceed. What is even more upsetting is that this Committee was set up in the aftermath of the ‘#EndSARS’ protest – a nationwide protest that we barely survived. Surely, one would be justified in thinking that the #EndSARS protest was a call to action for Police reform. Obviously not.
Need for Political Humility
The self-evident truth, and that has been so since 1999, is that the Nigeria Police in its present state lacks the ability to protect either our lives or property. Therefore, to continue to hope that the Nigeria Police Force will one day rise up to fulfil its calling without a fundamental change in direction is a tall order wrapped in wishful thinking.
To put it plainly, there is nothing that needs to be said about what needs to be done to achieve the Police Service, not the Force of our dreams, that cannot be found in the many reports and recommendations of committees established from 1999 until 2022. What we need at this time is the political humility to revert to these reports and put together an immediate to long-term action plan.
To be sure, the reform of the Nigeria Police will not be an event. It will entail a painstaking process, with a vision to transform the Nigeria Police into a true public servant capable of elevating the sense of security of Nigerians. Doing nothing is not an option. Indeed, it would be fatal for us to overlook the moment’s urgency and insist on business as usual. It is again worth restating that the main obstacle we must overcome in any discussion about our Police is the public perception of corruption, impunity, absence of accountability, incompetence, and failure to control the law and order situation. Somewhere within this perception is the growing fear that an increasing number of our Police officers are themselves in partnerships with criminals.
Our Police Reform Journey
A significant step in Nigeria’s Police reform journey was enacting the Police Act 2020 to replace the outdated Act. The provisions of the new law, in broad terms, emphasise public service delivery, human rights, transparency, and enhancement of community policing. It has been said that the law is not self-enacting and will require a conscious effort on the part of the Police high command with the support of the Federal Government to ensure that, beyond the letters of the law, the vision is accomplished.
The goal of achieving a professional Police service, as envisaged by the Police Act, will not be achieved without focusing on the human resources at its disposal. A repeated recommendation of the reports of all the committees on Police reform established by previous governments is the need for a holistic review of the conditions of service of Police officers to undercut the incentive for corrupt and criminal behaviour. These reports recommended the upward review of Police salaries and allowances across the board, including ensuring that entitlements are received consistently and when due.
These reports identified other welfare benefits, including – improvement of police medical facilities, housing, insurance and Police; Police schools to be refurbished and upgraded to enable to cater for the children of Police officers; Police insurance and pension benefits to be improved and made easily accessible to the next of kin, to mention a few. Directly linked to the issue of welfare, there must be the need to stop the practice of housing Police stations in improvised accommodations. The majority of Police stations in Nigeria do not meet minimum conditions for Police work, including the detention and processing of persons who come into conflict with the law.
Enabling a Culture of Accountability
In my view, it cannot simply be about the increase in Police pay; there must also be a focus on accountability. A culture that attaches no stigma to corruption is an ingredient for inefficiency and abuse of power. The lukewarm enforcement of an efficient and credible performance appraisal system, linked with an adequate and transparent reward and punishment mechanism within the Nigeria Police Force, is an important concern. Just like most Government institutions, the absence of an effective job appraisal framework is a contributory factor to the frequently stated incompetence that regrettably dominates policing in Nigeria.
Starting with the Inspector General of Police, the jobs of heads of Police formations at the zones, States and divisions must be tied to verifiable performance. The ability to prevent and solve crimes should be a key indicator of job appraisal. Police officers at all levels must realise that their jobs are tied to their performance. Accountability also includes responsibility. The spate of complicity of Police officers in serious crimes, including kidnapping and armed robbery, must now be a matter of concern. A lot has been written about the institution’s flawed recruitment process in all its ramifications. It is insufficient to arrest and dismiss the criminal elements with the Force. Again, the State and zonal levels’ supervisory officers must be held accountable.
Policing the Police
I would also expect that the Inspector-General of Police would be held responsible for any unlawful conduct of his Commissioners of Police and senior officers. In particular, Divisional Police heads should be held liable for the criminal acts of officers to whom they are directly responsible. It is fair to assume that a Police officer on patrol duty who extorts money from citizens, including the now frequent cases of forcefully taking citizens to POS stations to withdraw or transfer money, does so with the full knowledge of his supervising officer. Accountability also includes complaints handling.
The credibility deficit that currently plagues our Police is largely a result of its complaint-handling module. This is more so when the offenders are Police officers themselves. The practice of investigating allegations of misconduct against Police officers on their own is widely regarded as unjust and does not inspire public confidence. The public show of removing dismissed officers’ uniforms has done little to reverse this citizens’ mindset.
No Police accountability mechanism can be considered fair if it fails to inspire public confidence. The trend worldwide is to set up complaint mechanisms under law by establishing accountability structures, which work openly, quickly, effectively, and impartially, and invest them with resources and authority to guarantee independent and fair investigations.
Community Police without Community Support
With the heightened state of citizens’ mistrust of the Police, I find the hullabaloo about Community Policing ridiculous and, were it not a serious matter, laughable. How do you hope to Police a community when a large swath of citizens holds a deep-seated mistrust of the Police? I have said elsewhere that community policing is, perhaps, the most misunderstood and frequently abused theme in Police management in Nigeria. Indeed, all manner of organisational tinkering has been labelled community policing.
I have struggled to explain to my friends in the Police Force that community policing is not a programme. It is a value system in which the primary organisational goal is working cooperatively with individual citizens, groups of citizens, and both public and private organisations to identify and resolve issues that potentially affect communities’ liveability. Prevention and prompt response to crimes are at the heart of this cooperation. Without citizen’s trust and respect, one cannot but ask, what exactly is our version of Community Policing based on?
A Plea for Mr President’s Intervention
In all, I have restated some of the ‘things to do’ list for the consideration of the Tinubu administration concerning Police reform. For emphasis, everything I have said can be found in the reports of various Federal Government Committees on Police Reform. We don’t need another committee to show us the road to Police reform. It would be significant if reform measures could start with the Police Council, chaired by Mr. President.
As the highest external oversight mechanism of the Nigeria Police Force, it is responsible for the organisation and administration of the Force. There are presently no provisions in law and policy for the meetings of the Council. The result of this has been infrequent meetings. There is no institutional arrangement for housing the Secretariat of the Council. Currently, the Secretariat is placed within the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. This has hampered the effective and efficient workings of the Council.
Seven Months into office, Mr President should now lead. The enormity of the problems at hand is beyond a Ministerial brief. The failure to implement urgent reforms in the Police is today having a profound impact on us all, especially our mental health. At home, the vast majority of Nigerians cannot sleep with their eyes closed. We worry about the safety of our children in schools, especially now that kidnapping children is the favourite pastime of our home-grown terrorists. It takes a bold person to get on any of our roads without the fear of armed robbers, bandits and kidnappers, including those in genuine and fake Police uniforms.
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