Following the gradually return of peace in the country after the EndSARS protests that rocked some states in the South, the desire for a reformed police in Nigeria still remains a talking point in the polity.
In this interview, a former Minister of Police Affairs, Gen. David Jemibewon (rtd), who has seen it all, suggested the ways to achieve a complete turnaround of the police for effective performance.
According to him, there may be a need for government to adopt a development plan that would involve a blend of the old and the new, while those who do not have the capacity to imbibe the modern technique of policing are shown the way out.
With peace gradually returning to the country after weeks of EndSARS protests, what suggestion would you like to make to the Federal Government to reposition the Nigeria police?
I have always said that Nigeria police ought to be restructured to fall in line with the modern technique and modern development using scientific approach to security matters. It’s like I saw a vision about 20 years ago when I wrote my book entitled: “The Nigeria Police in transition: Issues, problem and challenges.” Whatever suggestion I am going to make now is already embodied in that book. A lot of suggestions are there. The world has reached a level now that you don’t need so much physical energy to provide security. What we need now is scientific knowledge and not just physical ability alone.
As you would recall, the issue that led to the EndSARS protest was the excesses of the disbanded ant-robbery squad. How would you situate the reform suggestions you made in that book within the context of the current scenario?
In that book, I tried to say that we should work on a 10-year programme to remodel the Nigeria Police. We need to have a development plan where we raise the strength of the police by not less than 10,000 every year for a period of five years. At the end of the fifth year, we would have got to the level of those already in the service or a certain standard that we want. That way, the new policemen would be up to date in modern technique and modern development since they have been trained from the very beginning. We will then have a blend of the new and the old. Within this period of five years, there will be test for those already in the service. And those who do not meet the standard required will be gradually exited. In addition to that, we need to look into the modern technique of training. We need to redefine our ultimate objective as a country in relation to police service. I have always maintained that police should not be seen as a force, but a service, which is why you hear the Nigerian government say armed forces and the police. When they say armed forces in Nigeria, nobody will say police is included. Those who are armed forces are the Army, Navy and the Air Force. If you say a man is a force, you have given him the impression that he has the ability and discretion to use force. He sees himself as an instrument of force and so he wants to apply force because you have ascribed that power to him. So, it is a misnomer. But then, all this has its roots in our colonial experience. Since the objective of the colonialists was to ensure obedience to the authorities at all costs, they had to assemble young men and young women to enforce their operations. But we have passed that age now. The fact that a police man has a gun does not make him a force. You don’t call armed robbers a force, yet they carry arms. So, this is one of the points I have been advocating. I am sure it is because they have instrument of force at hand that is why we have issues of brutality.
Since the agitation for state police has not come into realization, would you support the idea of regional security outfits like Amotekun to do the policing of their domain?
Tell me, when did we start to hear Amotekun? Where is their headquarters? What is the formation? What are their responsibilities? Where have they operated? And how successful has that operation been? This is something people are thinking about, but which has not been formed. So, there is no way you can assess it. To effectively improve on the police service, we need to know what the police service is set out to achieve and how best to improve their operation to achieve that objective.
Where does the concept of community policing come in here?
I don’t want to give an impression that I have all the ideas, but accidentally, I initiated the idea of community policing. What community policing means is integrating policing into the community? For example, in England, there is hardly any street you wouldn’t see a police man and they are not used to advertising themselves. Yet, a little boy knows exactly the policeman in his street. If anything happens, he knows exactly what to do. In their early stage, one of the things they teach them is the number of police to call in case of any incident. If any stranger comes into the community, the police in that area will register that person. Almost everybody there will know and the police too will know. If such person fails to register, they start to ask questions. The police are treated as part and parcel of the community. Community people know the police in charge of their streets. The policemen know the head of each compartment to which they are assigned. I introduced the idea into the Nigeria police. Let anybody challenge me on this. But we had hardly finished the way we wanted it to work, when some people started saying they were launching community policing. What are you launching in community policing? You are launching nothing. They just do it to embezzle money. Today, everybody is saying community policing, but they don’t know what it means.
What do you have to say about the current structure where only the Inspector General of Police passes instruction down the line in a country as large as Nigeria? What reform do you think needs to be done in that regard?
Even when you have the decentralization of police, I happened to be one of the first persons to advocate decentralization of the police. I suggested it should be decentralized to six zones. At that time, things were not as many as they are today. The idea was to allay the fear being expressed that the governors would misuse the police in the states. It was as a result of that initiative that we now have six Deputy Inspectors-General of Police in charge of the six geo-political zones of the country.
In view of the recent experience of the EndSARS protest and the demand people are making about the reform of the police, what specific reform would you want to suggest to the government to do immediately to restore people’s confidence in the police?
Unfortunately, this is a time of crisis. What the government needs to do is to assemble knowledgeable people who would look into the police from the time of inception up till now, what has been the obstacle, what are the problems they are facing from year to year, and the way to gradually eliminate those problems. It is not something that can be done overnight. I think we need to decentralize the police. We need to focus more on zonal police command rather than state command. In this country, we don’t give due recognition to those who deserve it. There was a time we had only one deputy IG. I took it to six deputy IGs because I saw that the country was becoming too large for one deputy IG. And the reason I did that was in consideration of suspicion, tribalism, religious bigotry, and so on in the country. I also envisaged a situation where there will be a disagreement between the IG and the deputy IG. But where you have more than one DIG, if one doesn’t cooperate with IG, there is possibility to try another. Where you have one DIG, there is likelihood of undermining the authority of the IG because he knows that in the event of removing the IG, he steps into his position. Where you have multiple DIGs, nobody can anticipate who will become the next IG. There will also be competition for performance. If they can make the committee they are going to set up very wide to include people with knowledge about police, I think it may help them.