Policing Nigeria in the 1960s, before Independence, was not as tasking and overwhelming because the country was not as massively populated as it is today neither was there any rancor and bad blood between members of the public and the police. No wonder the cliche “Police is your friend” was very rife and acceptable.
As we step into the year 2022, a lot is on the minds of political and security leaders on how to protect citizens. The population is massive (over 200 million), a land mass of 923,768 km² (356,376 square miles), with very fluid borders all around the country. More also with more opened roads and highways and more local governments and states. Coupled with manpower that is yet to meet up with the United Nations specification of one policeman to 400 civilian. Unfortunately, from every indication, the Federal Government seems incapable to sustain the basic needs, like good and commensurate salary, provision of basic operational equipment, vehicles, barracks and administrative offices. No wonder it is only when a Nigerian police officer is on United Nations peacekeeping assignment that his clean and appreciative personality becomes very obvious. Back in the country, he is taunted by the society he is expected to protect constitutionally. Sequel to the harsh environment in which he operates, he operates in very low morale. When he compares his remuneration with that of his mates in other security agencies and other countries, his regret heightens. Consequently, he transfers his aggression to members of the public that find themselves under his official domain or are met on the highway or during duties. He is alledged to be an extortionist, a brute and unfriendly officer. All these allegations were brought forward during the #EndSARS agitation.
Among the known and established allegations, according to an independent investigative panel on police/SARS human rights violations put together by the Human Rights Commission, which held its inaugural sitting in November 2020, the panel looked into cases of illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful/prolonged detention, among others, these were part of the submission of the panel.
According to the secretary of the panel, Hillary Ogbonna, 144 cases have been concluded, while the rest have not been touched. The panel received 297 petitions from across 29 states and the FCT. Meanwhile, 20 victims who suffered various violations of their rights in the hands of officers and men of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have been handsomely compensated with amounts ranging from N500,000 to N10 million, promising that names of those found culpable would be forwarded to the federal attorney-general for prosecution.
Such tales of woe among policemen has further dampened the morale and image of the police. These unfortunate results are attributable to bad leadership in the police between June 2016 and June 4, 2021, under the leadership of Ibrahim Kpotun Idris and Mohammed Adamu, respectively.
Security analysts attribute the rot that resulted in the EndSARS imbroglio to complete failure in leadership and adequate supervision. While Adamu was busy partying and completely ignored the petition submitted by the EndSARS agitators, until the agitators grew wings a year after to disrupt administrative and economic activities around the country and even led to a prison break in Edo and Imo states, his sack was one of the commendable decisions of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
On his part, Idris commenced his leadership activities with what his predecessor, Mr. Solomon Arase, aptly described as “Campaign of Calumny” over an alledged missing 19 vehicles that were later traced to the police vehicle park, thereby dissipating official energy on irrelevant witch-hunting. Even the President openly castigated him when he flagrantly flouted a presidential directive to proceed to Benue State on a mediation visit, but he proceeded on a personal jamboree to Nasarawa State. His getting entangled in marital affair with a police lady that led to separation from his wife got him further distracted from official police duties and affected the operational and administrative roles expected of him.
Although the infiltration of bad boys started earlier, rather than ensuring that these bad eggs that President Olusegun Obasanjo had raised the alarm about were rooted out, the bad boys were left to grow within the system. Today, even the police force has subjugated itself to what many described as the second fiddle.
The cry on many lips is “who will save the police?” For over a decade, the police relegated their primary obligation to internally securing the country and protecting every citizen in the country. For instance, there was the case of Mallam Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, who the police were unable to arrest but abdicated their constitutional responsibility and, brazenly, the military arrested him and handed him over, only for the police to mishandle his case, which led to his untimely death. The country has since then witnessed a war of terrorism of an unprecedented scope, leading to thousands of deaths and destruction, not forgetting the massive revenue deployed to the war.
Even as the is subsiding, another infiltration of terrorists initially branded as bandits has further exposed the incapability of the police. While the military is busy taking over a big chunk of police official responsibilities, even on checkpoints along highways on one hand, the Civil Defence Corps is grabbing other operational duties while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission are also dragging the portfolio of investigation with the police. Are we about witnessing the final decimation of the Nigeria Police? Nothing is impossible in Nigeria. After all, former IGP, Mr. Hafiz Ringim, during one of his briefings with senior police officers at the Force Headquarters, prophesied that the police force may soon lose most of its constitutional mandate.
From every indication, the only saving grace left for the police to return to reckoning is to embrace restructuring that would lead to the setting up of state police that would be infused with community policing. Hopefully then, the police can gradually regain lost glory by strategically providing the needed protection as specified in the constitution. Part of the reason for the establishment of state police is to provide the structure that would ensure the effective policing of the country as we step into the year 2022. Across the globe, many countries are doing away with the centralization of their police institutio.
Rather, what is tenable is the decentralization of the police. For how long shall the country continue to shy away from such a noble idea that, had we embraced it, the issue of banditry would not have escalated to this magnitude? Many of the affected states would have crushed them before they festered.