The temptation to rush money to the Police is strong, and for good reasons. But what the Police needs above everything else is status commensurate to their responsibility in society. Money follows status in a fair society where rewards follow character, knowledge, and hard work. Status also comes with education, skills and application.
The essence of Police service is to help society adjudicate disputes, maintain law and order. The first thing that should not occur to a police man called to an incident is making arrests. He would have done his job satisfactorily to the gratitude of society if he could just resolve the issues there and then, and let both parties live together or go their separate ways in peace. That is the essence of community policing. And if the Federal Government must reform the Police it must invest time, energy, and resource to re-evaluate the character of all officers and men in the Police.
Many find it shocking that the Police still keep jail cells in police stations, where all the atrocities are committed. In most places in the world, if the police must detain an accused, the police must take him or her to the nearest prison, the place designed for detention of persons. In fact the National Assembly should make it illegal for a Nigerian to be held in any police station. The Police must convert the cells into furnished offices for its officers and men some of whom sometimes can’t find a sitting space in their stations.
It is worth remembering that policing is a fairly recent human invention. There were times when societies did not have the Police. But the absence of a Police force did not mean the absence of law and order.
When the Wisconsin County in the US voted to get rid of its police department, following the outrageous murder of Mr. George Floyd, it did not mean that the county is now a society of anything goes. It means that the county has reverted to a law and order form in which other means must be found to resolve disputes that must necessarily arise in any community.
Our forefathers had a seamless law and order society, self-policed. Murderers hanged, and since there were no prisons, thieves were fined or exiled or sold as slaves. In murder cases, for instance, the last meal for the convict was prepared for him by his own family (who knew his favourite meal for a tragic occasion like that) who also put up the noose.
When the deed was done, they took him down for burial. Difficulties arise when there were doubts (who stole the goat? Or dug up the yams?) The owner may have suspects in mind who certainly would deny, having not been caught with the evidence. That’s when the powerful deities were called in to establish the guilt or otherwise of the suspect.
A date is set and the suspect is taken to the deity accompanied by his relation or relations. Particulars of the oath are stated in a typical legalistic fashion. The deity should kill the suspect should he be privy to, aided and abetted, conspired or, in any shape or form, knew anything that could have led to the loss of the missing object. Some suspects develop cold feet at this stage and confess or his relation would take him aside and question him more closely if he exhibits signs of fear. Failure to take the oath is equivalent to an admission of guilt. If the accused went forward and took the oath and did not die within the specified period, usually seven weeks (the Igbo week is four days) the result amounts to an acquittal and in big cases, the accused celebrates his vindication and innocence with his family and well-wishers with a mini parade in the market place.
Now, the police man’s job is to mediate quarrels and keep the peace. What then qualifies a man to be a mediator, a peace maker in a community? This is where character comes in. It means the ability to separate right from wrong, the willingness to listen to and command the trust of both sides, coupled with the ability to show courage and rule for the truth and, above all, demonstrate a sense of fairness and justice.
Good character is said to come from upbringing. It could also be a gift. We see it in individuals sometimes from afar. It sometimes manifests early in life and those recruiting people into the police should pay greater attention to it above anything else. Background checks may help but interviewers who are good judges of character are able to pick the wheat from the chaff. Because in the Police, as in most pursuits in life, character is everything. Police recruiters should spend 80 per cent of their time and resources in trying to ascertain the true character of the recruit for, without it, you are likely to end up recruiting a thug as different from a policeman.
Simple questions like: why do you want to be a police man? What do you want to achieve as a police man? Questions like the candidate’s attitude to power should be asked and real efforts made to ascertain how he or she would handle power, knowing that the biggest temptation in the Police is the abuse power. Police men have so much discretion in the use of power, and they manifestly lack close supervision which could have served as a check. Testimonials from school headmasters and principals could provide some vital information on recruits. Membership of extra-curricular clubs or volunteering in charitable organisations, and, generally, showing signs of involvement in non-profits could indicate honest commitment to public service.
To renew the Nigeria Police Force, therefore, all serving members should go through a fresh performance cum character assessment, a re-appraisal and those with negative reports should be let go and their entitlements paid to them in full. Reassessing the character of all members of the force is the biggest favour the government can do to the Police. It is a gigantic work. It means going through nearly 400,000 files with a tooth comb, but unless it is done, frustrations and scandals will subsist and in a few years, another protest against police brutality will be held.
The Police should be an organisation of problem-solvers, empathic and understanding, who know the reality of the Nigerian environment in order to be able to mediate the disputes of the community. The need to establish a police force with good character and the need to invest heaven and earth to ring-fence that character and watch over it jealously is critical if we must restore the faith of Nigerians in the Nigeria Police.
Unless that is done, even if the nation invests every penny of its budget on the Police it would be akin to pouring water into a sieve. Thus any money spent without first straightening the character of the police and the image of the character of a police man will be a waste of time. Character will restore trust. With trust you can build other attributes and strengths before you grow a new rejuvenated and effective police force.