MINDING POLICE AFFAIRS

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It is worth noting the things Police Affairs Minister said; that is Captain Caleb Olubolade. He arrived office days back. Now the Nigerian Police Force will be turned upside down, right side up. If he implements what he said, that is. Olubolade said the image of the police would be redeemed. He said what that segment of the population did to the psyche of Nigerians in the past is regrettable, and that graduates of higher institutions will be recruited into the Force. It is not as if graduates of higher institutions are not in the Nigerian police force. Such may lurk around in the Force somewhere, but Nigerians know the kind of officers they meet on the street – uniformed men that barely express themselves in English. Level of intelligence is suspect; a six year old will question it, even. High level of education is not visible in most contacts by any stretch of imagination. It’s enough indication of those that are in majority in this Force.

It is a known fact that ‘bravery’ was one of the factors considered in recruiting police officers in years past. In that case, people who possibly did not complete elementary school in the 1950s and 60s made it into the police force. That does not seem to have changed much. There is always a difference between the man that education passed through, and the one none passed through. A graduate of higher institution is more likely to have self-respect. Imagine a University graduate on police patrol soliciting for twenty naira. His on-the-spot, sensible judgment – something that matters much in policing - will be different. This thing is comparable to a University graduate who sells pepper, and an uneducated person who does the same. Both won’t handle the same thing the same way. Placing what a police officer should be, side by side with the uniformed men that Nigerians have come to know may be a worthwhile exercise. And perhaps what the Police Affairs Minister said provides an opportunity to compare police force in the place of its origin, United Kingdom (which introduced modern policing in Nigeria) to the police force that Nigeria has.

Generally, the word "Police" means, the arrangements made in all civilized countries to ensure that the inhabitants keep the peace and obey the law. The word also denotes the force of peace officers (or police) employed for this purpose. In 1829 Sir Richard Mayne who (along with Colonel Charles Rowan) had the task of designing and organizing the London Police Force, also known as Scotland Yard, wrote thus: "The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained."

In attaining these objects, much depends on the approval and co-operation of the public, and these have always been determined by the degree of esteem and respect in which the police are held. A key principle of policing in Britain is that the police seek to work with the community and as part of the community.

The origin of the British police, long before the seventeenth century, was based on customs for securing border through the medium of appointed representatives. And in that sense, the people were the police. This entailed the division of the people into groups of ten, and one of them served as representative. Each ten formed larger groups of one hundreds, with one man in each hundred responsible to the Sheriff of the County. Over time, the representative of a group of ten became the parish constable and the Sheriff the Justice of the Peace, to whom the parish constable was responsible. The parish constable worked in co-operation with the local Justices in securing observance of laws and maintaining order. This system became more widely established in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As a result of economic changes and movement of the population to the towns, the parish constable system failed and it led to the formation of the "New Police" in London.

The first Metropolitan Police Act was passed and the Metropolitan Police Force was established in 1829. By 1839 the Metropolitan Police Force had taken largely the form it has at the moment. A private house at 4, Whitehall Place that the two men who designed and organized the New Police occupied was owned by the earlier Kings of Scotland before Scotland and England became unified. The courtyard of this same house was used as a police station. It was this address that led to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police being known as Scotland Yard. Although the headquarters had moved three times since then, to its present site at Broadway, S.W.1, the Force retains its name.

Of all the other things that may be noted as responsible for the effectiveness of this Force, its category of officers is worth referring to. This is because of the emphasis of this piece on the importance of the caliber of officers in the overall performance of the Force. The Constable, the entry point as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police, operates on the front line, supporting victims and witnesses, providing reassurance and instilling confidence. And there are Special Constables that wear the same uniform as regular police officers, have the same powers and responsibilities, come from all walks of life, volunteer 16 hours of their time a month, help increase contact between local communities and the police, but are not paid. And there are opportunities for experienced and specialist police officers, as well as volunteers that lend their skills and free time to police in the communities that they also live or work in. The young, 14-18, who are in school are also encouraged to join the police later on in life through the Volunteer Police Cadet, as well as the Safer Neighbourhood Teams that engage in leaflet drops, crime prevention initiatives, and assist by stewarding at local community events.

This is the make-up of the Scotland Yard which officers the Nigerian government has had occasion to invite for one reason or the other in the past. Why? Because of the quality of officers and materials it boasts of that the Nigerian police lacks. Incidentally, a Colonel was involved when the Scotland Yard was originally designed and organized to become the efficient machine that serves the purpose for which it was set up. Nigerians can tell if their police serve the purpose for which they are set up; no one needs to tell them. As it would happen, an army general had once been a Police Affairs Minister under a past civilian administration here, yet the police remains what it is. But Nigerians may yet hope, and look up to a Navy Captain Olubolade to do all he can to redesign, as well as help make their police force do what it is set up to do; it is the reason he is a Minister.

Ajibade is a Communications Consultant. [email protected]

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