This question becomes pertinent and compelling to ask in the wake of the recent protests against the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force and the Police Force in general.
The police institution is established for the protection of the citizens generally and by all standards, must be the friend of the people. It is in recognition of this fact that the police institution usually displays posters to the effect that the police is your friend in all its outlets. What then could have gone wrong as to render the erstwhile partners foes? This is the crux of my inquisition in this piece. The Nigeria Police was first established in 1820, then in its rudimentary stage and later along the line of regionalization of the North and South. It was not until the year 1930 that the police became unified under a single canopy called, the Nigeria Police Force. Since that time, the institution has been expanding and operating as a national police responsible for the protection of all Nigerians, regardless of State, tribal, ethnic or religious affiliation. Undoubtedly, the Nigerian police at the early stages of its birth, and up till few decades ago, has not only been people-friendly, but disciplined and efficient. The delivery of the men of the Nigerian Police had been superb and commendable overtime. It is the belief of all that the abuse and decimation of the Nigeria Police commenced with the incursion of the Military into the country’s governance.
During the military era that constituted the large chunk of our national life, the Police Force was severely ‘abused’ and brutally ‘raped’ by the military leaders. Apart from carting away some of the Force’s sophisticated equipment, the force was outrightly denied funding for the acquisition of modern equipment. This was all in a bid to forestall a situation of uprising by the Police against the various juntas and prevent any probable resistance to any coup. This rationale equally accounted for the prevention of the establishment of the Police Force along the States and local government lines.
A combination of all the other levels, if it had existed that time,would have rendered unsuccessful some of the coups. Hence, the need to keep the Police Force in a state of deprivation. Beyond the lack of necessary tools to work with, their conditions of service and by extension, their general welfare was not only kept in limbo but made to deteriorate. That explains why today most of their barracks, compared with that of the Military and even para military outfits, are in an appalling state. It is common knowledge that majority of the Police barracks, particularly those of the rank and file, are not better than a zoo. I am sure that no one will expect any magic,if they reflect the conditions under which they are kept, in their attitudes. They just must exhibit animalistic behaviours and tendencies. I don’t want to touch on their renumeration, which is now acknowledged by all, including Mr. President, to be scandalous. The training facilities are in a poor state, so also is the funding of their capacity development programs.
It is no news that their salaries and entitlements cannot take them home not to talk of feeding them and their families. Remember this is a regimented Force that cannot, and must not be seen to be complaining. Their situation is likeable to that of the Nigerian judges whose renumeration too has remained static for over twelve years now. Thank God for the #EndSARS protest that has compelled all relevant stakeholders to now visit the review of the Police salaries and other conditions of service. My hope is that it will not take another #Endjudiciary protest to have the review of the judges’ renumerations.
The resultant effect of all that I have recounted above is the existence of a demoralized Police Force with poor conditions of service and lack of equipment with which to work. Consequently, this has led to the impairment of the Force’s delivery capacity, thereby eroding public confidence in the institution. In fact, in a whole lot of instances, the privileged few now prefer military personnel, men of the intelligence outfit, and in some cases, men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to provide them security. That is the level of distrust and distate, at least, among the middle and the upper class, for the Police. For the majority of Nigerians below the ladder, they had no option than to continue to patronize the Nigerian Police.
Remember that this is the same frustrated Police with no logistics to work. To start with, I reckon that the total number of policemen in Nigeria today is about 300,000 with a population of over 200 million people. By the United Nations threshold, a policeman is meant to cover 400 people at most. In Nigeria, if we divide the 300,000 amongst Nigerians, it translates to a policeman to about 733 people assuming they all are working for Nigerians generally, which, obviously is not so. This, you will agree with me is a nonstarter. There is no magic or miracle they can perform in terms of efficiency as they certainly cannot reasonably attend to majority of Nigerians that require them. This is a veritable source of bitterness against the Police already. Going further, there are not less than about 1,600 divisions of the Police in the country; this is beside the several Areas, States and Zonal Commands. How many of these divisions and commands have efficient and effective communication system? How many have at least an operational vehicle? How much is appropriated for the fueling and maintenance of these vehicles? How many of the Stations, Commands have energy source and supplies? What amount of money is budgeted and cash-backed for the supply of stationeries to the Divisions and Commands? I must not mention the provision of uniforms and other kits. Those will be luxury in the context of my discussion. How does this impact the relationship between the recipients of the service and the Police? A frustrated policeman cannot, in the first instance, be nice and courteous as we expect. A citizen that desires the attention of policemen that is not available feels aggrieved and puts the blame on the policemen.
A complainant approaching a police station with the expectation that through radio communication, his security challenge will be solved but met incapacity, automatically becomes dissatisfied and heaps the blame on the policemen. As far as the complainant is concerned, the police have failed him. Another complainant contacts the police in an emergency and expects them to surface at the point of distress, but alas, he could not find them. Such a person automatically becomes embittered; unknown to him that the policemen do not have any vehicle to convey them to the spot. This is linkable to the maintenance and fueling of the vehicles. Where such vehicles exist, there might be no fuel in the vehicle, or the vehicle itself is not in a serviceable state. I know as a matter of fact that the fuel provision available to the police can never meet up the demand with the budgetary provision that exists. Remember this is operational vehicle that hardly rests a moment.
Maintenance is also an issue. Imagine again where a complaint is made and the investigating police officer needs to move from one point to the other in pursuit of the investigation, there is hardly any provision for mobility and where one exists, it is so negligible to make a meaning. The inevitable situation, therefore, is that the victim is made to bear the running expenses. In this wise, the policeman is wicked and heartless, forgetting that he cannot use his pittance of a salary to solve his problem. This equally applies to stationeries. I have severally witnessed, in my years of practice, policemen purchasing with their personal fund, statement and bail bond forms.
In a circumstance of this nature, where do we expect him to recoup his expenses? Even if he wants to be charitable, his impecuniosity will not allow. As he has to draw the necessary interest for such investments, a little addition becomes imperative. This certainly creates acrimony between the policemen and the victim and other affected persons. Should the policeman decide to inform the complainant that there is no statement form, friction is immediately generated between the parties.
Now, let us imagine the case of a suspect that is to be granted bail without a bail bond form, the reaction and allegation will be denial of bail. If the policeman now demands money for the bail bond form, trouble starts, particularly if the suspect or his relatives ended up parting with something. This explains why bail becomes difficult to be free. I have gone this far to paint the picture of daily conflicts arising between the members of the Police Force and the public, in order to locate the cause.
The weapons made available to the Police cannot withstand those being bandied about by common criminals. Such a police officer called upon to rescue a victim of crime will definitely run for safety when the sophistication of the weapons being used by criminals tells him that he has only come for his death sentence. The inference from all the above is that the Police is poorly funded and cannot meet the expectations of the public. The Police Force does not only need to catch up with the backlog of deficiencies, but also be current with logistics. This requires a marshal plan, certainly not in the manner we are currently witnessing. The current budgetary allocation does not portray the nation as being serious with policing.
The worst is even,with the said budgetary sum, prompt and total cash-backing is always a challenge. Can the nation, for once, prioritize the police funding, recognizing that without security and peace, there cannot be development and growth in the nation? No investor invests in an unsecured place. Recently, the President promised an urgent reform of the institution and similarly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives alluded to the same review at the review of the Police Bill.
My concern, however,is that this is not the first time we are witnessing such pronouncements on review. In fact, we have had several panels like that of 2006 under President Obasanjo, 2008 under President Yarad’ua, and another under the Jonathan regime in 2012. Still, we are far from the country’s destination. The import of my interrogation so far is that the government is largely responsible, and must be held accountable for the continuous friction and tension between the members of the public and the Police Force. The Nigerian policemen are not as bad as in the regalia we tend to dress them. They are the same men that go abroad and acquire laurels. The government only needs to encourage them through adequate budgetary allocation and cash release. In summation, the Police remain the people’s friends and should not be seen otherwise. The harbinger of the problem between the public and the Police is the government, which both parties must unite to challenge.