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Imperatives for Police Reforms in Nigeria

There are three jobs I have tremendous respect for, namely: teaching, preaching and policing. In all these three professions, the practitioner is either trying to impart knowledge, converting a soul or protecting lives and property. The teacher practices his profession with very low pecuniary benefits (no thanks to Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras). The preacher does two jobs converting a soul without payment except for occasional solicitation of extra tithe and performing the dust-to-dust assignment at a requiem high mass. Policing is even more dangerous because in Nigeria, a police man who dies in active service may be given the benefit of a rickety coffin and maybe with N500, 000 for the benefactors. It does appear that the practitioners of these three professions seem to suffer the same fate, except that one may earn a ticket to heaven.

The right to life and personal property is fundamental to human existence hence every man cherishes life, and would do everything to live within the limits of the natural laws. In fact survival is the first law of nature, as every human institution that violates human survival is seen as an aberration. Accordingly, the primary responsibility of any government is the protection of lives and property of her citizenry. When any government fails to execute this obligation, chaos and anarchy prevails. When society degenerates to a Hobbesian state and is incapable of protecting lives and property, a social order, if it exists, should be terminated. In contemporary politics, any organized institution that is incapable of guaranteeing human survival should be encouraged to atrophy naturally or forcibly abolished. That is why modern democratic societies establish the police to maintain law and order and to combat crime.

At the global level, the International Criminal Police Organization, INTERPOL, established in 1923, is the world's largest international police organization, with 188 member countries. It was established to facilitate cross-border police co-operation, and supports and assists all organizations, authorities and services whose mission is to prevent or combat international crime. Action is taken within the limits of existing laws in different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. INTERPOL's constitution prohibits 'any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.

From Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom to Lyon - the headquarters of INTERPOL in France, the core functions of the police world over are the same. The police are responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and to apprehend offenders and to maintain public order and safety of persons and properties”. The police also perform motor traffic duties to ensure safety on our roads. In the advanced countries, they also engage in vetting and issuance of Police Criminal check certificates as well as deal with traumatic and psychological problems resulting from sexual abuse and other forms of abuse.

The INTERPOL is a police force with focus and training initiatives with the aim of enhancing the capacity of member countries to effectively combat transnational crime and terrorism. However, individual countries have their own initiatives to build their police force. The central function of the police according to the Nigerian constitution is the maintenance and enforcement of law and order. Even a pedestrian will attest to the fact that all is not well with the Nigerian police force.

Back home in Nigeria, it needs no mention that all is not well with the police establishment. Nigeria ranks 20th among 38 most corrupt police in the world. Police corruption is supported by governmental apparatus. The ruling Party is a gang of corrupt individuals and families. In Nigeria fighting corruption in the police force will require international cooperation and assistance. The police sometimes assist in the desecration of the ballot box by helping to rig elections en masse. Sometimes elections are won before the commencement of voting. The Nigerian police are characterized by indiscipline, lack of capacity to investigate matters because of poor orientation and near absence of ethical standards.

There is corruption in every society and it is widespread in Nigeria, but the bogey of corruption in the Nigerian police is unique in more ways than one. First, while corruption in other government agencies may be subtle that of the Police Force is openly advertised in road blocks and police stations. Transparency International has severally beamed a searchlight on Nigeria's police as one of the most corrupt in the world because many agencies are actively involved in fighting corruption. Again, corruption in the police has its attendant consequences including loss of life as it has been reported several times that drivers and bus conductors have been allegedly abbreviated for failing to pay the "the traditional" fifty naira at illegal road blocks christened checking points.

The nature of rules of policing in Nigeria is such that members do not adhere to these rules, rewards or punishment compliance or non-compliance. The spiral of indiscipline starts from the top to the bottom of the establishment. While admitting that the police do not have adequate materials to work with, the Police Force also suffers from serious integrity, performance and image problems. Efforts made in the past to change this poor image through training, mentoring, institutional development and strengthening have not yielded much desired results.

The Nigerian State must reckon, by now that one of the insurmountable challenges facing this civilian rule since 1999 is that of insecurity of lives and property. In Nigeria, today, the sense of insecurity, which pervades the geo-political landscape, is so harrowing that even “a devil” would conjure ponderous wisdom and walk with trepidation. No aspect of life is spared this hydra-headed monster. Countless Nigerians have lost their lives to ethnically motivated crises in all parts of the country yet the Police has no ready answer to the mad phenomenon of the resurgence of ethnic militia. In most cases the ill-equipped Nigeria Police is at the mercy of ethnic militia with superior firepower during such crises. Nigeria has also witnessed high profile assassinations and politically motivated murders. Amidst these untoward events, the Nigerian Police have not offered any satisfactory explanation to the public.

Peace and Security of life and property are a necessary condition for progress and development of any society and the principal agency charged with the responsibility of internal peace and security of nations is the Police. A historiography of policing in Nigeria shows that the system engenders repression, a culture of impunity, corruption, incivility, brutality and lack of police accountability. Contemptuous of the pervasive insecurity, our leaders and businessmen stash away our monies through devious means and make investments off shores. Nigerians themselves are not sure of investment security in the country. All these have stunted economic development and aggravated political vendetta.

Many Nigerians believe (I do too) that the poverty of police service delivery is attributable to the highly centralized nature of the command, which introduces ethnicity into the Nigeria Police. Besides, policemen entertain fears during crises management because the Police Insurance Scheme is inadequate to cater for beneficiaries in the event of any fatal injury or death. The inadequacy of the Police Insurance Scheme adversely affects their commitment and morale.

A pilot survey conducted by the Niger Delta Integrity Group - a Port Harcourt-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in 2009 and showed that most police officers were are not comfortable with deployments outside their geo-political zones. That may partly be attributable to heightened militancy in the Region. About 77% of the sample interviewed gave insecurity as the main reason for their lack of commitment and resistance to deployments. Other reasons include inability of the Police to procure sophisticated weaponry, conflicts with ethnic undertones in the South and Islamic fundamentalism in the North, especially the looming Boko Haram phenomenon. The survey also revealed that the average Nigerian has primordial attachment to his ethnic nationality hence the prevalent of ethnic nationalism.

Over a decade ago, many people have advocated the regionalization of the Police but the near omnipotent Federal Government is yet to see reasons with this policy advocacy. It is postulated in some quarters that regionalization policy would bring about divided loyalty, which would culminate in the disintegration of the Nigerian State. This argument is put forward by people who are not interested in the practice of true federalism in Nigeria. In a true federalism, states or regions are empowered by law to establish and manage their own Police for effective police service delivery. The prevalent insecurity in the country is largely attributable to the sundry inadequacies of the Nigerian Police. The corruption that is rife in the Police has aggravated insecurity of lives and property.

The capacity of the Nigerian Police to investigate matters concerning politically motivated assassinations has been mired in unending controversy. When high profile murders are recorded, the police cover up its lack of investigative capacity by propounding that some faceless criminals are responsible. Essentially, corruption has seriously eroded the capacity of the Police to conduct investigations and this malaise in turn accentuates the tempo of criminality in country.

Regionalization of the police is not a threat to national security. The Nigerian police face a grave challenge of poor funding, increasing crime wave, and the need for training and re-training, corruption within and outside the Police. The police also lack the capacity to tackle crime because of inadequate equipment. There is also a need to entrench community policing. Donna Woolfolk Cross was blunt when he asserted that “When law enforcers are shown to have such unswerving integrity, only the most churlish among us would question the methods they use to “get their man.” Constitutional guarantees are regarded as bothersome “technicalities” that impede honest law enforcers in the performance of their duties”.

In a democratic system such as ours, policing should be subjected to the rule of law. This can be realized if the Police partners with civil society and the media to improve the conditions and circumstances of policing in Nigeria. It would also require a close working relationship between the community and the force. This underscores the need for community policing, in which proactive measures may be adopted for crime prevention. At this momentous period when the nation is inches towards the April general elections, the need to execute the proposed police reforms has become a sine qua non.

Idumange John, wrote from Port Harcourt


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