Police reform – PUNCH NEWSPAPERS

SPEAKER of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, recently reignited public attention towards the vexed issue of rampant insecurity, the apparent weakness of the Nigeria Police and the consequent deployment of the military to take up the slack. Not only are lives and property at risk with ineffective policing, the country’s sovereignty and survival of its institutions are in danger when soldiers take over internal security in a fragile democracy.  

Dogara’s fresh alert, raised at a capacity building workshop for security-related House committees in Abuja, comes amid ever rising security threats across the country. His assertion that, though undeclared, Nigeria is already under a state of emergency since military personnel are actively engaged in internal security operations in 28 states of the federation resonates loudly. The Nigeria Police Force, as he rightly observed, is the constitutional body charged with internal policing. But many perceptive minds have repeatedly voiced concerns over the massive infusion of soldiers into crime-fighting that should normally be the preserve of the police. At one time, according to Army Chief of Staff, Tukur Buratai, troops were deployed in 31 states. In several theatres, police have been relegated to playing second fiddle. This is most visible in the North-East region where troops are battling Boko Haram terrorists; in parts of the Niger Delta region where military-led joint task forces are combating militants, pirates, vandals and illegal oil refiners, and in states like Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau and Benue, where the military are confronting sectarian violence, cattle rustlers, bandits and communal warfare.

Dogara said, “The Armed Forces have virtually taken over routine police work in Nigeria. They are no longer acting in aid of civil authorities, but have become the civil authorities.”

But, it is not enough for public office holders to identify problems and move on; their responsibility is to solve them. The Speaker cannot claim to have suddenly realised the sorry state of security in the country and the lack of institutional capacity. Our predicament is a long-running glaring consequence of poor governance and poor leadership and Dogara cannot exonerate himself and the inept chamber he leads. Police are a central element in a democratic society, according to a publication in the Encyclopaedia of Democracy. A strong police system, subject always to the rule of law, well funded, equipped and accountable to the public and its representatives, is acknowledged to be a major guarantor of a free society.

The Presidency and National Assembly need to realise that the Nigeria Police we have today cannot deliver. It requires a total overhaul. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, successive governments have demonstrated neither the capacity nor the political will to reshape the Force for the 21st century, holding on instead to a colonial heritage that was also vastly degraded by decades of military rule.

The police are still grossly underfunded and ill-equipped. While debating a bill in the House to establish a Police Trust Fund last year, Olumide Johnson said Nigeria’s was one of the most poorly funded police in the world. The NPF’s budget of N321.3 billion in 2015 to protect 170 million people paled in comparison to New York City’s $4.71 billion (N927.87 billion at the exchange rate then) to protect its 8.49 million inhabitants. Donations have become a major source of survival for police operations nationwide. In 2015, Lagos provided police with N4.5 billion for vehicles, firearms and ammunition. State and local governments as well as corporate/religious bodies and individuals have become major financiers of the police. Morale is low and welfare is almost non-existent while indiscipline reigns.  Network on Police Reforms and Amnesty International, two NGOs, estimate that hundreds of Nigerians have been extrajudicially murdered by police since 1999.

Most crucially, the current single national police structure is anachronistic in a federal polity. Apart from state police forces, the federal Royal Malaysia Police is complemented by specialised autonomous police agencies; Brazil’s police functions are shared among three federal agencies and separate agencies run by each state, while in India, the bulk of the policing lies with the states, with some federal police agencies.  Community policing, city and state police formations are the natural order in a federal polity. Police here now need soldiers to guard their barracks while kidnappers, armed robbers and insurgents are running rings around them. Pending necessary amendments to the constitution, the government and the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, should decentralise administration and operations.

The police are short-changing Nigerians by assigning over 100,000 policemen to individuals and corporate organisations. How many are attached to Dogara alone?  Idris’ request for 155,000 new hires over the next five years to join the 380,000 he says he has will make little difference if a great number is sent on private guard duties. The police should effectively deploy their personnel.

Corruption has taken deep roots in the Force and stamping it out should be a priority.  The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission consistently rates the police as one of Nigeria’s most corrupt institutions.

Reforms should begin immediately as insecurity spikes and tension escalates. The National Assembly should ensure with its oversight that funds voted for the police are actually disbursed and properly utilised. Idris should begin to recall the battalions of personnel attached to individuals and effectively deploy them to protect all Nigerians. Training, reorientation and welfare of personnel should receive attention: we should stop dehumanising our policemen by packing them into filthy barracks, withholding their allowances and depriving them of kits, weapons and ammunition.

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