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

by Churchill Okonkwo

A beautiful woman with bad character is marriageable; an ugly woman with good character is also marriageable — they will both be wives; but an ugly woman with bad character does not live in a husband’s house. Knowing that the Nigerian police force is like an ugly woman with a bad character will help us better understand the urgent need to start reforms that work. Is there anyone out there who believes that our police force is not in need of deep-seated repair? So, how do we reform a colonial police force to make it meet our current and growing needs? The first thing that needs to happen is a rewrite of the mission statement for the police force.

When in January 2005, Tafa Balogun was forced to resign and replaced by Sunday Ehindero, he scrapped the notorious “Operation Fire-for-Fire,” stressing the need to move away from “authoritarian and symbolic justice” to a more accountable and responsive force. A new slogan ‘To serve and protect with integrity’ was chosen to reflect this shift. This cosmetic approach resulted in no evidence of a reduction in police checkpoints and roadside extortion.

The Way it Should Be

Creating a police force that respects and protects human rights is not only central to the rule of law, but also essential to Nigeria‘s struggle to implement a full transition from military and civilian dictatorship to democracy. When the US senator Larry Craig was arrested for “indecent” misconduct and he tried to intimidate the police undercover agent, the police officer stood his ground in the discharge of his legitimate duty. That is the way it should be. That is what the NPF should emulate. Nigerians deserve and should get same standard of treatment from NPF irrespective of their social status or political alignment.

The Reform That will Works

The Struggle to reform the Nigerian Police shows that the overall result of police reform efforts to date has been disappointing. Almost all Nigerians still perceive the police to be part of the security problem rather than part of the solution. If police reform is to succeed in Nigeria, the Nigerian government and its international partners will need to address five key issues:

High rates of illiteracy and semi-literacy among NPF patrolmen and recruits, which makes it difficult to provide effective training and severely limits the policing tasks that can be performed; Weak or non-existent recruiting and vetting systems resulting in little attention given to who is recruited or trained, and little follow-up to determine what happens to those who have been trained; Prioritise quality of police over quantity and avoid “quick fix” solutions to increase the size of the police force. While too few police may be a problem in some areas, a more serious problem is that the police that are present may be corrupt and ineffective.

Improving the salary and welfare package of officers will make it very attractive to young, intelligent and relatively upright Nigerians. When the entry level into the Nigerian police force will on the average provide the basic need of a middle class in the society, corruption and corrupt practices will drop. Human rights abuse torture or deaths in police custody will significantly reduce.

Effective Communication is Key

Police officers should be encouraged to opt for specialisation in various streams of police administration. Rapid urbanisation and the revolution in information technology and communications has changed all that. Police officers must become true professionals if they are to succeed in controlling crime and criminals. Basic reforms in recruitment methods, training and system of promotions and posting are necessary to make the force more professional and less brutal.

In this 21st century and with the acclaimed successes we have made in the telecommunication sector, I still wonder why most police stations in Nigeria are still operational without a functional telephone line. If a police patrol in Osodi cannot effectively communicate with a patrol team in Mile 2, how can crime prevention be effective? The need to urgently equip the NPF with modern communication gadgets is key to making it work.

Refined and “Imported” police Crack Squad

We need a refined and “imported” NPF, one that will be responsive to their civic responsibilities, we need a special crack squad specifically trained and equipped to bring to an end the present inadequacies. They can be selected from the few committed and straight officers in the force, trained abroad, empowered by being placed in high ranking positions where they will clean up the mess in NPF. They have to be high ranked – IG, assistant IGs and state commissioners of police. It is only when the head is clean that it can afford to cut off the toe that is contaminating the system.

All these reforms will not be easy. Of course, there will be resistance from the rank and file of the present NPF. It is going to take some time for the crack squad to be trained and deployed. There will be initial sabotage and reluctance on the part of the present force to cooperate. But the reform should be carried out with the same stubborn resistance with which the present economic reform is being pursed. There must be consistency in direction.

An adult does not sit and watch while the she-goat suffers the pain of childbirth tied to a post. The NPF is sick with serious but curable disease and the populace is suffering. The police cannot perform its role effectively without public cooperation, and that is not forthcoming because of police ineffectiveness and its unfriendly image. A bird that flies from the ground onto an anthill, does not know that it is still on the ground. The reform process that is ongoing since 1999 is still laying flat on the ground. Only comprehensive police reforms will be able to break this vicious circle. The task cannot be postponed any further.


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1 comment

Anonymous September 5, 2007 - 3:48 pm

Nice one


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