Community support and participation are critical to improving police performance

While the surest way to fighting crime in any society remains equipping the police for the discharge of their onerous responsibility, Nigeria seems to have abandoned that route for the short cut of deploying military troops to quell every civil disobedience. From armed robbery to kidnapping to sectarian violence, the authorities now believe only the military can deal with such situations. Unfortunately, it would appear as if the police authorities are comfortable with a situation that has relegated them into irrelevance even as they continue to lose the respect of many Nigerians. That is not good for the Police Force.

Ordinarily, the duties of the police are to maintain law and order in the society, protect lives and property, prevent the commission of crime and where committed, detect those responsible and bring them to justice, using the instrumentality of the law. But, as most Nigerians would agree, they are failing on these counts such that until military troops are drafted to deal with upheavals in any parts of our country today, people no longer feel secure.

What that suggests is that there is an urgent need to reform our police for the difficult task at hand. As the situation is, what the polity can boast of presently is a police force that has become easy game for a more sophisticated world of crime. Today, our policemen seem to be more comfortable doing guard duties at the residences of members of the political and business elite rather in fighting crimes. Yet we cannot continue to outsource policing duties to an already overstretched military.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, we state that the best approach to fighting crime remains effective intelligence gathering that not only helps in pre-empting and disrupting criminal activity but is also indispensable for the investigations of crime. But only a well-equipped and professional police can gather the close-to-the-ground information that is necessary for such exercise and where this crucial intelligence does not flow, as it is the case today in the country, the system is endangered. But for them to be effective in fighting crime, they must begin to build that trust.

In the attempts at reforming the police in Nigeria, various committees have been established by successive governments to facilitate such exercise but they have mostly been dominated by people with security background who view such assignments as their exclusive preserve. It is therefore no surprise that most of their reports have often focused on increasing policing capacity in the areas of personnel strength, materials for work and welfare; as though once these are right, the NPF will be super effective and efficient.

While not belittling the significant difference a properly resourced NPF can make in addressing the safety and security challenges currently confronting Nigeria, experience from other jurisdictions has shown that much more is required for the police to win the confidence of the people and be more efficient and effective at performing their core functions. In this direction, a recent report by civil society organisations (CSOs) has put spotlight on community support and participation which are critical to improving police performance.

The factors affecting police performance that were identified by the panel, which the federal government should pay attention to include inadequate articulation of the performance appraisal system, duplication of policing agencies, weak oversight agencies and corruption. More important, the need to improve the bartered image and public perception of the police is very crucial to the success of any reforms and recommendation. But until we succeed in building a modern police, able and equipped to tackle the emerging security challenges, we cannot have sustainable peace in the country.