Reforming The Nigerian Police Force: Where are we Getting it Wrong? (I)

Refusal to acknowledge that there are bears in the wood and that they are dangerous almost certainly means you‘ll be eaten. In Nigeria today, it thus follows that refusal to acknowledge that the degree of rottenness in the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is getting beyond rescue even to the level where the vultures will turn the other way certainly means you are a beneficiary or will be swallowed by the beast sooner than later. After years of “reform” with over seventy million UD dollars ($70 Million) from international donors (Human Rights Watch Report 2005), there is nothing on the ground to justify the huge spending. What has happened to the reform processes? What is happening? Where have we got it wrong?

Presently

The image of the Nigerian Police is not that of a citizen-friendly force. Public criticism varies from its alleged overzealousness and brutalization at one end of the spectrum, to ineffectiveness in controlling crime and criminals at the other – not surprising in the face of mounting evidence of violence and crime. The low image of the police, in some states has darkened even further with reports of police connivance with criminals in high profile robbery cases. Instead of being an instrument to enforce the rule of law, it is increasingly seen as a pliable tool in the hands of unscrupulous politicians, men of the underworld, business moguls and many unpatriotic Nigerians.

It is not the weaker sections, which includes women, children, old people, the poor and handicapped – the law abiding citizens – that need the police more than other sections of the society? The rule of law is the most important component of a democracy and it is the police which is entrusted with its enforcement. But the police force is corrupt, ineffective, lazy, illiterate, untrained, criminally minded, dirty, crude and worst of all not ready for change and reform. The present Nigerian Police Force denote guttering that had corroded, vibrated in the wind, half held by the brackets but threatening to fall.

It is troubling that these issues are all very self-evident, and for the most part have been widely recognised as serious problems for several years. Continuing to ignore them will result in more resources being wasted on reform efforts at a time when progress is urgently needed in transforming the police into a force that is known for promoting the rule of law.

Flawed and Unattractive Selection Processes

Is it an insurmountable disaster that young unemployed graduated are scared of joining the Nigerian Police Force due to its battered image. More worryingly though is that Nigerians with questionable character, con men, school drop-outs and never-do-wells make up about 95% of recruits into NPF . What do you expect from this caliber of men? Garbage in garbage out?

As part of the reform process currently going on, we’ve been told that need a communal police force that reflects our communal society in which we reside. But how can the police be communal when the file and rank are friends of those dreaded in the society? How can the police be communal when its crop is always breaking the law, conducting illegal operations, intimidating the citizenry and conniving with the con men in the society to swindle Nigerians? If the annual salary of a newly recruited police officer for five years will not be enough for a house rent, what does it portend for NPF?

Corruption

Corruption is a major problem that seriously erodes the image of the police. True, the police is not alone in being afflicted with this disease. Possibly, the dubious distinction of being more corrupt rests with other government departments, but undeniably police corruption is resented more than any other form of corruption. Police corruption can take the form of wrongful search and arrest, registration of false cases and use of third-degree methods. A corrupt and unprofessional policeman mounts an assault on a citizen’s dignity even more than causing physical harm. Rude and abusive behaviour is the single-most important cause of poor police-public relations.

Where is the place of a force notorious for mounting illegal road blocks and collecting money form motorists? A force that on daily basis, assign officers to sand on the road with notebooks checking and crosschecking buses that have “complied” for the day? A force with officers that defend their corrupt practices by informing innocent citizens that they must make “returns” to their superiors in the office when confronted with their illegal actions? Maybe it’s time to think of Police Crime and Corruption Commission (PCCC).

Politicization of NPF

The essence of policing should be a separation from government and political control. One of the more worrisome aspects of our police force is its politicization. The fear of a political police goes back to the very origins of police as an instrument of intimidating oppositions from the colonial era. Who will know better the evils of witchcraft than the woman who lost a child to evil spirits? Ask any member of the opposition or those that fall out with the government their experiences with NPF.

If I had my own way, the position of IG will not based on politics but merit. The nasty aspect of this political game relates to the various leaders at all levels who are potted in place by the newly appointed IG. In effect, with every political regime comes a new set of leaders. When the instrument of law protection turns to an instrument of lawlessness and crime supervision as we witnessed in Andy Uba and Ngige saga, Adedibu – Alao Akala and Ladoja saga, 2007 election manipulation etc, you begin to wonder where we are getting it all wrong.

Are the police your friends? Are they serving and protecting with integrity? What should be done to save the Nigerian Police Force? Where are we getting it wrong?

To be concluded

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