That Invitation Of Britain To Reform Nigeria Police

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

The issue of law and order is of very high public concern, not only to Nigerians but also to the international community wanting to do business in and with Nigeria. Since the return to democracy in 1999, crime has risen steadily, with the Nigeria Police Force seemingly unable to respond effectively. In many cases, police incompetence, misconduct and corruption have fuelled, rather than reduce crime and violence. The issue of crime since this new democratic dispensation entered the political agenda due to the rise in kidnappings in the Niger Delta, the assassination of political opponents as well as the annual tally of police brutality and indiscriminate killings. Reform of the Nigerian policing system is clearly badly needed, yet policies have remained timid, incongruous and insincere in this area.

The recent call by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, to invite the British Police to reform the Nigeria Police has met with a lot of opposition and righteous indignation by many Nigerians, judging by what I have read in the newspapers. However, honest, sincere and articulate Nigerians should see this as a “welcome development which will take the Force to its anticipated standard”, as the IG himself posited and tried to explain. It is a step in the right direction, if only it is sincere, well-thought out, planned and implemented, and not just another way of pulling the wool over our eyes.

I have read people opposed to this move shouting “racism”, “re-colonisation”, “neo-colonialism”, “waste of our resources” and all kinds of other political words. If we are sincere with ourselves, to deny the involvement of colonisation in the history of Nigeria and its Police Force is to deny our history, and thereby deny our very existence as a country and as a people. History is there for the purpose of reference, and should not be denied or tampered with. That is a basic fact.

As one “Paul” wrote in The Vanguard, Thursday 29 November 2007, “Mr Okiro’s statement is a testament to the pervading situation in Nigeria where the worst group of dullards occupies position of authority. ….. There are many capable Nigerians who if given the opportunity will lead the corrupt Nigerian Police into glory. (I will tend to agree with this, but not from within the current Police cadre) Okiro was appointed by a useless internal promotion process and not because he demonstrated any ability for doing the job. The right way for filling a position is by recruiting the best person for the job and that means those who will demonstrate their individual capability for getting the job done. …… I hope the British Police accept the responsibility to help. Most of the current force members will be re-interviewed and will be made to justify why they should retain their job. (Again, I am in agreement with this statement) …. and the way things are done in the UK is that everyone justifies why they should be employed even if the interview panel is composed of your relatives from the same parent. This and this reason alone is why UK and most western countries have made such progress and advancement.

I would say perhaps the way in which the IG sought to explain the reasons behind this move justified this opposition. In fact I do not expect him to be able to explain these things well to Nigerians in the first place, because he would be under constraint to speak the truth, as it may be.

Hear Mr Okiro, the Inspector General of Police, “The Nigeria Police was created by the British and therefore, inviting them for the purpose of assisting us in certain area of need should be likened to a son looking up to his father for help. The invitation of the British police should not generate any controversy. They were our colonial master. In fact, the Nigeria police was formed by the British government and like father and son, a son should look up to a father over an issue he feels he is not too experienced on. There is nothing wrong in inviting them. Nothing the Nigeria Police is going through now that the British police had not gone through. Is it crime, is it restructuring? Name them. The British Police went through restructuring in 1957 and the government sat and reformed the police. So it is not an issue.”

While there is some basis of facts in the statement, we the people know that the Nigeria Police Force, like many other Nigerian government institutions and departments, is a farce, not a force. The police in Nigeria are corrupt, but then, the society is also corrupt, I have written before. The men and women of the Nigeria Police Force are products of a corrupt society and system, so it follows that that they will be corrupt too. This is of course, not an excuse for them, but that is the fact. They have families; they have to survive in the harsh conditions of Nigeria, just like other Nigerians. They have to make do, and the only way they know, is “if you can’t beat them, join them”. They see politicians and other civil servants living beyond their means, embezzling money in the billions, sharing out perks and contracts between them, and they have to resort to roadblocks extortions, killing innocent civilians and running away from armed robbers who are better equipped than them. The men and women in the lower ranks see their “ogas” living well beyond their salaries, so naturally, they have to survive too on the highways.

The Nigeria Police Force is ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-orientated, ill-paid, ill-motivated and not respected. These people work more than eight hours a day, standing on road blocks and just totting their out-dated weapons. Even the ones in the office never seem to leave for home at night. Are there set hours for them to work? Mind you, I still give them some respect. There have been many instances of uncommon bravery and honesty in a few patched. Recently, some courageous policemen were killed while battling armed robbers in various places in the country. What happened to the families they left behind? You ask me, if they will be well compensated for their irretrievable loss. Is there any kind of life insurance scheme or Government Grant or Compensation Scheme for policemen killed in the line of duty as in many Western countries? What exactly do policemen in Nigeria benefit from?

They are used by corrupt politicians to carry out nefarious activities, especially during electioneering. Their bosses pocket all the money. The 20 Naira collected on thousands of roadblocks around the country go very high up, if you don’t know. All monies collected on roadblocks must be accounted for, by some bosses up there in their corrupt headquarters.

Compatriots, it is time we faced up to the reality that a lot of things are not working in Nigeria, and needs external or divine intervention. To be frank, it is not a shame for one country to seek the assistance of another in several areas of governance. This is nothing new or something for countries to be ashamed of. There has been unilateral cooperation between countries of the world since time immemorial. Nigeria, as a country has sought it several times before and will continue to seek it. The United States, China, the old USSR and the UK, have sought help from each other and even from less developed nations to tackle one problem or the other. This is what is called International Cooperation, and it is something that happens everyday between countries.

Yes, it is an indictment of our police as a corrupt, ineffective, inefficient and totally useless law enforcement agency, and a shame on the officers, both serving and retired. It is an indictment of our Government too, but when we recognise our deficiencies and mistakes, that is only when we can correct them and move forward. These are precisely what the IG failed to address and get across to us. If he had admitted that his force are all these things, then people would understand where he was coming from and not lay into him like that. But Government officials are famous for speaking from the sides of their mouths, not articulate with stating the facts and are economical with the truth.

As it currently stands, it is not possible for the Nigeria Police Force to be reformed internally. This is because those who will be asked to reform it rose through the ranks – the ranks of corruption. They are or were part of the corrupt system, so they cannot reform it. They are devoid of ideas, they have vested interests, they are corrupt and morally bankrupt, they are too compromised and they are inept. So help has to come from outside. No Sir, we have been leaving it in their hands everytime, without any real change. Many Committees and task Forces and white and Green papers have been done internally on reforming the Police; what have heard about them. The best that some Inspector Generals have come up with is to change the uniforms. That is their idea of reforms; an exercise in futility and insincerity; a means of making money.

This outside help should also be qualified. What exactly are they coming to do? Is the help sought short or long term? What is our level of sincerity and desire to seek real and lasting help and desired reforms? How will the reforms be implemented, monitored and reviewed? Will the officers and men of the Police give them the cooperation desired and requested in order for the reforms to have real meaning and effect? Will our current corrupt officers not be afraid that a lot of skeletons will be exposed and thereby affect their jobs?

In carrying out the reforms, several corrupt and useless officers will have to go, and this will decimate the whole of the Force, since there will be many, if not the whole lot. Is this practicable or part of the intended reforms? Can the leopard change its spots? It is a Catch-22 situation, because after the reforms, the same corrupt, useless officers will still be left in the Force. Game on. Nothing has changed.

But we should give it a try. I think what needs to drummed into the heads of “Nigeria’s Finest” is that they need a completely new orientation. Their mode of training is outdated. Forget about their officers going abroad for training. This does not mean anything. Even if such officers want to adapt what they have learnt from abroad and translate it into action, the system will not let them. Another waste of resources.

The first thing should be their salary and compensation levels. Policemen and women must be well paid in order for them to perform effectively, efficiently and honestly. In fact, they must be paid higher than most other workers in the country. Then they will turn their backs on bribery and extortion. With the wealth of this country, it is amazing that policemen in this country are still not well-paid accordingly. It is a shame really. We are talking about security of life and property everyday, but the pay of the Police is still not being addressed. Yet, politicians are stealing billions of dollars.

Secondly, they must be trained and equipped properly. I don’t know what they teach them at the Police Colleges, but one thing I am sure about, is that they do not teach them that their profession is a noble one, and their remit is to protect and serve the Nigerian public. (Incidentally, I see this motto on their vehicles, and I could not help but laugh and see the sarcasm of it). Police work transcends a lot of things these days, and is highly technical and technology intensive. In a country where electricity is moribund, police work, and others like it, is severely hampered. For example, how many police stations in the country are linked by ordinary telephones, not to talk of computers? How many of the officers are computer-literate. I have seen inner city police stations lighted by lanterns. We have a long way to go and reforms are quite daunting, if you thing long and hard about the problems facing us.

Thirdly, we must have more police per head of population. We simply do not have enough to police the country.

Politicians also need to hands off the police, with the force being semi-independent. There is too much politics being played with the police by irresponsible and corrupt politicians, which has resulted in misery and death for the populace. Why, for example, should the Police be guarding people like Chief Adedibu or escorting him all over the place. Is he a government official? This is a waste of resources and smacks of political pandering and favouritism.

The name of the organisation should also change from Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police Service. The use of “Force” is outdated, politically incorrect and incompatible with modern definitions and norms. And actually, the Police are supposed to provide a service to the people, and should not be seen as an occupying force. This psychological change will also go down well with their customers – the Nigeria public.

Basically what I am saying is that we must invest in the security of life and property of the people of Nigeria, like we must invest in their education, health, food, water and other basic necessities of life. A contented Policeman is an efficient policeman.

David Bayley, in his book, Changing the Guard: Developing Democratic Police Abroad Oxford University Press, New York, 2005, posited that the assumption behind building democratic police forces is that “what the police do critically affects the character of government”. The nature of policing in a country not only affects the lives of its citizens but also is an indicator of the character of the government. Furthermore, police actions have a profound effect on the vivacity of the political process. Subsequently, he presented four institutional reforms that he believes foreign assistance should promote in the police if the goal is a democratic government based on constitutionalism. These four reforms are as follows:

1. Police must be accountable to law rather than to government.

2. Police must protect human rights, especially those rights that are required for the sort of political activity that is the hallmark of democracy.

3. Police must be accountable to people outside the organization who are specifically designated and empowered to regulate police activity.

4. Police must give top operational priority to servicing the needs of individual citizens and private groups.

A police force that is democratically reformed supports democracy in two ways. First, a reformed police force is accountable to a diverse set of people, particularly individuals. Second, it enhances the legitimacy of government by demonstrating that the authority of the state will be used in the interests of the people. After all, the police typically act as the most visible representative of the government. Based on this, Bayley makes the insightful statement that the reform of police services would do more for the legitimacy of government than any other reform program – and the effects would immediately be felt. Reforming the police would be an exercise in futility if the rest of the system did not recognize their authority or work achieved. Furthermore, Bayley said, in post-conflict nations and failed states; there is often a perceived trade-off between providing security for the government and its citizens and undertaking institutional reform.

So this is not such a bad idea and should be given a chance.

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Tina December 7, 2007 - 10:50 am

Well written. Lets hope that powers that be read these articles and lean something from them.Peace!

Owena December 3, 2007 - 9:25 am

I don't think that the British can help reform Nigeria's police force. The British police are trained to deal with a different set of people culturally and have geared their standards towards that. They also depend a lot on technological advances i.e. National Crime databases, Police National Computer, DNA computers etc. The fact that every legitimate person in the UK has their details stored on some government computer or other also helps a great deal. We are in the UK in effect living in a Big Brother society. Not a good thing but it is effective when it comes to solving crime; then again that is in Britain. In Nigeria we have failed miserably to keep up with anything remotely technologically advanced in order to aid the reduction in crime.

The culture in Nigeria is a different kettle of fish entirely from Britain. First off Nepa or whatever it is called nowadays; will they for once in their history provide constant electricity in order to power computers to search crime databases on demand? Will the police force even have basic computers in order to compile some sort of crime database? Or will they still be expected to work with vulnerable paper files? How will the British police suggest the Nigerians handle mob culture? i.e. when some hungry bugger gets caught in the market stealing groundnut and gets burnt to death for just desserts? Or in the North, when someone can get beaten to death by their own students for inadvertently dropping the Koran on the floor?

The list goes on. It is all very well for the British police force to apply patience and diligence when trying to solve a case like that of Damilola Taylor and the like in Britain but would such skills, diligence and patience be useful in Nigeria? As a nation we like to procrastinate a lot especially in a situation where the benefits or results are not always immediate. This a one of the reasons why worthwhile plans and projects that will be beneficial to the nation as a whole never get really get off the ground.

If you ask me, Yar Adua should start from the bottom up, from the seed and that is the reforming of the entire education system. Nigeria is only bound to be stuck in the same wretched cycle of corruption and ignorance if we don’t start providing a decent education for the leaders of tomorrow. I would also like to say that I agree with comment #2 to an extent.

Anonymous December 2, 2007 - 1:18 pm

omg. i cant believe some clowns think The british can reform Nigerian police. The british left local police, and federal police but today the military bequethed us with an unrealistic single police since they took over in 1966. The british will fail, if we lack the political will to devolve police powers like they did in colonial times and the first republic. No state of 140 million can be secured by a single police is impossible!

julius November 30, 2007 - 10:18 pm

Sometimes the greatest courage is the ability to acknowledge the fact that you need help. Okiro in inviting the british has shown great courage, I think this alone is commendable. We've tried and failed I don't think there is anything bad inviting others to help out. We need help not only with police, but also light.


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