Enyeribe Ejiogu, Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Henry Okwonkwo
Smarting from the uproar and violence that trailed the protests against police brutality, concerned Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see the emergence of a new, refined and reformed police that will sprout from the existing and beleaguered force, whose alleged high-handedness threw the entire nation into turmoil recently.
But the path to having a more cultured police appears cumbersome for a number of reasons. The police authorities in the country claim it is currently battling hard to raise the morale of their officers and men, following the devastating effect of last month’s riots by angry youths.
It would be noted that hoodlums had hijacked the #EndSARS protests, which initially started and progressed peacefully until the night of infamy, Tuesday, October 20, when a detachment of armed soldiers attacked the protesters who were just waving flags and singing the national anthem at Lekki Tollgate #EndSARS centre.
In response, the following day, hoodlums unleashed mayhem, arson, robbery and unbridled looting across the Centre of Excellence, bringing some parts to ruin. This situation quickly spread to other states, leading to the looting of warehouses where CACOVID palliatives given to states for onward distribution to poor Nigerians, to cushion the effects of the lockdown, were stored or hoarded as many Nigerians believed.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, claimed that no fewer than 22 police personnel were killed with several others injured across the country during the protests. In addition, scores of police stations and formations were reportedly torched or destroyed.
While the police are yet to fully recover from the impact of the riotous incident, there are indications that some aggrieved Nigerian youths are unrelenting in their angst against the viciousness of the force.
Meanwhile, the government is actively taking steps to prevent the eruption of another wave of protests. In what many have interpreted as a clampdown on some suspected organizers and coordinators of the #EndSARS protests, the Federal Government early in November commenced a surreptitious crackdown on notable protesters by freezing their bank accounts and also barring some of them from traveling out of the country. Similarly, unconfirmed reports claimed that a few others had been arrested.
The latest moves are believed to be indications that the government might not be totally committed to addressing the demands of the youths despite its claims to have acceded to some of these.
While the commitment of the government towards reforming the nation’s police remains a subject of speculation, many Nigerians have expressed the opinion that Nigeria requires and deserves a more refined and well-cultured police force.
A strategy consultant, Reverend Ladi Thompson, opined that the ideal police force would continue to be a mirage in the country unless the nation is ready to pay the price in study, research and creative thoughts for the innovation needed to produce the ideal police force.
Reverend Thompson is of the view that Nigeria has the police force that it wants right now, but noted that the Police Force the nation needs right now is different from what it currently has.
“The Police Force and the FSARS can be described as the convenient scapegoats in this hour because Nigeria has not addressed the systemic problem that produced the predatory FSARS. The Police Force including the defunct FSARS are products of a flawed system and are not by any stretch of the imagination the final beneficiaries of the brutality they were conditioned to supply. The real beneficiaries of the savagery unleashed by the FSARS are hiding in plain sight and one simple question will drag them into the open,” Thompson said.
The cleric noting that the #EndSARS protest was more of a war of values than protest against the police, pointed out that the real value of the Nigerian citizens in the eyes of their leaders would always determine the type of police force that would emerge.
He said: “To understand the value of a Nigerian citizen you just need to research the indelicate comment by Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan about the street waifs of northern Nigeria and add it to the infamous confession of Ms. Aishatu Dukku on the Fulani herdsman’s assessment of human worth.
“The question of values is still hanging at the Lekki tollgate and we need to know the Federal Government’s standard for the value and human worth of every Nigerian citizen before we can talk about the Police Force that we need. Whether we scrap the FSARS or not, any government with an unaddressed systemic flaw will naturally produce predators to keep the citizens in line.
“If the unofficial-official policy equates a man’s life with the value of a cow the police force will enforce that value. If we want to get serious we must do some research to arrive at the conclusion that policing methods need to be adapted to suit different parts of the country. A youth in Kano who is a member of the An’hisbah, the Islamic Police, cannot be molested by the FSARS except they are prepared for a full scale war, but that cannot work for the youth in Ibadan. Let’s take note that Northern Nigeria has certain safety checks built into its traditional systems that help to keep the police in their place. For crime prevention and effective policing there are many global research studies that point out the fact that there is no number of police officers that can be effective in a society except the average person in that society is self-committed to be law abiding.”
To create the police force Nigeria needs as opposed to what it wants, Thompson sounded this note of caution: “We must quit outsourcing our thinking and assemble a police think-tank that can be creative and innovative enough to produce a fresh model that has never existed before. Until we are ready to pay the price in study, research and creative thought the innovation needed to produce the ideal police format for our nation will continue to be a mirage.”
For Pastor Bassey James, a criminologist, security consultant and managing director of BASCOM Nigeria Limited as well as the founder of Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the first step is to look at the process of recruitment of police personnel and the kind of training given to them.
He explains: “In rebuilding the police, I think that politicians should not be part of the recruitment process. That is why I want to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for increasing the remuneration of police personnel. I also want to commend the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, for the job he has done so far. The second and most important aspect of the reform process is that every police officer must have an adequate life insurance policy paid for by the government. The third thing that needs to be done as part of the new welfare package for police personnel is to establish police schools, from primary to secondary school level in all the states and possibly in all the local governments, where they currently do not exist. When police personnel know that the education of their children is properly taken of and there is adequate life and medical insurance cover for their lives, I believe they will be more inclined to give their best in the service of the nation. Payment for the insurance can be done through special collaboration between the federal, state and local governments and therefore funded as a special first line charge on the Federation Account. The work of the police touches on the life of every Nigerian, because they interact daily with the public.
“Policing is very important, because a country without a well organised, effective, efficient, properly funded and well-remunerated police force is a nation waiting to implode. When you work the streets in Britain, other European countries, Dubai (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and United States, you have a sense of security because the police in those countries are relatively very efficient. Their governments consider the welfare of the police personnel a top priority, so the police officers are highly motivated and respected by the society.”
On his part, a native of Imo State and senior executive in an integrated security technologies firm based in Houston, Texas, United States, who requested not to be identified in print, told Sunday: “It is regrettable that in 2020, the Nigeria Police still do not have a fully functional digital technology policing architecture in place. When government officials visit the United States and see how information technology has been put at the core of policing activities, you would expect them to return home and put these things in place. Sadly, this has not been the case so far. I wish and hope that a new sense of urgency will overtake the Nigerian government and nudge it towards implementing a robust information management system for the Nigeria Police as a fundamental and core component of the police reform that has taken centre stage of the conversation in the country.”
In the same vein, Dr Simeon Aina, ex-chairman, Amnesty International, Nigeria, said that the nation is in need of a police force that understands and is ready to respect the rights of the people it is meant to serve.
His words: “Our police personnel need re-training from the top to the bottom. The system is corrupt; it’s not professional at all. So, everything about the police force needs to be restructured. We need to bring in lawyers that understand human right laws such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and African People’s Rights, to train our police personnel. We need a police force that understands who it entails to serve and respects the rights of everybody in the course of their duty. If there is a need to bring in professionals from other countries, it will be good. But unless we are able to right the wrongs, the system that will evolve won’t be different from what we have.”
In his own contribution, a crusader for police reform and Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said that Nigeria needs a police force that is well trained, adequately resourced and equipped, well motivated and effective in providing services and protection to the people.
“We want professional and disciplined police force that is service-oriented, transparent in its operations, respects and protects human rights, and is accountable to the law and to the people, A professional police that supports democracy, upholds the rule of law, stays insulated from partisan politics and is committed to serving and protecting public interest rather than partisan, sectarian or other narrow interest. We need police force that is trusted and earns the cooperation and partnership of the community it serves in detecting, preventing and combatting crime,” Nwanguma noted.
Samuel Akpologun, a lawyer and facilitator of CLEEN Foundation, a group that promotes public safety, security and accessible justice, called for reorientation of the police force.
“We want a police that will treat civilians with some respect and understanding. We know that the training and living environment of the police is one of the major things responsible for their mentality and the way they are operating and behaving. That is why we call for a well-funded police,” Akpologun said, adding that “I don’t see why the issue of police funding should be shrouded in secrecy. So, I would want to see an empowered and more transparent Police Trust Fund Committee, where the recommendations of the body are implemented to the letter. Also, Nigerians want a reoriented police force, which must start with the rehabilitation of the Police College and proper curriculum for police training. We want scenarios where human rights lawyers and civil society organisations can be allowed to organise training for the police rank and file. The training must be for the rank and file in the force because they are the ones that interface with society. Most times police training and conferences are for officers at higher levels like Divisional Police Officers, Area Commanders/ACPs, Commissioners of Police and Assistant Inspectors-General. We want to see where efforts are focused on the training of sergeants, corporals at the police desks and the roads blocks. Those are the ones that carry guns and shoot people.”
Similarly, National Coordinator of Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, Ikule Emmanuel said: “Nigerians want a police that would give serious attention to the recruitment, training and retraining of police personnel. Serious efforts should be made to ensure that only suitably qualified persons are recruited into the police and their length of training should be considerably increased. Serving police officers should be sent for refresher courses within and outside Nigeria to acquire more knowledge and professional skills for effective discharge of their duties. The kind of police that respects rule of law and portrays the proper image of democracy in Nigeria.”