A routine tragedy passed with little fuss on Monday 28th July 2008 on the part of a nation numbed with tragedies. The Tribune newspaper reported the killing of a commercial driver who failed to give to policemen at a check point the required twenty naira settlement fee. This hapless driver fell down while being pursued by men of the police force, hit his chin on the ground, apparently sustaining head injuries that led to his untimely death. This was an incident that elicited only a cursory mention in a nation battling with so many vices, political rebellion and socio-economic handicaps. To so many Nigerians, police-induced death is a regular phenomenon. In fact, it is becoming an acceptable norm that the Nigerian Police must routinely kill citizens. That the Nigeria Police Force is a harbinger of sorrow, agony and untimely death to its citizens is a stale fact. This view of the Nigerian Police is not confined to our borders alone. In the year 2000, the United States Department of State in its Nigeria: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices confirmed that the Nigerian Police, along with the army and other security forces, commit extra-judicial killings and use excessive force to quell civil unrest even under the democratic (Obasanjo’s) government.
History is replete with the contradiction that the Nigeria Police Force has turned to. Tales abound amongst numerous families of woes, anguish and sorrows, directly induced by men and women of that organisation that has become synonymous with murder, violence, brutality and state repression of its citizens. On 7 February 2001, a plain clothes policeman, Corporal Rabiu Bello attached to Kaduna State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) requested a young apprentice, Haliru Slau Agaba to buy a stick of cigarette for him. Haliru responded that he could not afford it. Corporal Bello “pulled out a pistol and pumped bullets into the young apprentice, who slumped” (The News, Lagos, 30.04.01). Another incident in February 2001 involved three policemen from the Central Kogi State Police Command. The threesome; Benhamin Oyakhire, Jimo Michael and Gershon Soba mounted an illegal road block, robbed some traders (an equivalent) of 100,000 US dollars, and set two of the traders ablaze in a brazen attempt to cover their tracks (PANA Press, 03.04.01). The P.M news reported in March of 2001 that a Lagos woman, Mrs. Iroh, while roasting plantain (a local delicacy of the poor) by the roadside was killed by the bullets from the gun of a policeman. The police merely described the incident as an accidental discharge, and nothing whatsoever was done to contact the family of Mrs. Iroh. No apology was rendered and no compensation was contemplated.
The list is endless. Unfortunately, the recurring brutality is not abating. Teeth are being gnashed and promising souls continually lost. Dele Udoh, a very promising Nigerian athlete was brutally gunned down by the police in Lagos in 1999. A very prominent Nigerian Fuji artist (Adewale Ayuba) was shot in the leg by policemen for refusing to give a “reasonable settlement”. On a personal note, a friend came home on a visit from the UK sometimes in January this year. His wife was against this visit but he felt that he needed to see his aged mum and other relations. I remember him telling us that he really missed Nigeria. No one knew that he had an appointment with death in Nigeria. While on this ill-fated visit, he had a cause to take his car for washing. On coming back, one thing led to the other and he was shot dead by policemen at a road block. The most painful part was that the policemen claimed to have killed an armed robber and displayed his body with foreign currency. This incident happened at Lagos. This incident remained a first hand experience of how police action can shatter the harmony of a beautiful family. Policemen perpetuate brutality and also sponsor violence. Many policemen have been implicated in armed robberies. They have equally supplied weapons to armed robbers. Notorious robbers have found comfort and solace in the arms of police officers. The dignity of this pathetic force has been so battered by elements within it that one wonders why it still exists in the first instance.
It has been a fairly long journey for the present day Nigerian Police Force. Prof Etanbi et al of CLEEN Foundation, Lagos in their Analysis of Police and Policing in Nigeria, maintained that policing has always been necessary in all societies for the preservation of order, safety and social relations. Thus the primary role of the police remains that of securing compliance with existing laws and conformity with precepts of social order. Bitner (1970) maintained that police work involves a variety of tasks and responsibilities. Officers are expected to prevent crime, protect life and property, enforce the laws, maintain peace and public order and provide a wide range of services to citizens. Robert Reiner (The Politics of the Police, Oxford University Press) stresses this point further by stating that the police are the specialist carriers of the state bedrock power: the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. Thus the dangers of abuse on partisan interests or on the part of the police themselves are clear and daunting, if not very frightening!
The Nigeria Police Force was created in 1930 but co-existed with local administration police forces between 1930 and 1966. The local forces served the regional powers in both the North and Western parts of Nigeria. These local forces were eventually abolished because they were perceived as being poorly trained, corrupt and misused for partisan political ends, including brutalisation of opponents. Ostensibly, the newly formed Nigeria Police Force was meant to be a reformed unification of local regional forces with the bad ingredients whittled away. Journey over the decades has shown that this altruistic aim is far from being attained. Though larger and supposedly modern, the Nigeria Police Force is still arcane, largely uneducated, still poorly trained, extremely corrupt and still serves parochial ends politically.
The egregious brutality and hostility of the police force in Nigeria brings into question the need for survival tactics in a no man’s jungle called Nigeria. The populace have no known defence against police brutality. Police kill innocent citizens and put tags of armed robbers to cover themselves. Innocent Nigerians have paid the price for crimes they never committed. The Nigerian judiciary to date has not been a reliable defender of the people. So, how does one survive police brutality? Is it to run, duck or jump? To date, no method has been proven effective in Nigeria. It even got so bad that the police force in rejecting one of their own demonstrated its primordial brutality and dangerous lack of discipline and proper orientation. I am referring to the treatment meted out to former Inspector General Tafa Balogun. The most pertinent question remains; where then shall we run to? What then shall we do to escape the brutality of a sovereign force behaving like an occupying force? What could be done to transform the Nigeria Police Force?
Towards the Police Force of our dreams
Opinions are bound to be diverse on the modus operandi of transforming our current liability called Nigeria Police Force. What is not in question is that fact that the force needs urgent restructuring to become a healthy force and not the current farce it is. Possible suggestions include:
• Removal/Limitation of overt and covert political control. This is to free the force from political tinkering, interferences and abuse. The aim is to form a truly independent force capable of challenging the excesses of government, if necessary. The United Kingdom is an example of a country with a fairly independent police force. Not too long ago, the Metropolitan Police had the daunting task of probing political donations to the ruling Labour party. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, faced rounds of questioning by the police. Presently, this is an impossible scenario in Nigeria.
• Massive and deliberate policy of recruiting educated Nigerians to the force. It is perhaps relevant at this point to state that level of education amongst members of the force has improved admirably over the years. However, the increased education has not translated the force to a courteous and humane one.
• Need for Continued Professional Development in the form of compulsory and regular in-service trainings, conferences, workshops and so on. Herein perhaps is the crux of the solution to our moribund police force. It is just not enough to give initial training and abandon policemen to the field. If further trainings have been part of the system, then these should be reviewed because it is apparent they are not working. Keeping individual log books or folders of further trainings may be made mandatory for promotional purposes.
• Requirement for Feedbacks. This could be another essential for progress and promotion within the force. Feedbacks would be not only from superiors, but also junior colleagues, contemporaries and even civilian members of the force. The goal should be a form of 360 degree feedbacks.
• Provision of modern and sophisticated equipment to create a truly mobile and ready force. Not one that crumbles at the superior fire power of armed robbers.
• Enhanced remuneration for members. This, perhaps, may minimise the legendary avarice of members of the force.
Time and resources spent on transforming the police are justified and appropriate, as the society is better off for it. Socio-political restructuring and transformation of Nigeria will not happen overnight. It is a gradual process requiring painstaking efforts and covering virtually all facets of our existence. The Nigeria Police Force can truly be a genuine, reliable, mobile and indeed the people’s force. All it takes is will, sincerity and commitment on the part of our political leaders. Is anyone listening?