The Nigeria Police And Public Safety

“The Nigeria Police Force is now a danger to public safety and security and the conduct of its personnel could be the cause of a major public health and mortality emergency on a national scale” – NOPRIN (2007)

The revelation of the content of the damning 19-page report by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), which monitored over 400 police stations in 13 states of Nigeria, should come as no surprise to any Nigerian. It is a most welcome and eye-opening report which really further exposed the Nigeria Police Force as one of the most, if not the most, incompetent, inefficient, corrupt, brutal security organisation in the world. This report must be a real concern for the Nigerian public, because, God help us, if it is not you today, it might be a family member or friend tomorrow who will fall into the callous hands or trap of this organisation.

It is no exaggeration that, according to NOPRIN, that “the [police force] is now a danger to public safety and security and the conduct of its personnel could be the cause of a major public health and mortality emergency on a national scale”. In fact, the Nigeria Police Force no longer protects the Nigerian public, rather, the Nigerian public should be protected from the men and women of this outdated and corrupt force. And therein lies the problem, because who is going to protect the public? The government or ourselves? NOPRIN’s Coordinator said “President Yar’Adua’s commitment to the rule of law rings hollow as long as his administration takes no steps to bring an end to the epidemic of police killings and other abuses in Nigeria. What use is the rule of law if it cannot guarantee the right to life? A Police Force that kills this number of people cannot guarantee public safety.”

According to the report, “thousands of detainees are killed annually in encounters with the police; hundreds of detainees die outside police custody from injuries sustained during police torture; custodial conditions in police cells cause and spread infectious diseases; while a growing incidence of allegations of rape by police personnel raise the risk of trauma injuries to the victims as well as the spread of HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases”. (Are we surprised?) The report claimed that a “police officer attached to the Police in Ikeja, Lagos State, described their practice of raping professional sex workers, claiming that ‘this is one of the fringe benefits attached to night patrol’. (Perfect examples of man’s inhumanity to man, I dare say, and while armed robbers with superior firepower are busy carrying out raids on helpless public, our “finest” and “protectors are busily engaged in having fun raping sex workers. Not a bad fringe benefit or bush allowance, is it?). These crimes against Nigerians have been going on for decades, and from the look of it, will continue for a long time to come, because the people in power have never addressed the issue appropriately. All they do is change their uniforms, or arm them more to commit more crimes against their fellow Nigerians.

To be frank, I was surprised that we even have over 400 police stations in only 13 states. I thought there were less, so the fact that we this many, is a plus to either the force itself or to the government. Have you ever been to the website of the Nigeria Police Force? It is www.nigeriapolice.org. It is a shame on whoever decided that this is the website of a national police force worthy of the name. But then, there we have it.

I would assume that it was on the back of this report that the Inspector General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, thought he should holler for help from the British Police. And damn right he should, but with appropriate action plans and the right approaches. However, when a security force’s boss decides to measure his force’s success by the number of people, called armed robbers, that they have killed within 3 months, saying that the Police had killed 785 suspected armed robbers in his first one hundred days in office, representing an average daily killing rate of nearly eight persons, you know the Nigerian public is not safe from the Nigeria Police. And he was promoted just a few days after making this statement. I do not mind if he can convince us that ALL the people he called armed robbers were actually armed robbers, but the problem is we all know a lot of this figure are not armed robbers, but people, mostly innocent civilians who either fell foul of the law, or were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Look at these statistics – and these are just the ones they decided to tell us – “One of Mr. Okiro’s predecessors, Tafa Balogun, announced in 2004 that the police killed 7,198 alleged “armed robbers” in encounters from 2000 to the end of February 2004, including 2,025 in 2002, and 3,100 in 2003. Mr. Balogun’s successor as Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, however, claimed in July 2006 that the police killed only 2,402 during the same period”. This is a lot of killings done in the name of policing, Nigerian-style. My guess is that only half of those people killed were actual armed robbers.

I should know. Within the last 6 months, three acquaintances who happened to live abroad and were holidaying in Nigeria have been killed by Nigeria Police, who labelled them armed robbers. Then are the frequent raids by men and women of the force on area boys and the homeless, parading them in front of the TV (a breach of International Conventions) and then the next thing you hear, is that they were shot while trying to escape. These are men who had been beaten silly, or shot in the leg, who could not possible walk after their torture by the police brutes, not to talk of run.

The only solution to armed robbery, apparently, as far as the Nigeria Police Force is concerned, is to kill as many people, armed robbers or innocent people, as possible. This is quite obvious in the slogans written on their dilapidated and decrepit patrol cars. “Operation Fire for Fire”, and other idiotic slogans. One thing for sure, they are not exchanging the same fire as the real armed robbers are.

Please, let us recognise that there are many brilliant, well educated, brave, efficient and resourceful men and women in the Nigeria Police Force. I know many in these categories of fine officers, who have really taken the Police Force as a career and mean to do well for the public. I have heard of many officers who have been courageous in the line of fire with armed robbers. Some officers are very committed to police work and protecting the public, but they are too few, and therefore overwhelmed by the many bad ones.

There are so many causative issues and factors affecting the performance and psyche of our policemen and women, and one that I want to single out is the very environment or society in which they are forced to work in. The environment is corrupt, harsh and not conducive in whole or parts, and since they are a product of this environment, living and working in it, they are bound to reflect that environment, hence they are corrupt and brutal and have no respect for human life and endeavour. Their leaders, both political and organisational are corrupt, hence they find it difficult to operate as efficiently and humanely as one would expect in a normal conducive society. They are therefore not wholly to blame. They have to eat, pay their rents, send their children to school and generally exist like others, and because all these basic pleasantries of life are not provided to them, they have to resort to brutality, torture, corruption and blatant disregard for human life. This is not an excuse for their bestiality, but it should be recognised.

The Nigeria Police is the organisation that reflects Nigerian corruption the most, not only because of their public visibility, but because of their status in a civil society. At least the corrupt political leaders and civil servants can sit behind their office desks and steal billions of Naira in secret, (and most of them get away with it) not so the policeman. They can only steal in public by extorting money from the public on the highways and in their police stations. It is well known that some officers moonlight as armed robbers during the night. Some are in league with the armed robbers and drug barons, some even sell or lend guns to armed robbers. Tell me if such men will not kill anyone in sight, or to protect themselves from exposure.

Then comes the use of the policemen and women by politicians and people in government. It is again well known that several politicians, including several State Governors, and possibly the Obasanjo Administration, used ex-IG Tafa Balogun’s Nigeria Police Force, to ensure their re-elections in 2003. That explained part of the massive loot that Balogun was eventually caught with. Even, ex-IG Ehindero can not absolve himself of his culpability in rigging the last election in 2007, with the aid of his men and women.

I once met a young police officer in Ibadan, who could not have been more than 22 years of age. We met under an altercating situation, but afterwards I advised him to get another job. He agreed with me, but told me he’s lucky to have this job in the meantime.

I never cease to wonder what they teach them in the Police Colleges. Or could it be that they teach them the right things, but out there on the street, they abandon all the good things they were taught and revert back true to type and just swing along with the environment, considering all members of the public as their enemies? Do they teach them courses in civics, governance, security, effective policing, humanities, political sciences, civil rights, human rights, ethics, etc?

Again, you have to be sympathetic to their sorry state. In my previous article about the invitation extended by IG Mike Okiro, to the British Police, I said that 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 patches. 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?”

What next then? How do we reform this organisation? Who will do the reforming? Should we split the force into national and regional/state police forces? What will be the political implications of such split? How do we save the public from the Nigeria Police Force? Again, I have written that “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. 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 we 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”.

Unfortunately, if our society as a whole does not change fundamentally, any attempt to reform any or all of our various governing departments or functions will be an exercise in futility. It is not only the police that are corrupt, the whole society is. Therefore, the society must change before anything else can change. Our attitude, our morality, our commitment, etc must change. We all know this is not easy. It might not even be in our lifetime. Who knows? But we have to work towards it. We do not have a choice, if we want to survive as a people and leave a lasting legacy to our children and grandchildren, which they will be proud of and which will make life easier for them.

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
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