The Men and Women of the Nigerian Police Force

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

The Nigerian Police Force has a simple mission statement: “The creation of a safer and more secured environment conducive for meaningful socio-economic development through crime prevention and control.” Summarized, its objectives are to “Protect the lives and property of our fellow citizens and impartially enforce the law; fight crime both by preventing it and by aggressively pursuing violators of the law; and to maintain a higher standard of integrity than is generally expected of others.”

In the history of contemporary Nigeria, except for the Nigerian Customs Service, I wonder if there ever has been a government agency as reviled and ridiculed as the Nigerian Police Force. For most, the Police are the poster child for all that is wrong with the Nigerian society. This is the group most people dump their annoyance on; this is the organization most people love to slap around; the organization most people love to splash their detestations on. It must be disheartening to be a member of the Nigerian Police.

The Nigerian Police are ubiquitous. They are everywhere: at checkpoints, at border crossings, at accident sites, at road junctions directing traffic, and at every private and public security post. Their presence annoys a great many Nigerians — even Nigerians who need their services. How low and annoying can it get when majority of the populace speak of the Nigerian Police as if they are speaking of politicians and armed-robbers. How sad! But it had not always been so.

The history of the Nigerian Police is a history of nobility, service and sacrifice. It had a glorious past. In recent years, however, the police have come to be known as the bastion of illegality, inefficiency and institutional decadence. It is hard to tell when this negative transformation began; and harder still to pinpoint when the Nigerian Police moved from being a pillar of grace and service to a cathedral of debauchery. Be that as it may, it must be painful to be thought of as the alpha and the omega of all that is wrong with Nigeria.

How sad it must be to know that day after day — 365 days a year – the people you swore to protect do not think much of you as you have become the butt of jokes and vengeance. And indeed, it must be awful, to know that no matter what you do — in terms of genuine effort and great sacrifices — the vast majority of the populace think you are a hired or hirable assassin ready to snuff our lives at any moment.

A lot of people are after our policemen and women, i.e. armed robbers. You get the feeling that these armed hooligans would love to do nothing but have the police for target practice. There are several vexing ironies here: Nigerian armed-robbers have better guns and ammunitions; they have superior equipments with which to ply their trade; they drive better and faster cars and have better pay and better incentives than the police; and they typically outman, outgun and outsmart the police. What’s more: If the general populace does not have respect for the police, why would the criminal elements within our society?

In years past, it was not uncommon, when university students felt like venting their rage that they’d go in search of the police. When unruly soldiers want people to smack around, they’d go in search of the police and police stations. When labor union wants to release some of their pent-up anger, they’d seek the police. Not even the politicians give a hoot about the police. On several occasions the police have been the sacrificial lamb for our national woes. And how many times do you suppose policemen have been publicly disgraced? Plenty! And so I wonder why anyone would want to be a member of the NPF.

You cannot have a viable democracy without law and order. You cannot have strong institutions without law and order. At the heart of democracy and its institutions are the police who are there to keep the peace, enforce law and order, investigate crimes and arrest criminals; and enforce Judges Decisions.

Tom O’Connor, quoting Herman Goldstein (1977), said that the “functions of a modern police force are to prevent and control conduct that is threatening to life and property; to aid individuals who are in danger of physical harm, such as the victims of violent attack; to facilitate the movement of people and vehicles; to assist those who cannot care for themselves, the intoxicated, the addicted, the mentally ill, the physically disables, the old, and the young; to resolve conflict, whether it be between individuals, groups of individuals, or individuals and their government; to identify problems that have the potential for becoming more serious problems; and to create and maintain a feeling of security in communities.”

In as much as the Nigerian Police has not lived up to this universal mantra, I submit — I vigorously submit — that the fault is not the police and the police alone. The Police do not write laws; the police are not in charge of budgetary allocations; the police are not in charge of procuring uniforms and the tools necessary to do great jobs. All the aforesaid are in the hands of the civilian authority (or were in the hands of the supreme military council during military rule). The police, as it turned out, never really got the respect, the training and the tools it needed to function properly and achieve great things.

What do we expect from a Police Force that has its members in bathroom slippers, torn boots, and tattered uniforms? What do we expect from a Police that is sinfully under compensated? What do we expect from a Police that is vastly understaffed and poorly trained? What do we expect from a Police that has no adequate housing and adequate mode of transportation? Yet, day after day we expect them to heroically chase after armed robbers and crooked politicians and white collar criminals. We expect them not to ask for or to take bribes to augment their paltry income. We expect them to keep us safe. I will submit — and again, vigorously submit — that that’s a very tall order!

We deserve the type of police we have. These men and women are not recruited or selected from the Mars or from the Moon. They are selected and recruited from the general population pool — a pool that is poorly educated; starved of basic human security; starved of adequate infrastructures; and starved of good governance. Where are these men and women supposed to take their cues from when state governors, ministers, commissioners, head of parastatals, and the chief of private and public enterprises are all corrupt and messed up? You expect the Nigerian Police to be different? Oh, no!

The Nigerian Police Force is a reflection of the Nigerian society. The police are bad because we are bad as a nation. To change the police we have to change our orientation and national culture. For the police “to serve and protect with integrity,” we must honor them; we must provide adequate leadership, adequate compensation and proper training. We must take care of the men and women who, on a daily basis, give their lives in the service of our country. Sure, there are a few bad and cracked eggs, but for the most part, these are very decent men and women. By the way: How many of us ever say “Thank You!” to a police officer for a job well done?

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