By Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
Most Nigerians will tell you that a frosty relationship exists between the Nigeria Police and the citizens. Such relationship, they believe, is not the best it can be.
Very often, what ought to be a friendly encounter between the police and the citizenry turn fatal, rubbishing the “Police is your friend,” mantra mouthed by the police authorities.
Last Christmas, for instance, a female lawyer, Bolanle Raheem, was murdered by a policeman in Ajah area of Lagos State.
It was one of such police-citizens encounters that triggered outrage across the land.
Earlier on Thursday, December 22, last year, the police operatives of the Sagamu Road Division of the Lagos Police Command in Ikorodu, also allegedly murdered a commercial tricycle operator identified as Stephen Alabi.
On August 16, 2022 too, a 30-year-old commercial motorcycle rider, Idris Yau, was reportedly killed by a policeman in Abule Egba area of Lagos.
Several of such extra-judicial killings across the country had occurred. Many others had gone unreported, and with no action taken. They represent a sore point in the Nigeria Police-citizens relations chain.
Indeed, some of the citizens believe that the police have continued to sustain a culture that sees to the maiming and killing of those they are paid to protect.
On the flipside, the police also point at the incessant needless killing of some innocent officers doing their job of protecting the people and their property. They also urged that such orgies be stopped.
But at every turn, the 2021 #EndSARS uprising that swept the country pops up. It reminds one of such ugliest citizens confrontations with the police in Nigeria’s history.
A quick throwback revealed that the #EndSARS ended with humongous loss of lives and property. That is why till today, the narrative has refused to go away.
Police-citizens encounter inevitable
Although the Police Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Olumuyiwa Adejobi, believes there is hardly anyway encounters between the police and the citizens would cease, adding that what was important was managing them appropriately.
His words: “We will always have isolated cases of inappropriate behaviours by our men. This is because the police as a law enforcement agency is the closest to the grassroots.
“As long as we engage people, as long as we are closest to the grassroots, there is no how we will not be having conflicts with members of the public. But how best we handle such conflicts as a responsible organisation is very important.”
Christmas killing regrettable
Adejobi said that the police killing of the citizens was regrettable, and needless, with particular reference to the murder of Raheem.
Hear him: “We have been having accidental discharge. But I don’t believe in that. There is nothing like an accident because if you don’t cock your rifle, you don’t fire. You cocked your rifle that was why you fired.
“The killing of Bolanle Raheem was most unfortunate. The case is in court, and so it will be prejudicial to talk about it. The fact is that, that is not the first time we are experiencing extra-judicial killing of that manner.
“But now, the question is: whenever we have a case like that, what do the police do as a responsible organisation?
“You cannot rule out the fact that when our men are out there, you cannot have stray bullets and extra-judicial killings – though that is not justifiable. But how do we manage a case like that?
“So far, the case of Raheem and Vandi (the killer cop), has been perfectly handled, sentiments apart.
“The Vandi we know is such a calm person. But what befell on him to open fire on an innocent citizen is a different thing.
“I know that anything can befall anybody to do anything. We don’t pray for such to happen. It was quite unfortunate that we recorded such an incident. That matter has been investigated and we have our interim report. And now, the case has been handed over to the Lagos State government.”
He disclosed that “Vandi has been suspended by the Police Service Commission. He has been exposed to legal sanction. Nobody is covering him. Even if he is the best police officer we have, the fact is that he fired somebody. And the case is in court. It is an isolated case, and we pray we don’t have such again.”
Nothing has changed in police
But despite the police regret of Raheem’s murder, a sociologist, Mr Obioma Nwogu, insisted that the Christmas Day tragedy was a clear evidence that nothing has changed long month after the police and the people experienced the #EndSARS tragedy.
“What happened shows that nothing has changed in the police; we are still seeing that they can do anything and get away with it because they have the guns. They kill and call it accidental killing.
“What we are seeing is an extension of what led to #EndSARS. Nothing has changed,” he pointed out.
Adesina Ogulana, a lawyer and rights activist, also believes the “police have not learnt their lessons. They clearly have not.
“All the recommendations of the #EndSARS panel, have they implemented anyone of them? The panel said the DPO of Ajah Police Station should be dismissed and prosecuted, have they done that?”
Ogulana tagged the sad #EndSARS incident that shook the country to its foundation, “the language the oppressors understand.”
He said that without anything of sort, “they will not let the people go. They will simply feel unaccountable to the people. But they must know that it is not in the nature of man to allow oppression to continue forever,” suggesting that “there might be a repeat of #EndSARS if care is not taken.”
Towing the same line, a journalist and security expert, Ben Okezie, expressed sadness that no one had learnt any lessons from the #EndSARS. “From the federal to state government and even the police,” he said, “no one has learnt any lessons.
“In Nigeria, when something happens, it shakes the environment, but afterwards, nothing happens. Everyone moves on. We easily forget our past, but unfortunately, our past comes back to haunt us.”
In the same vein, Mr Nwogu agreed that the police have not learnt an important lesson after the #EndSARS debacle, saying that their mode of operation is a pointer to the belief.
“The police have not learnt their lessons, and have not showed that they have changed. When you look around you, you will still see them out there in their usual way harassing people on the roads, especially young men carrying laptops. They are still there collecting money from the people,” he said.
He maintained that the #EndSARS was indicative that “people were pushed to the wall for long leaving them no way to escape; so they broke the wall. That was what happened. You could see how the youths reacted.
“Again, we can see from what went down that the leaders are not interested in what the people feel and think. They are only interested in grabbing power, and maintaining their positions. To them, that is a question of life and death, and not about the good of the society. That was why some privileged people in and out of the government saw the #EndSARS as intent to overthrow the government. They considered that as a threat to their existence.
“Left to me, the government and police have learnt nothing. That was why the fire brigade measures they brought in didn’t work,” he noted.
Disclosing how the youths are responding to the situation, he said: “Most of them are now angry and hungry. Those of them who can afford it are leaving the country in droves, while those of them who are determined to break the ice have begun showing great interest in the political affairs of the country. It has never happened before; then, they were nonchalant.”
FG killing Nigerians using the police
Ironically, Mr Ogulana blamed the Federal Government for the said incessant killings by the police and other security agencies, regretting how this has continued to happen with impunity.
By his reckoning, “every killing in the country by either the police, military, Customs or Civil Defence is official. They are murders committed by the government. The police in particular are used as tools – they are agents of the government.”
Ogulana’s anger is made worse because he feels people in government do not recognise the citizens. And that was why incessant killings by government law enforcement agents persist, he believes. “They consider us as their subjects – people they should oppress,” he fumed.
Police not interested in court judgment
Now, a part of the grouse some people have against the police is their perceived penchant for neglecting court judgments obtained against them.
A lawyer, O. Ogu, for instance, accused the police of failing to pay the N5 million judgment awarded to his client, Mr Anthony Makolo, a human rights campaigner, by Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court, Lagos in 2019.
Makola had approached the court after the police seized his call-to-bar certificate.
But responding, police spokesman Adejobi said “if the police do something wrong and the case goes to court, and the litigant gets judgment, we will respond to such judgment.
“But if an individual goes out of his way to do something wrong and there is a judgment against such person, the police will not be held responsible for that.
“If an individual policeman does something wrong, he will carry his cross all by himself.
“But as an institution, if a case is against us, it is either we appeal such judgment or settle the cost awarded against us.
“If the judgment is against the police, the individual so concerned should know the process to follow. They should besiege our legal department for action. Their lawyers and police lawyers can meet and sort out things.”
Police patching up cracks
Even when enormous challenges exist, Adejobi assured that the police were doing their best to build confidence in the people they serve. “The police have certain measures and mechanisms on ground to continually improve on our police-citizens relationship on a regular basis.
“There are so many activities we have that can help to improve the friendship and synergy between us. The establishment of our formations across the length and breadth of the country, for instance, is one of such. This helps us to take our people closer to the grassroots. Go to any community in Nigeria today, you will always see either a police station or a police post. So, the police presence is everywhere.
“Secondly, we have a police-stakeholders’ forum and eminent persons’ forum; they are everywhere across the country. Through this, people share ideas with us; we listen to their problems in their respective communities.
“Now, this issue of ‘we-against-them’ is going down gradually in our system. Before now, some people believed they were on their own, and the police were on their own. But that is wrong; now, we cross fertilise ideas; we inter-relate with one another on a regular basis.
“On the issue of corruption, you will agree with me that many Nigerians today hate the police on the basis of extortion – policemen extorting motorists on the roads. Now, we have our men on the ground.
“In 2022, the IGP did a lot in the area of sanctioning erring personnel. He dismissed those that should be dismissed, and reprimanded those that needed to be reprimanded. We don’t shield our men; we don’t have unknown policemen anywhere. A policeman is identified by his name and his posting, by location and by time. Even if you fail to get their names, just tell us the location you encountered them and the time. Every policeman is identified; those who have done wrong, we will easily identify them if we are told. Once the citizens tell us about them, we get them arrested; we punish them; we sanction them. We have been rolling out activities in this regard; we have been keeping Nigerians abreast with developments in the police. All these are being done to ensure that the lost trust is restored; we want to cut back on the trust deficit,” he said.
Against that backdrop, he counseled: “We want people to relate with the police; we the police want to relate with the people. By doing so, we don’t want the people to see the police as spirits. The police are human beings. The people should know that we are human beings like them.
“All that are being put together are good ideas – innovations that will solidify the synergy between us and the citizenry. We will not stop. We will continue to do what we can.”
Nigeria police reform overdue
However, there appears to be a general agreement that the Nigeria Police needs an immediate reform.
“To be honest with you, the police are overdue for complete overhauling and restructuring,” Okezie said, adding:
“Across the world, even in countries from where we imported the police system, what they have there is not what we are practising here. That is why we need to look at the system again and overhaul it.
“We need to allow every state to have its own police. We need state police, as well as community police. That takes care of everything policing.
“We will need legislation to take care of governors hijacking the system. For every 12 there must be a Judas. But at the end of the day, there is a way we can handle the Judas and he will hang himself. What about other countries that have state police? How come their governors are not hijacking the system?”
He lamented that the people in government simply don’t want anything about state police to happen. “They want to leave things as chaotic as it is so that they will continue to benefit. That is my reading of it all,” Okezie said.
Whereas Nwogu believes that the police need restructuring, his candid belief was that the Nigeria itself needs restructuring.
“What is happening in the police reflects what is happening across the entire strata of the society. Every segment is riddled with open and hidden corruption, and impunity. As it is in the police; it is in the military; it is in the ministry. Even in the business, it is there. That is where we are now.
“No matter the manner of restructuring of the police anyone proposes without restructuring Nigeria itself, that is doomed from the start. To reform the police, therefore, we must reform Nigerian as a country. We need to make every component responsible for its own affairs. A holistic restructuring is all that Nigeria needs urgently,” he said.
But on his part, Ogulana stated that “there is nothing like police reform.”
He expressed angst that “the Nigerian government is not interested in talking about reforms,” urging anyone talking about reforming the police to forget it, saying that cannot happen.
He lamented that “everything Nigeria is not only corrupt, but corrupting.”
He expressed a strong view that restructuring of the police would only happen if the people themselves come out and show that they are determined about it.
“There must be a resistance against the Nigerian state. It could be electorally, it could be through agitation. The government must be made to know that the people are supreme. Those who govern us must be told that the people matter,” he said.
He took a swipe at the people themselves, accusing them of standing in their own way.
His words: “Sadly, a part of the problem is the Nigerian people themselves. During elections, they put the wrong people there and then begin to worship them. They make the politicians their masters, and then see themselves as slaves and Serbs. By doing so, they allow every sort of rubbish to flourish.”
However, Adejobi’s view was different here.
His submission was that ever “before the #EndSARS, police reform had been on.”
According to him, the Presidency in conjunction with some foreign countries had taken police reforms more seriously long before now.
“We have police reform and transformation office under the Presidency. It is a new office that has been established. It has its own transformation plan; it has its own action; it has its work plan. The office is training us one by one, section by section, end by end to ensure that we have sectoral equilibrium in the police. Every section of the police will be recognised as it carries out its duties.
“If you are talking about police reform agenda now, this is better off. It is going to be more effective, and it is going to be more productive for us. The Presidency is serious about it. It is not a lip service; now we are matching our words with action.
“Now, we have measures on ground; we have developments to ensure that the police are well reformed to manage our internal security architecture. We are not relenting on having the police of our dream which everybody in Nigeria desires,” he said.
He urged Nigerians to understand that “we cannot have it perfectly at once. We cannot reform the police at once. To standardise the police is a gradual process.”
Standard has dropped in police
Not minding the position of the police, however, Okezie, while taking a holistic look at the Force, saw a precipitous fall in standard, and was blunt in saying so: “There is a drop in the quality of our policemen, the same for the training they now receive.
“We recall television reportage of the Ikeja Police College, Lagos, sometime ago, which showed the decay, and the rot in the institution.”
He also feared a dearth in quality manpower in the Force, lamenting that senior officers who had left were not in any position to help.
“Now, the police do not even have the money to embark on any training or retraining. A late police top brass told me this before he passed away. He disclosed how he was invited to retrain the police at one of the colleges, and how he was told he would be paid next to nothing. So, there is no way you could have quality training from serving or retired police officers.
“In those days, policemen were sent to Egypt, Scotland Yard for training, but not anymore because now, they have no resources to do that,” he pointed out.
The police Nigerians want
To Okezie, Nigeria deserves “the best police we can see in other countries.
“The current crop of police is trying hard. When they want to work, they exhibit the best they had learnt.
“But since they lack help, they cannot kill themselves. When they are mobilised they relax. They don’t have to risk their lives. Sadly, some of them died during the #EndSARS uprising. Those of them who were attached to politicians are being mindlessly killed. Now who takes care of their families?”