The Nigeria police and nation building (1)

(By Hussain Obaro)

Even though, the initial aim of establishing the Police in Nigeria and elsewhere is to protect life and property of the colonial authorities at the expense of the people, these objectives have since been extended and reformed to include the protection and security of lives and properties of the ‘people’ for economic growth and development. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the police have not been effectively reformed to meet with modern policing. The modus operandi of the Nigeria Police is still such that the lives of the people in authority, the rich, private or public and of course the top people in government and their properties are given priority at the expense of the generality of Nigerian, especially the poor and the average.

MY nephew was once asked to describe the function and duty of the Police in one sentence. The little boy quickly said: “Simple! Police point gun at vehicles on the highways and asks them to bring money”. As funny as this may seem, it is the reality of what Nigerians experience daily.

  I remember vividly as if it was yesterday: I had just returned from Imo State where I had being for my National Youth Service. A group of touts in my area had harassed me just because I refused to ‘‘drop something” from what the government had “settled” me with on completion of my National Youth Service Corps Scheme. I thought it was something I could handle until things eventually got out of hand. I was attacked and beaten and my clothes were torn. As a law-abiding citizen I resisted the urge to fight back as I located the nearby Police Station at Oja-Oba area of Ilorin to report what had happened. As I got there I was first asked to go and buy two white plain sheets, a ruler, a blue biro and two office flat files. In uttermost surprise, I asked if I was going to write an exam but one of the policemen furiously told me if I expected them to write down my “statement” on their clothes.

  I had to do as they asked. It took them almost two hours to finally document my complaints. They asked if I wanted them to make an arrest to which I happily said yes, but I met another surprise when I was asked to give them N2,000 so they could fuel their vehicle, I felt so disappointed but I again had no choice because I really wanted the touts arrested. But I even became more frustrated after I was asked to pay them another N2,000 for them to “wet” their pockets. I eventually ended up spending about N4,000 before the police could finally arrest some of those touts.

  As soon as they got into the station, they were asked to give their own “statements”. It was at this point that one of the female police officer discovered that the boys were natives of her place back in Ogun State. I presumed the woman was the most senior officer on duty because they all referred to her as “mummy”. When they were done taking their “statement” the “mummy” called the boys to a corner and spoke with them for a few minutes. She then came to me and requested that I give her N750 to buy MTN recharge card. I vehemently refused and asked if she was aware that I had already spent more than N4,000. She didn’t utter a word, instead she turned to the boys and spoke to them in her dialect after which some of them brought out money from their pockets right in my presence. They put together the sum of N8,000 and handed it over to her. To my dismay, they asked the boys to go home! Naturally, I felt so cheated, humiliated and frustrated! I had to engage in an intense argument with them. I demanded an explanation on why they had to request bribe from the boys and release them. I was later arrested and detained until the next day on a charge of constituting nuisance at a Police Station.

   In April 1861, the British Consul in Lagos obtained permission from his Principal in London to establish a Consular Guard comprising of 30 men. Two years later, the small body of men became known as the “Hausa Guard” which later metamorphosed from the Hausa Constabulary in 1896 into Northern Nigerian Police Force in 1900. Also, the Lagos Police Force and part of the Niger Coast Constabulary which originated from the Oil River Protectorate of Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, River and Cross-River States in 1891 with Headquarters at Calabar fused to become the Southern Nigeria Police Force. After the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 both Police Forces continued to operate separately until 1st April, 1930 when they were merged to form the present Nigeria Police Force.

  Even though, the initial aim of establishing the Police in Nigeria and elsewhere is to protect life and property of the colonial authorities at the expense of the people, these objectives have since been extended and reformed to include the protection and security of lives and properties of the ‘people’ for economic growth and development. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the police have not been effectively reformed to meet with modern policing. The modus operandi of the Nigeria Police is still such that the lives of the people in authority, the rich, private or public and of course the top people in government and their properties are given priority at the expense of the generality of Nigerian, especially the poor and the average.

  Inadequate man-power and lack of modern operational equipment and gadgets constitute the bane and challenge of modern policing in our land. Now that countries like Britain are aiming a target of one-police-to-eight citizens, Nigeria can only boast of about 500,000 officers and men. This is grossly inadequate in view of our population of more than 170 million. More than 60 per cent of this inadequate officers and ill-equipped men of the Police are either deployed to man road-blocks or are attached to politicians, the rich, the high and mighty in the society. When you visit a Police Station especially at night to report an emergency you hardly find any officer there and even if one or two officers are around to attend to you they tell you that all the vehicles have gone for road-blocks so they can’t possibly follow you to the scene of a crime.

  In this 21st Century when the world has gone digital and operations, investigations and documentations are being computerised, the Nigeria Police is left far behind. The public are still required to give statements with pen and paper, interrogatory confessions are still being forced out through torture instead of psychological question and answer or use of electronic gadgets as a result of which increasing number of Nigerians have either suffered disabilities or have been killed in detention from torture. An alleged criminal is paraded publicly and displayed on pages of newspapers and television sets even without being pronounced guilty by a competent court of law. “Innocence until proven guilty” has since been thrown into the bin.

• To be continued.

• Obaro wrote from Ilorin, Kwara State.

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