The Nigeria Police Force, NPF, are always in the news and usually for the wrong reasons. With security high on the minds and hearts of Nigerians, many people want a much better managed force. With more than 150 million of us and the daunting nature of the threats posed by crime and Boko Haram, Nigerians are demanding a lot more from the police than we ever have. Nigerians need a police force we can be proud of, a force we can believe in.
The Nigeria police are perceived as ineffective. Many police officers live below the breadline, so they cut corners to survive. It would seem that there is always a reason for ineptitude and gross misconduct. Too many stories abound of abuse of office by these officers. Many families have lost their breadwinners to extra-judicial killings and accidental bullet discharge. Nigerians are fed up with daily harassment by the men paid to look after them.
Obviously, there is no point applying Western models to policing in Nigeria. We accept that our force can never be like the Los Angeles Police Department or the New York Police Department, but they can be the best NPF ever. We ask our policemen to understand that their fundamental duty is to protect lives/properties and to comprehend that from the groundnut seller to the Okada rider, we all have constitutional rights. Policemen need to understand that being in uniform does not implicitly give the right to abuse the rights of Nigerians. Service delivery can be improved if policemen get serious with security.
The Nigeria police are not respected simply because the petty demand for bribes and unnecessary check of vehicle documents are routine experience of most people. They are generally feared and avoided. This fear is not socially nutritious; it is a negative fear that borders on cumulative abuse of the human psyche. It is thought that even the police see themselves as private security firms. They feel they are doing the nation a favour when they go to work as policemen. They feel that they should even be paid like the private and professional security firms for delivering on their jobs. It is accepted that policemen should be paid more. But in the mean time, a job is a job.
The police in Nigeria have performed woefully in the area of maintaining security. Most times, they show up after armed robbers have long left the scene. If you want police presence at a crime scene, often times you would have to buy the petrol they need. The NPF is not linked to emergency medical services; their technology is best described as antiquated. They lack forensic technology, canine units and most fundamentally the knowledge of what it means to provide a first-class service in a Third World country. There is a rather clumsy system in Nigeria where you need to provide a police report to injured victims of accidents and crime before they are attended to at hospitals. The rationale for this practice is unclear, and many lives are lost in the process.
Just a look at other police forces. In South Africa, there is the obvious tension between the police force and the country’s citizens, a development that borders on race and inequality. In the United Kingdom, UK, the police are not always necessarily appreciated. The most common complaints relate to people’s everyday experience of policing, with many expressing deep frustration at the way people in their communities are subjected to stop and search. Community support police officers spend a lot of their time getting to know the community they police. Community policing is a concept that can be applied in Nigeria as well. In the UK, the police have fragmented relationship with certain communities. Last year, a police shooting in Tottenham sparked a protest which affected the whole country. Dubbed the August riots, The Metropolitan Force are still learning lessons from how they could have handled the tension.
It is not a careless assertion to suggest that the frontline operational members of the Nigeria police perhaps are not professional in their conduct, so we can forgive them when they routinely fall short of customer service expectations. The NPF should be a profession and not the first resort for secondary school dropouts or college quitters. The police should recruit degree and master’s holders for their frontline operational roles. This may reduce the incidence of unprofessionalism which runs throughout the organisation. Then there are the cases of indiscriminate use of guns, abuse of human rights and a disrespect of the rule of law.
The NPF is regarded as corrupt, but arguably they are not the most corrupt institution in Nigeria. When we look at the amount of money stolen over the years by Nigerian leaders, certainly police officers are not the most corrupt. Corruption is endemic in Nigerian leadership and in all spheres of the Nigerian life. We can say that the state of the NPF is a reflection of the entire nation. In the UK, you would not dare offer a police man a bribe. It probably does happen but it is not as rife as it is in Nigeria. Police officers in the UK do not look hungry; neither do they stare at ostentatious wealth. They live well, they are well paid. The secret could also be in being contented.
A report from the Human Rights Watch website revealed that the NPF made a total of N20.35 billion between January last year and June this year (2011-2012) from extorting money from motorists at illegal checkpoints. Emeka Umeagbalasi, the chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, said checkpoints in Nigeria’s South-east yielded the highest sum of N9.35 billion; South-south and South-west brought in N4 billion each; in the North-central, which includes Abuja, N2 billion was made; while the North-east and North-west brought in N500 million each. Expectedly, the Nigeria police have strenuously refuted these claims. Thankfully, illegal checkpoints have been banned in the country.
Policing Nigeria is daunting. To improve, the Nigeria police need to think about visible and friendly policing. In the UK, there is much talk about visible policing; policemen patrolling neighborhoods in police cars or on foot. Many people would agree that visible policing serves as a deterrent to petty criminals and it helps to keep neighbourhoods safe. Officers of the Nigeria police are not friendly and members of the public dislike them, feeling no sympathy for them mainly because they misuse their power. In the UK and in the United States, it is quite normal for people to approach policemen to ask for directions, help and information. In Nigeria, it is the opposite. Even now that the police checkpoints are off the streets, the complaint is that some policemen have lost the zeal to protect citizens as should be their primary focus. Internet portals have it that Nigeria police patrol vans are observed on the side of roads, chilling, laughing, talking and taking it easy. Despite the ban, Nigeria Police Watch website reports that police patrols are still operating within certain parts of the Lagos metropolis harassing innocent bus drivers.
It appears that the Nigeria police may be getting their act together with the trial of a new type of uniform which has been described as environmentally friendly. If this is true, then police chiefs need to consider giving frontline staff an increase in wages commensurate with inflation. With endemic poverty, hungry policemen are corrupt officers. The Nigeria police should offer human resources, communications and customer service training and all necessary training to all routinely as it upgrades the Force to a profession. It is important to routinely check the physical fitness and mental health of our policemen as well. We should emphasise that at the core of their services is the respect for the dignity of the human being and the rule of law.