It was a beautiful, scenic Friday evening at a location in Lagos that still manages to retain her greenery, in the face of the riotous climate change that has taken away many of the city’s large, steamy trees. Though built in the 1950s by the Action Group, (AG) the tough opposition party that ruled the South West and Lagos with command and awe, the Government Reserved Areas, (GRA), Ikeja continues to keep almost unparallel poise in terms of its functional design and the lurch green tropical vegetation.
It was understandable while the IG, Mr Ibrahim Kpotum Idris chose the place as the rendezvous.
Buried in the epicenter of the GRA, is the police officers mess built several decades ago as a come-together for top police cops. It has been the tradition since the colonial times to host top police officers in this place, a source told our correspondent. As we stood under one of the large trees inside the vast compound, the colonial aura still hung in the air and reflected even in the primordial architecture, the restaurant- as if built for some Catholic nuns- the menu, and the old, dutiful, pensioner-like chefs.
We had waited for a few minutes before he strolled into the hall almost unassumingly. Moderate height. Tough looking. Clean shaven. He has an oval face spiked with tiny brush-like tribal incisions that dot the corners of his lips.
His gait was firm, as if gearing for the next battle. His face had the tingling of rich sediments of shining ointment. He wore police battle fatigue. He had no huge retinue of aides except very few men and only a handful armed.
His cop eyes surveyed the motley crowd like an owl. After brief pleasantries, he sank into the chair without a weighty crack. He should weigh 75kg, a far cry from his pot-belly predecessors.
The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, has the tough task of overseeing some 1300 police stations, 370,800 men and women, almost the size of some small Caribbean countries, 36 state commands, 12 Zones and 7 administrative organs. At present, the command plans to increase the workforce to 650,000. Three events struck me when I met him. It was the first time in Nigerian history that the Inspector General of Police, (IG) would be meeting the civil society, the force’s traditional rival who never saw eyeball-to-eyeball and had lived largely like a wolf and a calf. Secondly, the IG spoke for almost one hour, without looking at any prepared speech even as he quoted several figures and made historic references.
Thirdly, in the course of his speech, two junior officers came to him at different times almost “instructing’ him to end the speech for me and my colleagues to ask questions, a clear departure from the tradition when IGs were treated like a medieval god by his aides. On each occasion he shot a broad smile and pleaded for a little more time. One of the aides eventually put a stop to his speech not minding the captivated audience that kept propping the IG to continue. “We are building a new police that is owned by Nigerians. We want a new strategy that will define policing from a different paradigm. It’s a challenge, but we are up to the task”, the IG told a few of us invited to listen to his new dream and how the rights movement in Nigeria can help promote peace and conflict management in Nigeria. He brought out a new police creed which he had designed and made mandatory for every police officer and rating.
“This creed is to ensure rule of law, enhance compassion, anti-corruption and accountability”, he said. According to him, with the new whirlwind raging in the force, police henceforth will now be made to declare their assets. This will be the first time such a demand is being made and enforced by the high command. The IG added “We need to change the perception of the police by the people.” The police he said will be expanding new frontiers like the School of Marine in Bayelsa, and the School of Logistics and Administrations.
Part of the new scheme is to stop Mobile Police from protecting Very Important Persons, (VIP) while a newly trained group, fortified with modern equipment and skill, will take up this role. He has also set up the police Public Complaints Unit, (PCU) where anyone can lodge complaints of misconduct against any policeman for prompt response. The IG has put in place a covert spy group to expose and sanction corrupt police officers and rating. Cases of police-on-police sexual abuse and alcoholism will be met with stiff sanction. “The new training of the police will emphasise integrity so as to spur public confidence,” he told us.
At present the Nigerian police shoulder the burden of poor public perception, low morale, pitiable living standards of the rank and file, corruption and a ridiculously low capacity to nip crime in the bud. The country is also under-policed, far from the United Nations, (UN) recommendation of 1 to 400. At present the ratio in Nigeria is 1: 537. This is compounded by the fact that since 2010, no rank and file recruitment has been made into the force. Of all, corruption is one of the most insidious monsters hunting the force. Apart from police ratings collecting money from poor motorists and cash-for bail from poor victims, a section of the top command is said to be riddled with corruption, being the apex of a long chain of ignominy and dirty deals that begins from top to bottom.
IG admitted the enormity of some of the problems. He said “the rank and file is critical to our operations. They are the real people on the streets. We need to focus on them.” He laments poor funding of the command and the duplication of security units, the latest being the proposed Peace Corps. The IG came across as a very diligent, intelligent and versatile officer. His 10-year experience at the United Nations, (UN) appears to have helped shape his egalitarian views. He also has good education. Mr Idris hails from Kutigi, Lavun in Niger State. He was born 15thJanuary, 1959, enlisted into the Police in 1984 and had degrees in Agriculture from ABU and later read law at University of Maiduguri. But he may be fooling himself if he thinks lofty ideas are enough to drive an institution that remains one of the most detested by Nigerians largely due to corruption and ineptitude. Observers think the IG needs to move from rhetoric to praxis, through visibly striking examples that will convince the people that he is not pursuing shadows.
One of his aides told our correspondent that several police officers have been demoted, sacked or faced with punitive transfer for minor and grave offenses.
The Nigerian police have a long, somehow tortuous history. The force was established in1820 with pioneer officers mainly from today’s Imo State. Later it had a huge human resource turnover in 1879, when a 1,200 member Hausa constabulary was enlisted. In 1896, the Lagos Police was established. It follows that the pattern of its origin had been basically a reflection of the country’s diversity.
There are concerns that in spite of Mr Idris’s somehow revolutionary reform, little may be achieved in creating the needed change of institutional paradigm. For instance, there are complaints that the police continue to run like a communist command in a plural society where values and civilizations sharply differ and sometimes in violent conflict. As part of the reform, a source hinted that State Commissioners of Police will now be based in Abuja with their deputies acting for them at the homestead. When our correspondent asked the IG his thoughts on state and community policing, the IG described it as work in progress.
As it is, it appears as novel as the IG’s fresh ideas are, some critics think the future of policing in Nigeria is at a peril unless the country adopts state policing and ensure security is in the hands of those who are indigenous to their areas of operation.
For now, if there is any bright light in the historically dark tunnel of policing in Nigeria, it is that the new police hierarchy obviously for the first time, seems anxious to get the people deeply involved in policy decisions. But that may not be enough unless the reform focuses on the root causes of the menace that the Nigeria police currently finds itself, one of which is its garrison structure.
––Adeoye wrote from Lagos. He can be reached at email@example.com