NIGERIA: FAILED POLICE, FAILING NATION
From the United Nations Blue Book we are told that the law enforcement officials shall at all times fulfill the duty imposed on them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.
The same United Nations Blue book provides that law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.
Law enforcement officials, according to the UN Blue Book, shall not commit any act of corruption. The term ‘Law enforcement officials’ includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or selected, who exercise police powers, especially the powers of arrest or detention. The UN Blue Book further stated that in Countries where police powers are exercised by military authorities, whether uniformed or not, or by state security forces, the definition of law enforcement officials shall be regarded as including such services.
The Constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1963 and 1979 did not provide directly the functions of the Nigeria Police Force, but left it to Parliament to organize and administer. However the Police Act 1958 provides for the functions of the Police. “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of, the Governor-General.” The Police Act Cap. 359 of 1990 amended the 1958 Act by substituting the words “the Governor-General” with “this or any other Act.” These functions can be classified into three groups namely:
• The power to prevent and detect crime, the apprehension of offenders, the protection of property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulation of which they are directly charged;
• The preservation of Law and order; and
• To “perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required of them by or under authority of this or any other Act.
Basil Momodu in his book “Duties, powers and limitations of the Nigeria police” stated thus; “A legal duty is an obligation which the law places on a body for which the law has given powers to that body to carry out that obligation for the common good of the state. The police are under a duty to prevent the commission of an offence.”
However, our experiences with the operatives, men and officers of the Nigeria police show that majority of these law enforcement officials have failed in their municipal, constitutional and/or internationally prescribed duties of preventing crimes and respecting the fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens and especially the most vulnerable members of the public namely women and children. Government at the federal level has recently deployed soldiers to do ordinary police work because of the failure of police.
The other day in Akwa Ibom state, a first class traditional ruler reported to the police commissioner that he is been threatened with death by some persons who felt dissatisfied with some actions put in place in his domain to ensure equitable sharing of political offices. The police failed to act not until this monarch was killed before the police moved in belatedly to invite a serving Senator from the state for questioning.
In Owerri, Imo state, a first class traditional ruler Eze Emeka Njoku of Ehime Mbano was killed in mysterious circumstances just before last year’s Christmas and the police hierarchy danced around the circumstances that led to the gruesome murder of this Monarch who happened to be a very successful investor in the nation’s tourism industry. The then police commissioner was reported to have told Journalists that Eze Njoku was accidentally killed by a police operative in response to a distress call. It is a shame that a respected traditional ruler who was returning to his hotel room in Owerri accompanied by police operatives was allegedly killed accidentally by another police operative. The question to be asked here is if the police operative who shot the Monarch was blind so much so that he never noticed the presence of some armed uniformed police operatives who did not make any effort to exchange gun shots with him?
The lack of professionalism on the part of police operatives was in display in Mpape, a suburb of Abuja, last week, when a police constable shot and killed a pregnant woman who sat on the passenger side of a taxi which was said to be reversing close to the Zenith Bank branch office in that densely populated settlement. Haruna John, the police commissioner in Abuja provided some funny excuses for this dastardly act of gruesome murder of a pregnant woman by an armed uniformed police operative when he stated that the police who committed this horrendous crime only accidentally discharged his bullet when he mistakenly touched the trigger while trying to stop the taxi from reversing near a bank. The lack of professionalism among the police operatives is responsible for the public perception of the police operatives as largely illiterates.
In a book “Policing Nigeria; past, present and future” published in 1993 by the panel on policing Nigeria Project disclosed that a facts’ finding committee headed by Justice Mustapha Akanbi discovered that there is a general perception of the police as illiterates by Nigerians.
Justice Akanbi in his report wrote thus; “The misfortune of our present police force is that despite the changes that have taken place in their internal structure and organization, many Nigerians still look at them with a feeling of distrust and suspicion. Some even treat them with disdain because of the generally held belief that they are not well educated….”
The federal government must necessarily reform the police, equip the operatives and provide the training for them to have the intelligence to detect and prevent crimes. The current piece meal approach of changing the institutional heads of the police at any slightest manifestation of ineptitude is not enough. We must rescue and rebuild the failed policing institution in Nigeria because a nation with a failed police is a failed nation.
Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.