SHORING UP POLICE MANPOWER
The plan to recruit 40,000 personnel into the constable cadre of the Nigeria Police is a laudable initiative that will take us nearer the United Nations benchmark of one policeman to 400 civilians. With over 140 million population and a numerical strength of about 357,000 policemen, Nigeria is grossly underpoliced, with grave implications for security of lives and property.
Apart from inadequate tools and incondusive working environment, the Nigeria Police suffers serious shortage of manpower, and is often completely overwhelmed at times of social or religious upheavals, leading to severe casualties. An immediate example is the Boko Haram sectarian uprising last year, in which about 27 policemen lost their lives.
We recall that this is not the first time the police is embarking on massive recruitment to shore up its manpower. Under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, there was a policy to recruit a minimum of 20,000 annually for three years, but the exercise was suspended after it was discovered that miscreants and malefactors had begun to infiltrate the system.
The current initiative must draw vital lessons from the failure of the past. Happily, we notice that recruitment requirements include clearance from the village to the ward and state levels. Prospects should be given endorsements by people like traditional rulers of their towns, the clergy, and other reputable persons in the society. Anyone with a hazy, foggy or undefinable background cannot then easily subvert the system.
The desire to shore up the number of policemen we have, should also compel a revisit of the issue of dedicating scarce manpower to politicians and other wealthy people, who ordinarily should not need such excessive protection. Today, you find as many as 50 policemen on duty at the homes, and in the convoys, of politicians with questionable antecedents, when the society is in dire need of security cover. Even elected officials who are in power should not need such large security details, if they have been truly elected, and are really serving the people acceptably. It is time to pull out a good number of policemen on such undesirable duties.
The minimum academic qualification for prospective constables has been pegged at secondary school certificate. We, however, suspect there'll be a situation in which the police will be swamped with applicants holding even first and second degrees, due to massive unemployment in the land. This calls for scrupulous screening, so that only the brightest and the best would be enlisted. This is not the time for nepotism or godfatherism, but an opportunity to strength our police with quality manpower.
The onus is on those vested with authority to recruit to insist on prescribed minimum standards for the good of society. Of course, it bears repeating that the recruitment paradigm must be one that adequately screens out potential criminals. But beyond recruitment, do we have adequate facilities in our police colleges to train new intakes effectively? We doubt.
It is time to upgrade our police training institutions in order to pedestal them with the very best in the world. Quality of instruction, accommodation, and other welfare issues should be looked into. Modern policing now goes beyond just the handling of weapons, and includes instructions on proper interface with the civil populace. Our own police force, with predilections for brutality and high-handedness, is in dire need of this re-orientation.
The police is a civil force, and this needs to be ingrained into the psyche of policemen right from the academies.
Equally, the general welfare of those already serving should be considered. Salaries are poor, uniforms and other kits are threadbare, insurance cover is inadequate, firearms are antiquated and ineffective to combat the growing sophistication of criminality, and many other prevailing shortcomings. This reduces our policemen to ill-motivated, disgruntled sitting ducks, who then have to flee from the onslaught of criminals. It's time to address this.
The new constables are expected to come out of training institutions to perform core police duties, and not to become domestic aides of privileged people in society. If the current trend is not reversed, then the original purpose of shoring up manpower is defeated. Providing security for lives and property is one of the core duties of policemen, and we hope this recruitment will not just be a knee-jerk response to manpower needs, but a structured programme which will in the nearest future see us attaining the UN recommendation of one policeman to 400 civilians.