Reforming Nigeria Police Requires 360 Degree Approach

There is no denying the fact that the upshot of corruption, mistrust, and misuse of power that characterized the operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), now renamed Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) has since the last few days been sending shock waves nationwide as the youths have been trooping to the streets to express their reservations over the development that does not go down well with the citizenry.

Over the years, SARS operatives, who ought to be custodians of the law have been grappling with an increasing crime rate, ironically the operatives appear to be worse than the criminals they are charged to tackle as most of them are unarguably unwanted elements or rather bad eggs within the rank and file of the squad. The abnormality, no doubt calls for a holistic reform of the anti-crime unit of the Nigeria Police.

Analyzed from the perspective of the fact that the reformation of any institution, especially in the public service, is an arduous task, the Nigeria Police operates as a multidimensional security organization with several tactical and administrative departments and units tasked with serving, protecting, and reassuring the Nigerian citizenry. Contrary to its constitutional mandate, incontrovertible facts have emerged that there are rogues and killers operating within the Nigeria Police, as evidenced in the now disbanded SARS, which makes it even harder to actualize true reformation.

At this juncture, it would be remiss of one not to mention the steps taken by successive governments and high command police personnel to curb the malfeasance within the force. It would be recalled that efforts toward the reformation of the police were made in the past, but how successful they were is what no one can grapple with at the moment as the process of policing in the country has somewhat remained despicable. However, some Nigerians that understand the dynamics of policing recently commended President Muhammadu Buhari for assenting to the Police Bill, 2020, which signifies a huge commitment to the reform of Nigeria’s policing system that was long overdue.

PLAC Executive Director, Clement Nwankwo, in a press statement, sequel to the assent to the bill by the president, said: “The new Act seeks to provide for a more efficient and effective police service that is based on the principles of accountability, transparency, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and partnership with other security agencies.

“It also seeks to bring about a modern Police that is responsive to the security needs of Nigeria citizens at all levels. The colonial 1943 Police Act regulated the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) for 77 years and was no longer fit for the purpose it was meant for.

“The effort to review the Police Act has been a long and arduous one, starting as far back as 2004, with slow progress being made over the years. Between 2002 and 2012 several Police Reform panels comprising experts, were set up to develop recommendations on improved policing in Nigeria.”

In a similar vein, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, (NOPRIN), has for the umpteenth time embarked on sensitization campaign for overall reform of the country’s police force.

The group during its 2018 review of Police and Policing in Nigeria, in Lagos observed that the year 2018 was not so much unlike any other year since Nigeria’s return to democratic processes in 1999 with regards to police and policing in the country. Against the foregoing backdrop, it is not an exaggeration to say that the situation, as it is today, has not changed.

Speaking at the forum at the time, the national coordinator of NOPRIN, Mr. Okey Nwanguma, said one significant development that made the difference is the progress that has been made with the effort to review the colonial Police Act which still regulates the NPF 75 years after it was promulgated in 1943 by British colonial authorities.

Nwanguma, regretted that decades after independence, Nigeria Police Force is still being governed by a colonial law, noting that despite the fact that it is not fit for purpose it was meant to serve, it has not seen any comprehensive review since its initial promulgation.

While recalling that the effort to review the Police Act has been long-drawn, starting from 2004 with slow progress being made over the years, he said “The current initiative culminated in the Senate public hearing on December 5, 2018, the closest we’ve ever come to having the colonial law reviewed.

At this juncture, it is expedient to opine that the Nigeria Police is chronically underfunded and under-trained. Against this backdrop, it is expedient to call for adequate funding for the police, particularly in the aspect of increasing their salaries and paying them as at when due.

Another challenge that should be addressed in the bid to reform the police is that of deployment of policemen to be guarding VIPs. It is expedient to say in this context that to meet the UN recommended ratio of one policeman for 400 residents, the idea of deploying police officers to VIPs should be strongly eschewed. The reason for the foregoing suggestion is that is detrimental to the protection of communities across the country. Aptly put, with the practice, the police has been unable to perform its basic functions to safeguard the community,

Furthermore, police salaries are low as they earn less than their counterparts in other security formations in the country. This disadvantage has unarguably been compelling them to engage in corrupt practices just to survive the hardships that the parlous economy is inherent with. As part of an effort to address police corruption,

there is not denying the fact that there are numerous proposals for police reform. One of such proposals, which has the support of some governors, is the creation of state police forces to replace or augment the effort of the Nigeria Police.

Another way of reforming the Police is to improve the quality of their training which is no doubt critical for the attainment of satisfactory policing. The reason for the foregoing is that every day of training invested in a police officer has individual and institutional benefits. In doing that, it is pertinent to ask some salient questions that cut across, “How much training must a police recruit go through to become an officer?” “Is the training rigorous enough to expose trainees with preexisting psychological issues?” What reinforcement training happens in the police force?” “Weekly?” “Monthly?” “How much training is provided for each significant portion of police duties?” “How much is split between weapons training versus escalation of force or de-escalation techniques?” “How are members of the force rewarded?” “What behaviors and qualities of a cop are reinforced by the institution?” “What type of leaders rise to the top?” It is therefore unarguable that as Nigerians demand reforms that the need to ask and answer the foregoing questions is indispensable.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is pragmatic to say that reforming the Nigeria Police requires a 360 Degree Approach, and it is extremely crucial that the approach should be adopted.

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Articles by Isaac Asabor