The #EndSARs protest succeeded in bringing the issue of the reform of the Nigeria Police to focus. But the need has always been there. Indeed, those who have been part of the history of the Nigeria Police know, as of fact, that the police always needed to be reformed even before the turn of the millennium. Those who knew what the Nigeria Police was under the leadership of Mr. Sunday Adewusi and Muhammadu Gambo, for instance, still weep over the systematic destruction of the force. That destruction began with change in focus, which saw the police shifting focus from its basic functions of protecting society to protecting political leaders and those we now know as very important persons (VIPs).
I do not, however, think that a return of the police as it was under Adewusi is possible because society has grown and crime has become so dynamic that policemen no longer need torchlights, batons and whistles to manage situations. However, I think a return of the welfare structure under him is the reform that police actually needs. Let me tell you what being a policeman was like then.
First, every policeman lived in the barracks with his family. The barracks accommodation ranged from one-bedroom apartment to two-bedroom flats, three-bedroom flats and bungalows for very senior officers and children above 18 years were expected to live away from the barracks to avoid exposure to firearms. Each barrack was managed by a Sergeant-Major, a rank between Sergeant and Inspector. During this period, barracks were maintained and cleaned up every weekend. Then, all men came out on weekends to clear bushes and drainages around the barracks, while their wives worked to clean up the flats. The Sergeant-Major had powers to inspect every flat and even expel any family that was consistently dirty.
During this period, the works department of the Police was very effective. It had septic suction trucks that ensured that septic tanks were regularly emptied. Also, personnel of the works department, including carpenters, masons and electricians worked effectively to ensure that barracks and offices were maintained. The mechanical department was well equipped and worked to ensure that operational vehicles were in shape. Every policeman who was on transfer was entitled to a truck to move his/her property to the new station (We used a Leyland truck which was nicknamed Austin Jagwa). Besides, the service had a well-equipped and effective tailoring department. Its job was to sew uniforms and other clothing needs of the force. Every policeman/woman was expected to be properly dressed in proper police kits including shoes and belts. These were supplied.
I recall that my dad would go on special duty on some days. It was usually a 24hrs assignment. He usually returned home with some supplies including dozens of peak milk (Holland), sardine, geisha, bakes beans, corn beef and a few other such supplies. He also got a regular supply of shoe polish (Kiwi brand), cotton wool, brass polish for buttons and metallic components of his uniform which must be starched and sometimes, torchlights and batteries. Life was good for the policeman/woman. I guess they enjoyed serving and carried only their baton and whistle most of the time. Rarely did my father bring firearms home. He signed-in his operations firearm before returning home. And, the recreation room (mess)? They were well equipped too and helped to keep officers and men within the barrack community.
But like Celine Dion sang, “those days are gone”.
Yes, they are gone. A visit to any Mammy market within any Police barrack will tell a story of the failure of the Police. It is not just that they are as dirty as the barracks themselves, but the major occupation of tailors in the markets is sewing uniforms for policemen and women. This means that to look smart and clean as a policeman/woman, you must make your own uniforms yourself, buy any shoe that fits even plastic ones and also buy belts to match. This accounts for reason you see policemen/women wearing different shades of colours of same uniforms.
And the barracks? I guess many policemen and women still manage to live there because of the cost of renting decent accommodation. These days, you no longer see septic suction trucks regularly emptying septic tanks in the barracks neither do you see operatives of the works department fixing broken facilities like doors and windows or broken stair way rails. You no longer have a Sergeant-Major taking charge of the barrack and ensuring its cleanliness. You have grown up kids living with the parents who freely bring home firearms. Simply put, most police barracks, where they are available, are inhabitable. This has a way of affecting the psyche of the average policeman/woman who is also expected to put in his best in securing people living decently in clean and habitable neigbourhoods.
But why can’t those good old days be brought back? Why wouldn’t policemen/women live in decent accommodations with facilities that serve purpose like steady supply of water? Why can’t the Police tailoring department be re-invigorated? Why has it become impossible to make police tradesmen to effectively serve their purpose again? Why should a policeman buy his shoe and belt? Why would any policeman pick up any beret and use same for uniform.
So, the reform of the Police is not just about the salary. It is about a whole lot that work together to make the policeman/woman appreciated and treated as a human being. But it begins with the entry qualification into the police. I believe that there is something wrong with the recruitment system of the police. I don’t think that the Police job is meant for everyone. It is a vocation more or less. One has to be called into it. So doing, one gives it his all with a sense of patriotism. But when we lower the entry qualification and make it possible for the roadside hustler or political thug to become the next policeman, empowered to bear firearm and stand at a point where he performs a function that tasks his perception and cognitive abilities, you create possibilities for civil right abuses. An uneducated and unenlightened policeman with a gun is dangerous to society. He is easily upset by grammar. Imagine a scenario where a policeman who is chastised by poor remuneration, lives in squalor with a wife and kids, is forced to buy his uniforms and accoutrements is handed an AK47 to mount a checkpoint in a rich neighbourhood, and he has seemingly well-to-do kids stand before him speaking grammar while showing off their gadgets. His response may be dramatic. It may also cause pain.
For instance, what triggered the #EndSARS protest were right abuses occasioned by the continued search of people’s telephone sets and laptop computers by policemen. That in itself is a testimonial on the inability of many policemen to understand the gulf between primitivity and modernity. A poorly educated man, who is enrolled into the Police without proper understanding of developments in ICT and believes that a telephone handset is just an equipment to make and receive calls and send messages, will find it difficult to understand that for many people, the telephone handset, like the laptop computer, is a full-fledged office which carries all essential official documents. That’s part of the new orientation for the police. They ought to be made to understand, and appreciate the fact, that laptops and high end telephones are work tools. Not just luxury items.
I have had the experience of being asked by a policeman to submit my wallet for search. I refused. And the interaction that followed clearly showed that the policeman derived his audacity from the gun he was carrying. He lacked basic knowledge of his powers and the rights of people. For such a policeman, the gun confers a power that empowers him to abuse the rights of others and even brutalize them. For the envisaged reforms to make any meaning therefore, entry qualification into the Police ought to be reviewed. The training period also ought to be extended to enhance capacity of recruits to understand basic police rules and constitutional provisions on civil rights.