Reforming the Nigeria Police

02.10.2004

Nigeria Police ReformsThe Nigeria Police has been in the news lately. Of course, for the wrong reasons. In a recent editorial by THISDAY newspapers, the Commissioner of Police for Zamfara State revealed that a number of police recruits under his command “couldn’t write their names, say how many months make a year, or even recall the name of the police commissioner, their boss.” During one of his monthly presidential media chats, President Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged that armed robbers and other criminals have found their way into the Nigeria Police as recruits.

At the Police College in Ikeja, cadets are often seen with buckets crossing the street to fetch water. I have also heard that on graduation from the College, graduands do not receive their first pay as police officers until after six months. It is also not uncommon during a rainy night to see a drenched policeman on the highway without a raincoat flagging down cars for a lift with a torchlight that can pass for a candle.

In another story carried by this newspaper, it made a number of startling revelations while recounting the encounter of the rank and file (comprising constables, corporals, sergeants and inspectors) of the Zone 2 command of the Nigeria Police with the Senate Committee on Police Affairs. It is better read in full to be appreciated but here, will attempt to recollect and summarise. The police(wo)men said they collect bribes to augment their salary and run daily operations! According to them, a constable’s monthly salary is N8,000 before deductions are made. The bribes also form part of their ‘self-devised’ insurance and death benefits as well as returns to oga. They also buy their uniforms and their accompaniments in the open market. They added that accidental discharge is as a result of the mental torture that they suffer!

It is therefore not a surprise that a policeman or policewoman will rather wait for a crime to be committed, like breaking the traffic light (instead of preventing it, as if their job is no longer crime prevention), so that ‘something can come out for pure water.’

That may also explain why a policeman abruptly emerges to stop an oncoming vehicle on the highway and while the driver is trying to control the wheels to get a good stopping distance, his back window is smashed for not screeching to a halt. If the occupant of the car complains, the policeman retorts that he had an alternative to shoot and possibly kill – and nothing will happen!

Undoubtedly, we meet these constables, corporals, sergeants and inspectors every day, one on one. As grimly as it is, there is a 90 per cent chance that an average Nigerian will come in contact with a policeman once in a week. The rate is even higher in our highbrow cities. And just think of this: someday a number of these officers will rise through the ranks to occupy high commands and offices in the Nigeria Police.

The government has just launched an ambitious Nigeria image project. But the truth is that in every nation, the police officer is the ultimate public relations agent of the government and the country.

Fortunately, managers of reform programmes around the world now recognise the essence of reforming public institutions as a way to get governments and societies working for the good of the people. One of the major pillars of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) is to rebuild institutions of which the Nigeria Police is one. NEEDS aims to achieve this by creating a more efficient and responsive public sector, improving security and the administration of justice, tackling corruption and promoting transparency and accountability. I believe that if we must get it right in any institutional reforms agenda, we have to begin with the Nigeria Police.

To do this, we should start from the top. The leadership of such an institution evokes the passions of service and professionalism in words and in deed. It should not only be incorruptible but also seen to be so. Such a leadership embodies the image of a police from whom the pride of the uniform flows and to whom respect is returned.

Secondly, we should reform the processes of recruitment into the Nigeria Police. The various Police Colleges should be upgraded to the level of a university with the best instructors and facilities to create an environment of learning and professionalism as well as patriotism and love for the country and her people. Also, we should begin a gradual but steady course of action towards establishing the entry levels into the Nigeria Police to be a university degree. For non-graduands of the improved Police Colleges there should also be well-conducted aptitude tests (just as in banks, oil companies, multinational corporations and other segments of the private sector) prior to short service cadet training at the Police College. Frequent and regular in-service training programmes at home and abroad for every police officer should also be the norm rather than the exception.

Thirdly, we need a radical upward improvement in the salary and emoluments of the Nigeria Police. Not just a living wage, but also a take-home pay that will make a policeman proud to die in uniform, which is the ultimate price in the line of duty. The police also needs other benefits and compensations that are borne out of the peculiar nature of its duty. The officers of the Nigeria Police should rank among the most highly paid professionals in Nigeria. The promptness of paying them is also of utmost importance. The men and women of the Nigeria Police should not lack modern equipment and facilities to combat crime and respond to distress calls as well as uniforms that will make them look smart, likable, and approachable so they would command the respect of Nigerians. In addition, anyone that has visited a police barracks will agree that their living conditions need an urgent and immediate major makeover.

Fourthly, we need an integration module for law enforcement and the judicial process, particularly the criminal justice system, so that cases can be dispensed with despatch. For that we need more lawyers in the Nigeria Police, especially in the crime division. We also need arbitration divisions in the Nigeria Police so that cases can be amicably settled between feuding parties with the police as honest and neutral conciliators – and definitely not for a fee (read egunje). And just like our prisons, the police cells are in serious need for transformation. Innocent citizens are usually kept in police custody for brief (sometimes long) periods of time and for these they literally pass through hell. Definitely, this should not be so.

All in all, we need a Nigeria Police that is well-led, well-trained, well-paid and well-equipped in order to achieve our goals of a better society. The police will continue to be a mirror image of the government so if we want the government to look better and work better, then reforming the Nigeria Police is government job Number One. And just like other parts of the world, we need a police that we can truly call our friend.

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