WHEN POLICE BECOME PRIVATE GUARDS

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The police force must be helped to regain its pride of place

Although the revelation that no fewer than 150,000 police personnel, representing about 30 per cent of their entire force, are attached to unauthorised individuals in the country came as no surprise, it is nonetheless a serious indictment on the institution. Yet, Mr Mike Okiro, Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) and a former Inspector General of Police, who lamented that “we cannot afford to have more than half of the population of the police in private hands”, also argued that “we could not sustain enforcement of the (presidential) order on the withdrawal of policemen attached to unqualified persons in the country because of lack of funds”.

The implication of Okiro’s statement is that the Nigeria Police Force is being sustained from the money realised from the bodyguard duties its men now perform with big men. That perhaps explains why it is now a common fight for policemen and other security agents to be performing one form of menial duties or another: from carrying bags for some political office holders or businessmen to shining their shoes, it is almost as if many of these law enforcement agents have become errand boys.

It is a shame that at a period the nation actually needs them the most, these police personnel—who in the past used to quell civil disturbance while managing emergency situations—are being deployed to act as personal security guards and handbag carriers to spouses of political office holders. This is despite the fact that upon assuming office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered that police personnel attached to unauthorised persons and Very Important Personalities (VIPs) across Nigeria be withdrawn and sent to confront the security challenges in the country.

It is noteworthy that whenever they assume office, every Inspector General of Police (IGP) would order the immediate withdrawal of all unauthorised police guards from private individuals and corporate bodies. But it has been to no effect because such directives were never really obeyed. Perhaps they were never meant to be obeyed. The affected personnel usually include those given by the special protection unit, the mobile police unit and conventional policemen that were sent out as guards to companies and influential citizens.

Statutorily, only the president, vice-president, governors, local council chairmen, legislative principal officers in the states and at federal level, magistrates and judges are entitled to police protection. But for pecuniary reasons, this privilege has over the years been abused by senior officers in charge of police commands and formations, who assign most of their men to undeserving politicians and businessmen, leaving ever fewer numbers of personnel for real police work. The level of degeneration is such that all manner of characters now go about with policemen who carry bags and umbrella for them.

To the extent that the very idea of using our police personnel as private guards undermines their integrity, we need to put an end to the current abuse while restoring some measure of respect and dignity to the institution. At a period of national security emergency, such as we have in Nigeria today, this misuse of men and officers of the police should not be allowed to continue.

The United Nations estimation is that the average police force should have three police persons for every one thousand citizens which means that Nigeria falls far short of this requirement given that the total strength of our police force is still less than 400,000. But the real challenge is that majority of the existing force strength serves just a few people more or less as guardsmen. When you juxtapose this with inadequate remunerations and low morale which pervade the police force it is easy to understand why the nation is currently unsafe.