“He that is of the opinion that money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”
– Benjamin Franklin
As a Nigerian that witnessed the nation’s independence, pre- and post-colonial Nigeria, I have come to know that Nigeria is a country of laws. A chapter in my most recent book “How Little We Are,” a collection of thoughts, talks about this. We have the ability to make good and well-researched laws, a bit borrowed from the British, a bit from the United States, especially its constitution. A good number of our laws came from the military, who structured them in such a way to ensure their indefinite participation in the affairs of the nation. In the main, all laws have been made to protect the citizenry, big or small, young or old, poor or rich. If that is the case, one may ask, how come we are perceived as one of the most lawless nations of the world and fantastically corrupt?
I have travelled and lived in most parts of Nigeria, and I have observed that those that make the laws, those that wrote the constitution and made the decrees and those whose duty it is to enforce the laws are the same people that mostly and wantonly flout the laws. The consequences of this include the fact that Nigerians respect the lawmakers but not the laws, they fear the law enforcement agencies but pay very little regard to the laws they are trying to enforce. Naturally, Nigerians who are easy to govern have become lawless because of the impunity of the law-breakers in high places.
In order to save the nation from shameful and downwards slide into anarchy it becomes very imperative that we REFORM and REFINE the entire Nigeria Police Force. The process, which will take a few years, must start now because, if we do not, the anarchy I predicted in a previous article in this column some months ago will flow from North-East, passing through Kano, over to the Middle Belt, across the River Niger and Benue into the South, where it will link up with the militants in the creeks in the Niger Delta before landing on the grounds of Oduduwa and towards the Atlantic through Lagos.
In the recent past, I have tried so much to make friends with the police, starting with my community. I embarked on this because I needed to conduct a proper study on the state of policing in our dear country, mainly because of the immense responsibility they carry with their mandate to maintain law and order. Also, I am aware that there will not be meaningful development in any society without peace and lacking a corruption-free police force.
As part of my involvement in peace building and development, the relationship I started with the police exposed the pitiful condition, the neglect, lack of training and the lack of equipment that the Nigerian police force has been subjected to in the last few decades, making it extremely difficult for the police to carry out the actual police duties as we knew them decades ago, and as being practised in other parts of the world.
Today, the Nigerian police only lend their duties to the VIPs of society. But these VIPs are not truly the revered VIPs of a sane polity. These are the lawless, very unimportant persons responsible for the majority of the crimes in our land: drug barons, human traffickers, fraudsters and some political thugs. They seek and get some kind of protection from the police, as long as they can pay for it. This particular service has turned the police into a PLC without the public element (shareholders) and without accountability to anyone.
In most cases, the various police commands depend a lot on funds from the state governors where they are located, which has fuelled the agitation for state police because, as the old saying goes, “He who pays the piper dictates the tune.” For that reason, the protection usually demanded by a particular state will depend on how much and how well the state can fund its august national police. At the same time, not so good public figures, heads of parastatals and some government dignitaries have become participants in this police quagmire, shareholders whose share certificates are their tenures in office.
The protection given to these scum of the society by the police defies logic and prudent governance. They employ use of siren provided by another squad car that weaves in and out of traffic with reckless abandon. Mostly these blaring sirens are louder than that of the President, or those of the ambulances and fire brigade that are meant to be the essential users of sirens.
Then on the other side of policing in Nigeria that has become laughable are the roadblocks, which are nothing but tollgates that are seen on most highways in the country, with some of them only a few metres apart. Firstly, it gives you the impression of a nation under siege. Secondly, it portrays insecurity to the uninformed tourists. However, by the time the curious observer becomes wise to the operational dispositions of these ubiquitous roadblocks, one realises that the roadblocks are another tier in the lucrative industry of the Nigeria Police Plc. Not to lose out on this windfall of cheap money extorted under duress, other security agencies such as the Customs, the Road Safety Corps, the Army, and even the Navy have all started setting up their own roadblocks. Beyond the immediate vicinity of Air Commands, I am yet to see the Air Force mounting their own security posts on public highways. If and when that changes, they will definitely have a plausible but unconvincing excuse for yet another participant in the grand scheme of fleecing and intimidating Nigerians of all walks of life.
The practice of police bail is yet another iteration of this police corporate enterprise. Here, the police will unnecessarily arrest individuals for such mundane and purely civil cases like boundary disputes, marital altercation, child discipline acts by parents or neighbours, lock them up without any investigations whatsoever, and demand bail for their release to the tune of tens of thousands of naira. It is usual for the police to make these false arrests on a Friday, so that the prospects of spending the weekend in a squalid police cell would coerce you into parting with the bail funds. Under our laws, only the courts are empowered to set bail. Where do the police bail funds go to?
All these actions and harassment meted against the citizens by these law agencies, especially the police, who are meant to protect, have destroyed the morale of the good policemen and women, as well as eroded the respect that the people have for the law enforcement agencies. It is very dangerous for the police force to allow itself to be perceived in this way by the public.
The current public outcry and protests against the SARS police unit is a case in point. The stories you hear from those that visit the police station for help or are dragged there alive are disgraceful and unacceptable, especially for those of us that saw the Nigerian Police perform peacekeeping missions around the world in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as one of the best police forces in the world. Our exemplary leadership in such missions ensured that some of our neighbouring countries would send their police officers for training in our various police academies.
Similarly, our Nigerian police officers were sent on secondment and attachment to train police officers in friendly countries. Today, we have lost these accolades, and in a recent ranking of world police, Nigeria Police is 127th of 127 countries that were considered. The police in Nigeria is nobody’s friend. If they are not a murderous gang of SARS men on the prowl, they are drunken armed beggars on the highways, or illegal bail extortionists at police stations. It should not be so.
The clamour for state police is not a frivolous call. There is no other or better way to ensure protection of life and property throughout the country. The Federal Government should not see this reform as a loss of power or authority. It should be seen as a devolution of power to the states, whereby the Federal Government will ensure equitable dispensation of justice and security to all through a supervisory body like the Force CID with powers of oversight to state law enforcement. Besides, such devolution of policing will:
• Produce a cost-saving reform that will free and unencumber the Federal Government that is cash-strapped
• Reduce bureaucracy in the dispensation of justice
• Reduce the multiplicity of security agencies under the direct funding of the Federal Government
• Free up personnel for other duties, and
• Create employment in the states.
Above all, the creation of state police will make for greater efficiency in law enforcement.
Records and databases of everything from criminals to the law-abiding citizens, visitors and tourists will be better preserved and managed on a state-by-state basis. Such databases will be easily accessible to relevant bodies who need access.
Finally, we need to remove our mindset from the notion created at colonial times that the police is the enemy, empowered to get us for not paying taxes or not appearing in the courts. The police should stop being the willing tools of the rich in their criminal intimidation of the citizenry. Police must be our friends and willing to help those in distress. For these services, they must be adequately rewarded with living wages.