Everything should be done to ensure that the constables do not cause more harm than good

Without any doubt, effective policing is Nigeria’s current most pressing challenge. But the decision by the federal government to recruit part-time special constables can only achieve desired results if it is carefully guided through the crucial stages of conceptualisation, implementation and sustenance. This advice is necessitated by the poor execution of some previous attempts to boost the capacity of the Nigeria Police Force to perform its core constitutional functions of maintaining law and order and safeguarding the lives and property of ordinary citizens.

We recall that in April this year, the Acting Inspector- General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, ordered police formations across the country to revert to the eight hours, three-shift work schedule from the present 12-hour, two-shift regime. According to Adamu, “arguments have been raised that the resonating incidents of misuse of firearms and extra-judicial actions by police personnel often result directly from work-related stress and emotional conditions which disorient their rationality…For purpose of clarity, henceforth no police personnel should be made to perform any duty exceeding eight hours within a space of 24 hours unless there is a local or national emergency.”

That command, though rational, unambiguous and resolute, is yet to be enforced. Apparently, compliance in this regard is almost impossible because of insufficient workforce. By all modern standards, having approximately 370,000 policemen and women watch an estimated 200 million people is trivialising, mediocre and self-defeating. The consequences of executing deficient police force policies for decades in key areas of recruitment, welfare, training and equipment are evident everywhere. The police are clearly overwhelmed by the numerous security challenges plaguing Nigeria today. Therefore, increasing the volume of personnel has become a national imperative. And until that happens, it would be unreasonable to expect them to discharge their responsibilities creditably.

Interestingly, the Police Service Commission (PSC) has outlined the requisite qualifications of prospective constables and some operational details: Respected Nigerians already in recognised professions who are physically fit and within the ages of 21 and 50 years. Also, unlike their regular counterparts, they will be unarmed even when in uniform. The duties of the in-coming branch of the police will be restricted to administrative matters, crowd control, alternative dispute resolution, emergency management, and other less risky or sensitive services.

These criteria and job descriptions should substantially augment the efforts of the current structure, especially if various other relevant factors are properly considered upfront. The PSC needs to assure the citizenry that the proposed 15,000 to 25,000 annual enlisting of the special staff over a period of five years will not affect that of the conventional force, since the shortfall is glaring.

The government and police authorities must look beyond the interest this move has generated to provide concrete assurances about the workability of their intentions and blueprint. This call is more pertinent now because the present intervention, although commendable, still falls below the expectations of the long-traumatised people of Nigeria. Besides, while the idea already has presidential endorsement and most state governors have also consented to it, there is need to think deeply about possible abuse so that in the process of solving one problem, we do not create a bigger one.

Even then, it takes more than official approvals and goodwill for the programme not to become yet another exercise in futility. These posers, among others, should be promptly addressed: Considering the relatively fragile security in the north at the moment, what proven wisdom is being applied by starting the scheme there? Is it a forerunner of the community or state police canvassed over the years by different segments of the federation? Are all the vital, enabling laws in place? What about public enlightenment?

Finding fitting answers to the foregoing questions is important if the idea is to succeed.