“He who saves a nation breaks no law” (Napoleon)
“In 1906,” according to the website of the Nigerian Police Force, “three separate Police forces existed in Nigeria. There were the Lagos Police Force, the Northern Police Force and the Southern Police Force. In the second half of 1906, the colony and protectorate of Lagos was merged with the protectorate of Southern Nigeria. In 1914 the colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Protectorate of Northern were merged to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. However, the Southern and Northern Nigeria Police Forces remained separate and no amalgamation too place until 1930. On 1st April, 1930 came the existence of the Nigeria Police Force with headquarters in Lagos.”
In the history of contemporary Nigeria, I wonder if there ever has been an organization as reviled, scorned and derided as the Nigerian Police Force. For most Nigerians, the Police are the poster child for all that is wrong with the Nigerian society. This is the group most people dump their heaps on; this is the organization most people love to slap around; this is the organization most people just love to hate. It must be disheartening to be a member of the Nigerian Police. They are everywhere — at every checkpoint, at border crossings, at accident sites, at 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 can it get when locals warn tourists and new immigrants to be “careful of the Nigerian Police.” 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 twenty-four hours a day, when your countrymen see you they transfer unhealthy thoughts to you. It must be awful, to know that no matter what you do — in terms of effort and sacrifice — the vast majority of the populace think of you as member of a group that is corrupt and easily corrupted; that you are lazy and loaf around most of the time; that you live a shitty life and therefore must be shitty. It is sad and unfortunate that of all the arms of the security services, the Police have become the butt of jokes and vengeance.
A whole 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. The Nigerian armed robbers have better guns and ammunitions and even better tactics than the Nigerian Police. They drive better and faster cars than the police. And they have better pay and better incentives than the police. Any wonder then that they typically outman, outgun and outsmart the police? If the general populace doesn’t have respect for the police, why would the criminal elements within the society?
As part of their duties, the police controls crowd, prevent crowd from forming or arrest those they believe are assembling illegally. Therefore, in the performance of their duties, they collide with other contending parties, i.e. students. It is therefore not uncommon that when university students feel like venting their rage, they go in search of the police. When soldiers want people to smack around and buildings to burn, they go in search of the police and police stations. When labor union wants to release some of their pent-up anger, they seek the police. Not even the politicians give a hoot about the police. On several occasions the police have been the sacrificial lamb. And how many times do you suppose policemen have been publicly beaten and disgraced? Plenty!
You cannot have a viable democracy without law and order. You cannot have strong institutions without law and order. And at the heart of democracy and institutions are the police who are there to keep the peace, enforce law and order, investigate crimes and arrest criminals, enforce Judges and Attorney General’s decisions and also help keep general peace and stability.
Tom O’Connor, quoting Herman Goldstein (1977), said that the “functions of a modern police force are to prevent and control conducts that are 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 or 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’s and the police alone. The Police do not write laws; the police do not hire and promote officers; the police do not fire corrupt and inefficient officers; 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 that had its members in bathroom slippers, torn boots, and tattered uniforms? What do we expect from a police that is vastly 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 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 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 the Inspector General of Police, the state governors, ministers, commissioners, head of parastatals, and the chief of private and public enterprises are all corrupt? You expect the police to be different? Oh, no!
We deserve the police we have. In other words, 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. In order 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 give their lives in the service of our country. Has any Nigerian ever said “Thank You!” to a police officer for a job well done?