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Time to drag the Nigerian Police Force into the 21st Century

In the light of the armed robbery in Lekki, Lagos a few days ago in broad daylight and the disgraceful scene in the video below with two cops fighting, it is time to revive this article from May 2011.

Time to drag the Nigerian Police Force into the 21st Century

by CIC Old Boy

Robert Mark, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1970s, once said: “A good police force is one that catches more criminals than it employs.”

The evidence suggests the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) while failing woefully in the catching of criminals part, is “succeeding” in employing many criminals. When he was president, Olusegun Obasanjo claimed policemen routinely rented out their guns to criminals instead of apprehending them.

Sunday Ehindero, then Inspector-General of Police http://www.afrika.no/noop/page.php?p=Detailed/17849.html&d=ndydqpefz that most of the officers recruited between 2000 and 2004 were criminals.

Ehindero, who joined the force a lot earlier than 2000, was alleged to have ordered his aides to remove 27m Naira (about $172,000) in cash from his office when he was sacked.

A presidential commission led by former Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Yusuf claimed in 2008 that “unlawful arrest and detention, extortion, torture, rape, extrajudicial killings and other forms of brutality” were routine in the force. He added: “The negative image of the police in the eyes and minds of the public arose from the high level of crimes in the force and its failure to carry out genuine police functions successfully.”

I was once on the wrong end of this “failure to carry out genuine police functions”. On our way back from a ceremony several years ago, we were ambushed by armed robbers on a country road about 20 miles from Enugu. My cousin in the car behind saw what was happening early enough and sped off in reverse. When he got to a police post about half a mile down the road and reported the incident, he said every officer at the post ran into the nearby bush.

In the heat of the violence that followed the presidential elections, a civil servant in Kaduna State who recognised the people that killed his neighbours went to the police to file a report and was told: “if the police started arresting people now, it would cause more problems.”

This systemic failure feeds the negative image of the police and contributes to the breakdown in trust and discipline that results in outbreaks of violence between the police and the army as happened recently in Badagry, Lagos State.

We clearly have a police force that is not fit for purpose and is not structured as a public service. Ibrahim Coomasie, an ex Inspector-General slammed the police for the “barbaric treatment of Nigerians.” The barbarism of the NPF is rooted in historical context. It was a creation of British colonialists and was an instrument for suppressing Nigerians in order to facilitate the plunder of Nigerian wealth. Throughout colonial rule the police were deployed against Nigerians during strikes and other forms of protest against colonial domination and brutality was routine. In 1949 the police shot striking coal miners in Enugu, killing 21 and wounding 51.

Sadly, independence for Nigeria didn’t mean fundamental change. Nigerian faces replaced British ones, but the structure of colonial power and the instruments of power like the police remained unreformed. The police continued to act like an enemy of Nigerians, or an occupation force, helping their new political masters maintain the status quo and the system of plunder created by colonial rule.

There was no political will or the incentive for Nigerian rulers to reform the police and make it more responsive to the needs of Nigerians. Such actions would have involved some of the stuff I will recommend later, but would have resulted in the sort of professionalism that would make the police less subject to manipulation by the ruling elite. So fundamental reform was never on the agenda.

Nigerian rulers love nothing more than to make the right noises about attracting investors, tourists, etc. But the first step in making the climate conducive for tourism and investment is routinely ignored. Law and order is absolutely vital for economic and social activities to flourish. This means a modern and responsive police service that is unrecognisable from the barbaric force inherited from colonial rule.

The key towards creating such a service is pay and conditions. The NPF must be in a position to attract Nigeria’s finest, as opposed to being what Minister for Police Affairs Ibrahim Lame called a “dumping ground”. In order to attract the best, the NPF must offer competitive pay and other generous conditions. The right calibre of officers must be matched by improved and modern training which helps instil a sense of professionalism. Improved professionalism results in a higher degree of public trust and confidence and an ethos that should see policing as a public service delivered with the consent of the people being served.

Such a service can only “carry out genuine police functions” if it is properly equipped to do so. This requires massive investment in technology, kit, response and patrol vehicles, forensic science laboratories, etc. Mike Okiro, when he was the Inspector-General said that the 2009 police budget of $1.3bn was “woefully inadequate” for detecting and preventing crime. In the UK, the contract for providing a digital radio network for the police was about £5bn, and the UK is a lot smaller than Nigeria.

There is clearly an issue in terms of the availability of the resources required to professionalise the service. This shortage is compounded by the type of corruption Ehindero was accused of and the fraud allegations against Kenny Martins, who was the National Coordinator of the Police Equipment Fund, tasked with improving police equipment and allegedly improving his bank balance instead.

Reforming the NPF must also include changes to the governance structure and asserting their independence from political interference. It is necessary to legislate to take the hiring and firing of senior officers away from politicians. An independent police commission that is accountable to the National Assembly should be responsible for the recruitment and retention of senior officers and provide oversight on the running of the service. The independence of the commission must be established in statute. The commission must report to the National Assembly at regular intervals and should be responsible for fostering a climate of transparency in the service.

None of these suggestions are rocket science. In fact, several panels set up by the government have called for reforms and made similar recommendations. There was a Police Reform Panel in 1995, a Vision 2010 committee in 1997, the Tamuno Committee in 2002, the Danmadami Police Reform Committee in 2006, and a Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force in 2008. The last committee claimed that the government has failed to implement the recommendations of previous panels and its own recommendations seem to have been ignored too!

So please don’t hold your breath on anyone in government caring about what I have just written. They know what to do, but won’t do it because doing so means turning the NPF into an independent public service that serves Nigerians and stops being a barbaric instrument for suppressing them.

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