New IG, Idris, should reform police – Punch
Last week's change of baton at the top echelon of the Nigeria Police Force offers the country's foremost law enforcement agency another opportunity for a fresh start. More than anything else, the times now require fresh and innovative thinking, professionalism, and visionary leadership to clear the rot and bring about the critical change that can drive the force towards achieving its set objectives. The force, at this critical time, is a place seriously in need of self-renewal.
Following the retirement of the former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, Ibrahim Idris, a former Assistant Inspector-General of Police, is mounting the saddle as the new IG, in an acting capacity. The new helmsman is taking over at a period in which the country is embroiled in serious national security challenges that have been compounded by deep-seated distrust and mutual feelings of animosity between the police and the civilian population they are expected to protect.
As an agency statutorily charged with the responsibility of overseeing the internal security of the country, the police have had their capacity stretched by an unprecedented wave of insecurity, paucity of funding, lack of motivation and absence of adequate modern equipment to match the level of sophistication of today's criminals. Security challenges range from the regular forms of criminality such as armed robbery, kidnapping and murder to other more serious ones like Fulani herdsmen's mass killings, militancy, economic sabotage, cultism and terrorism.
In all of this, the police have failed to match the pace and wits of the criminals. In many cases, it appears as if the criminals are always a step ahead of the law enforcement agents. Quite often, the police have appeared to be so helpless after being outgunned and outfoxed by criminals that soldiers have had to be deployed to help out.
This was the situation when a former IG, Mohammed Abubakar, cried out three years ago, saying, 'Look at how our Criminal Investigation Bureau has died completely… It is shameful that we bring in soldiers to guard police barracks. If we can't guard ourselves, can we guard others?' This is one of the critical questions that Idris has to address. He has to reverse a situation where the military has gradually taken over the job of policing and providing internal security across the length and breadth of the country.
At a point, the immediate past National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, had to voice out his concern about the frequency of such deployments because of the likely effect on the efficacy of the military. He had put the number of states in which the military were operating then at 28 out of the 36 states in the country. Now it is said to be over 30; very alarming for a country that is not at war with an external aggressor.
Unfortunately, while the job of internal security was being gradually ceded to the military, policemen were being assigned the duty of guarding and protecting private individuals. Even the mobile police force, described by Idris as the elite strike force that is trained for dangerous situations, are not exempted. It is indeed heartening that the new IG, at his first outing during the passing out parade at the 59 squadron commanders operations course in Osun State, banned the posting of mobile police as security aides to individuals. For effective result, that ban should be extended to the regular policemen as well. The fear however is that his predecessors had always said the same thing, but found it difficult to implement the order.
When, out of a police force of 305,000, as estimated by Arase, about a quarter is deployed to protect individuals, it is certain that whatever is left cannot effectively secure the rest of the society. In fact, Arase himself publicly admitted that the police were not adequately equipped, in terms of the numerical strength, training and equipment at their disposal, to sufficiently do their job. This is the force that Idris is inheriting.
While the time spent by Arase could be said to be too short to make a real impact - he barely had a year - it is the duty of Idris, who has at least three years before his retirement, to introduce serious reforms into the police. To start with, he has to ensure a cordial relationship between the police and the public, since successful policing depends on both sides working together and complementing themselves. He should act strictly to stop the frequency of police turning their weapons against the civil society whom they should be protecting. Cases of extrajudicial killings by the police are becoming far too frequent.
Besides, the police should be adequately equipped to be able to keep pace with the growing sophistication of criminals. Emphasis should shift from reacting to crime to pre-empting and preventing crime. His should be intelligence-led policing, where the force can even infiltrate criminal gangs and extract information leading to their arrest before they commit any crime. Perhaps the greatest challenge Idris faces, however, is the monumental corruption in the force. He should make it a cornerstone of his tenure to root it out and end impunity.
The recent case in Orlando, Florida, the United States, in which 49 people were shot dead in the worst shooting incident in the country, shows the danger posed by easy access to guns. That the rate of crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping has been on the increase because of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, not much has been done to curb the circulation of arms. This is one of the things Idris could tackle, working in collaboration with the Nigerian Customs Service and other security agencies. The new IG has a lot on his plate and what he makes out of the situation will determine how he is remembered when he leaves in three years' time