William Easterly is a Professor of Economics at the New York University, who in a 2006 publication; “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Harm and So Little Good”, enunciated that fragile states are plagued by two factors, namely: political identity fragmentation and weak national institutions in their development. According to him, states with poor institutions have negative effects on growth and public policy implementation. Relying on this line of argument, what any serious democracy should strive for should be the state whereby institutions are stronger than individuals or persons, no matter how powerful. What usually transpires in the Nigerian public affairs tends to suggest otherwise.
Recent announcement by the Inspector-General of Police; Ibrahim Idris, ordering the immediate withdrawal of all police officers attached to political office holders, Very Important Persons (VIPs) and prominent individuals in the country and the failure to bring such lawful instruction into reality has signaled the weak nature of state institutions in the country. VIPs in this context, refer to notable figures such as federal, state and local government officials, traditional rulers, politicians and celebrities, among others. According to the police, assigning close protection professionals or executive protection specialists to the VIPs, is well intended in order to shield them from the high possible of crime and criminality pervading the land such as kidnapping, suicide bombers, armed robbery, political violence and assault, among others. To the police, the level of the risk would determine, which individual VIP would receive close protection because it is assumed that the role they play in society is so critical that they cannot be allowed to carry on their business unprotected.
Can the nation afford to allocate such officers to VIPs without negatively affecting normal police operations? The Police Service Commission recently lamented that more than 150,000 policemen were attached to VIPs and unauthorised persons in the country, out of about the 400,000 police officers and men in the entire Nigeria Police Force. Hence, with the deployment, only 20 per cent of the nation’s policemen are engaged in core police duties of protecting lives and ensuring peace while the remaining 80 per cent are busy providing personal security to ‘prominent people’ on guard duties. It means that some prominent people in the society have more policemen protecting them while the bulk of the work for members of the force rests on protecting the majority. The standard recommendation by the United Nations Organisation is that, there should be 340 police officers per 100,000 people and minimum police strength of 220 per 100,000 people. In Nigeria, citizen-police ratio with a high population of about 180 million people, stands at one police officer for every 555 citizen, or strength of about 180 police officers per 100,000 people, meaning that we a far behind the normal standards.
Aside from the shortage of personnel caused by such indiscriminate deployments, some of the policemen that should have been distinguished men and women have been turned into servitude. What we see is usually photographs on social media, showing police officers carrying bags for wives of politicians and officers holding umbrellas over foreigners by shielding them from the sun. Not only that, some beneficiaries regard having police escorts or orderlies as a symbol of prestige and would go to any length to ensure that they always have such officers at their beck and call. The officers in turn get special allowances, accommodation, attend high class parties and eat special delicacies with their bosses. I often see some of them whenever I travel when they fly either first class or business class with their principals.
In some cases, these personnel have been accused of being used as hatchet-men by their pay masters as well as using them to settle political scores and deal with their opponents, contrary to what they should ordinarily do. This is aside from all manner of alleged illegal activities ranging from extortions, unlawful detention, among others that have continued to earn the force bad reputation and image. It is because of the adduced reasons that many Nigerians are of the view that the deployment of personnel to important personalities was purely informed by merely for ego and revenue accruing to the force at the expense of their primary duty of safeguarding lives and properties of all.
How far can the IGPs tall order go this time around? We recall that in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that police personnel attached to unauthorised and VIPs be withdrawn and deployed to confront the many security challenges plaguing the nation. Thereafter, police authorities commenced the implementation of the withdrawal order, but the exercise was eventually stalled. Before then, IGP Solomon Arase had tried to withdraw the cops attached to dignitaries, but the order was disregarded and years after, police officers were still copiously seen guarding these powerful individuals. When Arase took over from Mohammed Abubakar, one of his first assignments was to order for the withdrawal of such police officers, but the order was also violated, again. Before him was Ogbonna Onovo, who had similarly given the same directive, but was not obeyed. Hafiz Ringim, who took over from Onovo also tried to enforce the order but failed. His successor, Mohammed Abubakar also declared that police personnel should be withdrawn from individuals but the directive was also never complied with.
This time around, Idris had insisted that there was the need to deploy officers to schools in the north-east, to prevent a recurrence of the students’ kidnaps, hence, the justification for the renewed call. Already, a symptom of failure is lurking around, as the IGP himself is foot-dragging and recanted his earlier order for the withdrawal of police personnel, adding that a new date in April had been set as deadline for the directive to be carried out. He further disclosed that interested persons could apply for re-validation through the Commissioner of Police of the State they are domiciled before the expiration of the new date. The IGP equally ordered that all task forces set up to carry out the order stand down pending a fresh announcement be made.
A situation where people, who served as governors and ministers, some years ago, still go about with their police security details is totally wrong, ridiculous and unacceptable. It does not happen in sane climes. Why should individuals be more powerful than institutions of the state? The fact is that the nation cannot be battling with the upsurge of serious crimes such as rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, abductions, assassinations and other homicidal crimes and at the same time, coping with a terrible shortage of manpower.