The Nigerian Police Force: Can Abba make a difference?

(By Adewale Kupoluyi)

This perceived failure of the Nigeria police to live up to expectations is one of the factors that have fueled the agitation for state policing. Therefore, it is high time we adopted holistic reorientation towards enhanced behavioural patterns and attitudinal change. Abba’s performance within the next few months should eventually determine whether he should become the substantive IGP or not

WHEN the debate was ongoing as to whether the tenure of the former Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar should be extended or not, I decided not to comment. The reason is simple – I believe that the ex-IGP has tried his best – so, there was an urgent need for a change because of the many security challenges prevailing in the country. All that is now history as Abubakar has already proceeded on statutory retirement after 35 years of meritorious service. Some of the major achievements of Abubakar include scrapping of roadblocks, renovation of dilapidated police barracks and stations as well as the provision of mass housing scheme, for enhanced welfare of police personnel.

   The naming of Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Suleiman Abba, as the new acting Inspector-General of Police, pending confirmation by the Senate, may herald the desired change if he chooses to render unblemished service to his fatherland. Before his appointment, Abba was the AIG in charge of Zone 7, comprising the Federal Capital Territory, Kaduna and Niger States. His appointment could not have been on account of seniority – because he was not the most senior – but perhaps, based on the conviction that he possesses the wherewithal in terms of experience, dedication, skill, antecedent and professional ethics needed to drive the Nigeria Police Force to excellence. No doubt, Abba is mounting the saddle of responsibility when the nation is facing its most worrisome national security challenge where there is pervasive sense of fear such that the people can no longer sleep with their two eyes closed, precipitated by armed robberies, murders, rape, kidnappings and other allied crimes that have painted a picture of a nation that is practically at war with itself. The Boko Haram menace seems to have overstretched the capacity of the state to deal with the problem of terrorism that has taken a frightening dimension.

   Therefore, the new police boss will be expected to hit the ground running by picking up from where his predecessor stopped without further delay. To start with, serious attention should be paid to the recruitment process that will ensure that only qualified candidates with sound moral consciousness and public spiritedness are employed. Many people seem to join the police out of frustration. Not a few police personnel would prefer to hide their uniforms from members of the public. Those that are supposed to be regular policemen in their full uniforms appear lethargic to their official identity. It is curious that many of them simply wear mufti to their duty posts, change immediately and dress-up after closing for the day. This should not be. In other climes where things work normally, police officers are neatly and confidently dressed in their uniforms and accorded due respect. This is possible here too. Afterall, there are still very few, honest, patriotic and committed police officers. The eyesore called check-points still dot our roads even though the former IGP executed some strategic reforms with positive impact in this regard. For example, in January 2012, he dismantled the roadblocks and replaced them with the highway patrol to fight crime. Against pessimisms and outcry that trailed that action, it fairly paid off in terms of enhanced security surveillance. Now, the roadblocks are back defeating the initial aim of reducing corrupt practices through illegal ‘toll’ collection.

  The image of the Force appears to have plummeted due to the perceived unprofessional activities of some of its officers. The popular saying that police is your friend is no longer entrenched in our social lexicon. Abba should work hard to restore the mutual distrust between the police and citizens. As observed by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) – a network of 46 civil society organisations—which promotes police accountability and respect for human rights equally condemned police brutality in the country while recent surveys conducted by Amnesty International (AI), a global movement that campaigns to end grave abuses of human rights, show that a large number of people live in terror of being tortured, with 44 per cent of people surveyed from 21 various countries claiming they feared being tortured, if arrested by police or security personnel in countries like Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Uzbekistan and Nigeria.

  As it should be, the people would rather prefer to see a more visible, reliable and proactive police. The Acting IGP should move in this direction by being courageous enough to uproot bad eggs that are giving the NPF a bad name. This political-will calls for proper restructuring of the police, to free the institution from being used merely as a social engineering agency to serve the rich, privileged and the political class as presently obtained – where a third of police personnel are attached to individuals and organisations that could afford to pay for such service – at the expense of the security of the greater number of Nigerians. It was for this reason that the former IGP ordered the withdrawal of police escorts for effective national policing. Sadly, the directive was observed only in the breach as the same police were being used for class discrimination. Except for very essential services and limited public officials, police orderlies assigned for prestige purposes should be withdrawn. Again, the police should not be isolated in this information age. Digitalisation of the personnel and operation should be carried out. This would involve the computerisation of the various activities, machineries and training in ICT programmes. All these cannot be achieved without adequate funding. There is need to increase funding of this critical sector of our national life. Recently, the chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Igwe Paulinus Nwagwu, once raised this concern when he stated that the funds allocated to the Police for personnel cost was drastically slashed.

    Most importantly, there is much to be done as the nation moves closer to next year’s general elections. The new helmsman should ensure that elections are held as stipulated under a free and fair climate. This can only be possible with the cooperation and full support of our law enforcement agents most especially, the police. As public officers, they are to remain apolitical and unbiased. The police should not give the impression that they are out to protect the interest of the ruling government alone. They should be made to realise that they are paid to protect lives and property of all, irrespective of political lineages, religious affiliation, tribe or social status. At least, that is what the constitution says.

    This perceived failure of the Nigeria police to live up to expectations is one of the factors that have fueled the agitation for state policing. Therefore, it is high time we adopted holistic reorientation towards enhanced behavioural patterns and attitudinal change. Abba’s performance within the next few months should eventually determine whether he should become the substantive IGP or not. He should make a big difference by being focused and setting for himself, the task of making the NPF operations to be intelligence-led by building the necessary partnerships for community policing, conducting diligent investigations that would lead to diligent prosecution and eventual convictions of criminals. And more importantly, as a lawyer, he should not forget to carry out his duties with respect for the dignity of persons and human rights of the citizenry.

Adewale Kupoluyi.

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