Presidential Speech on Democracy Day Short on Police and Prison Matters
President Jonathan's address to the nation in celebration of the democracy day on May 29, 2012 showed a profound touch on several areas like visa procurement, credit rating, foreign exchange, seaports readiness and cassava growth. While all these aspects are
essential in regards to building and enriching our institutions as well as moving towards true democratic governance the inadequate attention to police and prison matters make the movement towards a stable democracy almost impossible.
Despite the continued institutional problems faced by the police and the prisons, and the despair faced by many serving police and prison officers as well as the poor optimism the Nigerian people have about our criminal justice institutions, the poor consideration given to these issues is problematic as it is not a good way to promote better ways to a functional civil society.
The President spoke of the armed forces in terms of their steadfast subordination to civil authority and addressed the judiciary as a problem-driven place that needs improvement but the two main agencies-police and prisons that are responsible for social stability remain almost absent in the speech.
The state of our criminal justice engine is currently clogged by mistrust, low morale, and psychologically the people continue to have low positive regard for our courts, the police and the prisons in particular.
The international world sees our criminal justice system in regards to the police and the prisons as centers of disorganization and ineptitude, and this is partly because those in uniform suffer from many challenges among which are poor remuneration, poor psychological readiness, poor residential environment, and collectively many have become more patriotic to the spirit of self-preservation at all cost, as such many of them see nothing unusual to committing themselves to a world of corruption, to a performance of carelessness and to an unwavering zeal for indifference to matters of public safety.
The President should have uttered words of support for the good works of some men and women in the police and prisons who in spite of all the challenges faced by their institutions have been known for committing their lives to the duty of protecting lives and properties.
Mr. President there is huge challenges facing the criminal justice system, and your administration need to help strengthen and bring the police and the prisons as well as the courts to the steps of professional and democratic standards.
Mr. President it is unhealthy for our young democracy to see our police and prison environments full mostly of unhappy and dejected men and women as the people will be the ultimate bearer of this systemic unhealthiness.
A presidential commitment to several, strong and wavering issues in the police, penal and judicial systems will in fact strengthen every other institution including all the ones you focused on as the absence of full safety and protection of all of them will mean danger to our democracy.
Mr. President it is time that the Nigerian criminal justice system to go through a psychological revolution the type that will reduce a myriad of huge issues.
We need bold mandates, programs and initiatives to drive a sustainable growth in the criminal justice system and there is need for the training of our police and prison officials using the tools of up-to-date psychology which will help bring in new knowledge in form of good attitude and full productivity.
Mr. President, we need to do more than strengthen the management of law enforcement agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
In order to better re-position these agencies for more effective service delivery it could have being very nice if you had used this august opportunity like you did in the case of changing the name of University of Lagos to voice bold modifications in our police and prison systems in particular.
Mr. President, henceforth and as part of the next Democracy Day hopefully you will inform the Nigerian people that the lives of our uniform men and women will be marked with pronounced positive improvements.
In this regard we will no longer hear of officers commercializing their duties, and there will be a reduction of justice for sale, a reduction in arbitrary detention in police cells and prisons, a reduction of highest bidder-oriented freedom, a reduction of police stations as business centers, a reduction of police squads as land speculators, a reduction of complainants turning into instant suspects, and a reduction of dilapidated police training centers.
In the area of prison challenges, future Democracy Day speech would evidence full blown reduction in prison conditions in regards to noticeable problems like congestion caused by persons awaiting trial. We will hear of a clear reduction in detentions without trial, a reduction of inadequate psychological treatment, a reduction of costly or inadequate feeding, a reduction of inadequate accommodation, a reduction of general overcrowding, and a reduction of dilapidated prison buildings.
We will hear from you a line of reductions in regards to poor sanitary, communicable diseases, and poor amenities like electricity, clothing, portable water, and communication system as well as in regards to the issue of prison outbreaks.
Mr. President, the reduction of many of the noted issues will make our criminal justice system, the Nigeria Police and prison institutions in particular more responsive organizations to public needs.
Mr. President it could have been major news in your speech to declare empowerment for our uniform and security detectives by announcing a new and higher salary structure, broadcasting a new and better accommodation allowance and revealing new training centers with established psychological and technological standards.
Mr. President these are the type of stuffs that could lead our officers to optimal performance in their duties and make them less tempted to ill-driven operational acts like criminal actions, indifference, chronic frustration, indiscipline, and selfishness.
Mr. President, the pursue of the rule of law and the formation of good institutions in an upcoming democracy like Nigeria can only occur if the Nigerian police, prison and court systems become full of men and women with the right training, the right resources, the right environment and the right attitude with the safety and security of the people always in their minds.
John Egbeazien Oshodi, Ph.D., is an Abuja-based Forensic/Clinical Psychologist.